The Silicon Graybeard recounts the story of a nine-year-old girl who wanted to earn some extra money. Her mother advertised her availability to help with domestic chores – leading to a visit by the police, to ensure she wasn’t being exploited. The mother concluded:
The knee-jerk distrust of all adults around all kids is a hallmark of our times. Where we could see verve, we see vulnerability. Where we could see neighbors helping neighbors we imagine the worst. Where we could see kids growing up with confidence and competence, we see a rising tide of anxiety.
Letting kids do some work for money isn’t making them into slaves. It’s making them into adults. That shouldn’t be a crime.
I couldn’t agree more!
When I was a child, as soon as I was old enough to understand the concepts of “money” and “work” and “earning”, my parents gave me a list of domestic chores. (It changed over time as I grew older and more competent, of course.) I was given pocket money of five cents for every year of my age, provided that I’d completed the chores allocated to me (cleaning up dog poop, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.). If I didn’t do one of them, I was docked one cent, every time. I rapidly ended up “owing” my parents about three weeks’ pocket money – and learned the hard way that if I wanted spending money of my own, I had to earn it. It was an early and object lesson in the realities of life.
As I grew older, and wanted more expensive things (like a bicycle, for example), I was expected to come up with a proportion (usually half) of their cost, earning the money by doing extra chores for my parents or odd jobs for the neighbors. When I became a teenager, that expanded to include holiday employment at local shops. I mucked out cages and tanks in a pet shop, and worked as a shop assistant at a snooty upmarket store (having to wear a smartly pressed shirt and tie, and act politely and respectfully to customers, too – anathema to a teenager!). My parents would wait until I had my share of the cost, then contribute the other half. Having got what I wanted, I was expected to use it, not just let it lie around gathering dust. When I got my bicycle, I rode it to school, a mile and a half away, thereby saving my parents the cost of the drive there and back twice a day (we had no school bus system in South Africa at the time). I didn’t complain. It seemed perfectly logical and natural to me.
I think this mother’s doing precisely the right thing by encouraging her daughter to earn the money she needs to buy what she wants. I reckon she’ll appreciate it much more after having had to invest her time and energy to get it. I think it’s a sad reflection on our society that such incentives to independence are now frowned upon.
What say you, readers? How many of you were expected to bring your part by your parents when you were growing up? How did you earn extra money?