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More Than a Chore: Getting Things Done the Right Way

Some parents believe that the only way for a child to develop a work ethic is by having a real job. If a family business exists, they put that child to work as soon as she is able to do simple tasks. If there is no family business, parents insist that a child immediately get a job upon turning sixteen and work after school and all summer. Their premise is that nothing teaches a kid to value work like having a real job, a real boss and a real salary.

Other parents encourage their kids not to get jobs. They believe their son's and daughter's job is school, and that they should devote all their time and energy to excelling academically. Summers are for summer school or to pursue private lessons or to relax and reenergize after a grueling school year. The notion here is that children acquire a work ethic in the school environment and that it eventually transfers over to the work environment.

Neither group of parents is wrong, but we've found that there's a middle ground that better suits the needs of most children. While some teenagers are driven to find jobs out of financial necessity and other teenagers are so academically overwhelmed they couldn't work even if they wanted to, most teens can benefit from some exposure to the workplace. Before we talk about teens, though, we'd like to talk about work and your elementary-school-age child.

No, we don't believe in child labor. At the same time, we've found that when kids learn about jobs during the industry developmental stage (six to twelve years old), they tend to have a better grasp of what work means and the choices involved in terms of careers. Perhaps the best resource we've found for kids during this stage is Take Your Children to Work programs. Admittedly, some of these programs are worthless—you take your child to the office, stick her in the corner with her crayons and paper and, except for snacks and lunch, ignore her while you do your job. Over time, however, various groups have become more savvy about how to structure these programs to benefit children.

The Ms. Foundation for Women's Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work program, held annually in April, encourages offices to "adopt" entire classrooms for the day, allowing them to become part of a given office culture for that day and really experience what work is like. The East Central Illinois Women Attorneys Association sponsors an annual mock trial on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in which kids serve on a jury and decide whether Rumpelstilskin has a case against Queen Mallory for failure to pay him for spinning straw into gold. At Cardservice International, a large credit card processing firm, kids get to create computer-generated logos, and Cardservice managers evaluate them and pick winners.

If your company doesn't follow an established protocol for kids at work but you want to take your child (and your boss approves), we recommend doing the following:

  • Start out showing your child what you do. Give him a tour of the workplace and let him see some things you're working on. This will acclimate him, allowing him to appreciate the work environment that until this point he's only heard you talk about.
  • Assign him a work-related activity. Obviously, you need to tailor the activity to his age and attention span. It may be something as simple as sorting papers into folders or using the Internet to find information about a work subject. Whatever it is, give him a specific task with a clear goal and time limit.
  • Talk to him about the activity. Ask him whether he thought it was easy or difficult. Determine whether he enjoyed doing it. Praise him for what he did well and suggest other ways he might have gone about it.
  • Open up about how you do things. Share a work failure and a work success. Let him know how you felt when you got chewed out by your boss for sloppy work. Tell him how great you felt when you came up with an idea that everyone at your company loved.
In and of itself, one day a year at your office won't develop a work ethic in your children. It will, however, prompt your kids to start thinking about the nature of work and the choices involved. They may also be prompted to ask you questions over time that help clarify these choices. From "Do you really like what you do?" to "How much money do you make?" to "Why do you have to work so late?" their questions (and your answers) will help them get a sense of how work can be a meaningful, rewarding activity. No matter how silly or tangential your child's question might seem, take it as seriously as he does.

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More on: Family Finances

From The Financially Intelligent Parent by Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. and Jon Gallo, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Jon Gallo and Eileen Gallo. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, visit Amazon.


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