While all of the key winners in our Collect Your Key competition are undoubtedly deserving, Belinda Wreyfort who won on Smile Breakfast last Monday caught my attention for one particular reason.
While interviewing her, she mentioned that she didn’t have a car at the moment, and due to the bus strike, her teenage son was forced to walk the 20km home from school. While that in and of itself is not extraordinary, what is exceptional is the fact that said teenager was forced to do something most teenagers find anathema these days.
Belinda told Lindy and me that he told her something to the effect of … him understanding that times are hard at the moment and that she (his mom) should focus on getting back on her feet. She shouldn’t worry about him; he would get from school by himself. For most parents of teenagers who struggle to get them to just put the dirt bin out once a week, this is a breakthrough more significant than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. For parents of teenagers, that theory equates to … the force with which teenagers exert themselves (let us call it “teen velocity”), is directly proportional and relative to the reward, with consequence equaling zero.
Back to my story, which I tell you not to illicit sympathy of any sort for Belinda. There are no doubt many millions of South Africans that find themselves in similar, if not worse circumstances. I tell you this story, because it touches on a topic that I have been writing and talking about a lot of late. I have been wrestling with the idea of privilege and entitlement; what exactly it all means and how I can balance it all out for my own children. You see, I come from what is euphemistically described as an economically depressed neighbourhood. Amongst friends, I simply call it the ghetto. I understood very early on that If I was going to make any sort of success of my life, I had to focus on a phrase that has since become my mantra – “You are not the sum of your circumstances, but the product of your experiences.” I like to think that I made it up myself, but in truth, it’s probably a hybrid of several quotes; the consequences of the self-help, pop-psychology sort of things I liked to read as a precocious teenager.
Anyway, my chief dilemma now is teaching my kids empathy, mindfulness, kindness, gratefulness, humility and respect, while also giving them the best that I am able to afford. This has led me to question whether giving them the best is in fact best for them.
My argument goes like this: When you get something of value that you didn’t have to work for, then you are unlikely to appreciate it. This goes for everything from take-out on Fridays to a visit to the cinema, holidays, attending a top-performing school or just an ice cream on a hot day. We parents love providing for and even spoiling our offspring every now and again. But it is also prudent to consider the impact each of our actions has on our kids; and how it may contribute to a sense of entitlement; that belief that they simply must have (and deserve) that thing that they want. It’s here that I believe that a frugal upbringing gives our children an advantage. It might be a terrible overstatement, but there’s much truth in the belief that hardship breeds resilience and a sense of industriousness so key to survival these days. So while Belinda’s son may have resented no one offering him a lift, forcing him to walk home, I would bet good money on the fact that it would’ve taught him a lesson he’s unlikely to ever forget. It’s tough – and maybe impossible – for parents to see their children suffer, so it’s unlikely we would ever deliberately force hardships upon them. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing circumstances to take its natural course and letting life happen. I like to remind myself every now and again that I am not raising children. I am raising someone’s husband and wife; someone’s mom and dad; someone’s employee or boss. So what kind of parent, colleague and partner am I sending out into the world? It’s a question that I reckon should occupy every parent’s mind a lot more than it probably does.
While we struggle with the daily domestic balancing act, the outside world isn’t exactly helping. With technology moving at the relentless pace that it does and the world seemingly becoming more superficial by the day. I would like to draw your attention to another favourite Youtube video of mine. This time it’s by Simon Sinek, one of those insightful gurus, who clearly gives these sorts of things a lot of thought. In the video below, he tackles the topic of millennials in the workplace and how the digital revolution has impacted on their expectations and their abilities, or lack thereof. It’s a fascination video that has been viewed nearby 10 million times and is sure to strike a chord with you. And while it is a dire situation, Simon concludes with hope in the form of solutions that require you getting involved. I would suggest that if you have a teenager in your life, take 15 minutes out of your day and watch this video with them. It may also just open up some doors of communication.