Growing up I did chores. Among the most loathsome of my chores was cleaning the bathroom. Sometimes I complained, but over time I learned how to do it with enough mastery to pass my Dad’s inspection. I can’t say I looked forward to that chore, but it was part of my weekly routine. I wasn’t compensated for it (I had tax-free income from babysitting), but it made my parents happy. It was a job I had to do to earn my keep. Little did I know I was slowly being taught the rewards of productivity; the value of work for it’s own sake. Today I might not be the kind of successful society prizes (no yacht or BMW in the garage), but I do enjoy working. I find it easy to plunge into hard tasks. I am fiercely self-reliant.
So something caught my notice recently. Parents today don’t seem to make their kids do chores. The Wall Street Journal even wrote about it. In a survey of 1,001 U.S. parents (by Braun Research) 82% said they had to do regular chores growing up, but just 28% made their children do them.
Turns out parents want their kids to “succeed” so badly, they would rather kids focus their time on academic pursuits or sports. But this is flawed logic. University of Minnesota Professor, Marty Rossmann, explains why; “Young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens,” Rossmann found. It was the mastery and self-reliance gained through doing chores that gave the kids the wherewithal to succeed in these spheres.
Another study, by psychologist Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found chores may help re-center kids on the things that will ultimately give them personal satisfaction: helping others. Weissbourd asked 10,000 students to rank what they valued more: achievement, happiness or caring for others. The majority chose “achievement” or “happiness” over “caring for others.” But psychology has proven that personal happiness derives more from strong relationships than from high achievement. “A good way to start readjusting priorities,” he suggests, “is by learning to be kind and helpful at home.”
Experts say chores should begin at age 3. They also say it is highly likely parents and children will argue about chores. But there are strategies parents can use to help engage their kids in chores. Monetary incentives are customary. Money reports that 75% of parents who require kids to do chores have a system linked to rewards. Half of parents who use this system offer money as the carrot.
Not making kids do chores can also have unintended consequences for the world at large. Cereal makers have seen sales drop from 2009 to 2014 because they say Millenials don’t eat cereal. In exploring why this is, Mintel found out Millenials don’t like to do dishes and consider cereal too much work (40% gave this response). While it is far from climate change in terms of impact, it shows how learned behaviors can re-shape the world. If dishes from cereal are too much work, what is a 40+ hour work week?
I fear for the generation that doesn’t know chores. So does the cereal industry.