The problem with kids today

The country would be in better shape if your kids were shipped off to the field to detassel corn, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse suggests in the New York Times’ Sunday review op-ed.

The typically insufferable judgment of an entire generation begins with a flawed premise: There’s something wrong with kids today.

When he became a college president, he says he noticed that fewer kids arrived at school each year ever having done hard physical work.

Adolescence is a great thing, but we’ve made it too long. It’s supposed to be a protected space in which kids who’ve become biologically adult are not obligated to immediately become emotionally, morally and financially adult. Done right, adolescence is a greenhouse phase, but adolescence should not be an escape from adulthood; it should be when we learn how to become adults.

We’re parenting too much, too long. Our efforts to protect our kids from hurt feelings, tedious chores, money worries and the like are well intentioned. But many of us, perhaps especially middle-class parents, are unwittingly enabling many of our kids to not grow up.

What can we do about it — especially during these long summer months when our kids expect to be entertained? What’s the modern equivalent of detasseling corn?

These kids today with their music and clothes and wild hair.

Related: Memories Of Toiling In The Minnesota Cornfields (MN Prairie Roots)

  • Gary F

    Summer job after high school, unloading semi-trucks full of car, tractor, and semi-truck tires.

    First job out of college, loading class 5 rock out of a dump truck.

    Kids need a size 6 head and size 12 shoe job early to keep them focused on the end game.

    • And they have to stay off your lawn?

    • Angry Jonny

      First summer job, working at a tree nursery. Second and third summer jobs, working at the public library as an archivist and research helper. I learned early on that I was better suited to working with my head than my hands. I think I turned out ok.

    • Joe

      I’m squarely in the millenial generation, and I worked through high school as a laborer (doing lots of demo), and then worked my way through college as a hot-tar roofer. Both were very physical jobs.

      It doesn’t make me any better than the friends of mine who worked at their mother’s law offices, or worked as prep cooks, or didn’t work at all in high school/college.

      • Gary F

        No, it doesn’t make you any better, it might make you mentally tougher, though.

        • Or it might not. It’s sketchy science.

          • Gary F

            I you spend a hot summers day on a roof, especially with hot tar, I’m thinking you get pretty tough.

          • I figure you probably learn not to work with hot tar on a roof on a hot day. I guess the question is, so?

          • Jerry

            Having worked with roofers, I don’t think I’d look to them for any sort of wisdom.

    • Veronica

      I just can’t get over how male-centric this whole conversation is.

      • THIS !

        • Veronica

          THANK YOU!
          For heaven’s sakes, yes, I totally think women can do physically demanding jobs, but why are earth is that the measuring stick by which we judge the value of any experience?

          • Jerry

            Because the men who write things like this have a misguided fear that their current jobs are emasculating and long for the days when men worked a “good hard days work”. It’s why people romanticize blue collar work.

          • Veronica

            Oh, I know. It’s just another think piece from a white dude who has to keep is ego fed by trying to prove that what HE did was best and the only way

          • Kassie

            Is blue collar work romanticized? Generally if someone is working a road crew or landscaping they are looked down on in my experience. Sure certain blue collar jobs are romanticized, like farming, but not many.

          • Jerry

            It’s romanticized in the abstract, usually by men working in air conditioned offices.

      • Gary F

        My cousin, a female, de-tasseled corn for most of her teenage years. They used to load up the buses at the high schools in Cedar Rapids and drive them out to the fields. It was a big deal, it was a hot dirty job that paid better than most of the other jobs you could get in high school.

        • Veronica

          Still not the point.

  • BJ

    Maybe it’s more kids today are prepared to do things I wasn’t because I spent my time detasseling corn? Maybe kids today haven’t seen friends injured or killed in accidents (farm, automobile, industrial) like my parents and grand parents did, so they don’t know that kind of hardships?

    At 45 He is a year older than I am. As far as I can tell he spent his life in school, management consulting, religious nonprofit, or Governmental work. His dad was a high school teacher and football coach. I’m not sure where he might have been detasseling corn, or if he just used something that sounds very Nebraska. He is clearly no Lincoln Chafee, who if you didn’t know worked as a blacksmith (a farrier (shoeing horses) to be precise).

    • DavidG

      Fremont, NE. Agricultural town. In Fargo, it was weeding and thinning rows of sugar beets. Even the kids of college faculty did that for summer jobs back then.

      • BJ

        >Fremont, NE. ~~Agricultural town. ~~

        College town

        • DavidG

          College town surrounded by corn fields.

  • jon

    I agree some people just don’t know how to work.

    Age has nothing to do with it.

    I was volunteered (by my wife) for a fundraiser, so I showed up, I asked what I could do from the person who looked like they were in charge (and I think is now a MN state rep) and I started doing it… when I saw something else that needed to be done, I did that…

    The folks on the committee for the project we were raising funds for chatted most of the time (with each other, not even donors), they did some work while they chatted some of the time, but it took 3-4 of them to keep up with me.

    Of course the point where everything goes to crap is where he assumes it’s related to generations, or age, in my example the people who were doing the most chatting and least work were boomers… but it’s a sampling basis and I know it, can’t judge an entire generation based on a half dozen people…
    I suspect the issue it’s more likely to be related to demographics than age and even that probably isn’t always a strong correlation.

    Some people never learned how to work. It happens, though it happened in my father’s generation, and my grandfathers, too… and Some people do learn how to work, that has happened for generations also.

    Some people learn how to work at a computer, but not in a factory, or in a field… some people learn how to do all 3…

    Ultimately the question a college president should be asking isn’t do these kids know how to work, it’s do these kids know how to do the work that we are training them for. and if you are giving people a college education so they can shuck corn then suspect that the college needs to re-evaluate its goals.

    • JMR

      I completely agree. I fit into the “millennial” category, you know, the group of people that Ben Sasse is saying doesn’t know how to work. Most of my colleagues are Sasse’s age or older and are some of the laziest people I’ve ever worked with – the type of people that find ways to get out of work instead of actually doing work, and then wonder why they are passed over for promotions.

      It seems as though every generation complains about the younger generation and vice versa. I think being willing to adapt your to changing work environment is what separates “hard workers” from the rest.

      • The problem with the nation is small data sets used for big conclusions.

      • jon

        I actually think the target of his particular editorial is not about millennials… but one generation down… of course “those lazy kids” will refer to any generation that occupies that spot between child and adult… but Millennials are aging out of that bracket now…

        Soon it will be our turn to rage against the pre-adults who are invariable lazy and need to learn the value of a dollar, and move out of their parents house, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and start wearing boots with straps again! Gosh darn it!

        • These op-eds (which is really pushing his book) are always of questionable value because they don’t really identify specifically what the problem is other than int he most sweeping terms. “Kids” are going to school, doing great things, starting families, buying houses and contributing to life.” In many ways, they’re not doing it the way other generations did but so what.

          Reading deeper into it, on the other hand, is the innuendo that those who are not — let ‘s call them: the poor — have a character defect.

          None of this is new. It’s been the bone for generations.

          There’s little data provided that any physically demanding job actually improves your lot in life. Besides, there’s more to the definition of “hard work” than working up a sweat.

          • jon

            Exactly… them damn kids (anyone from age 18~28) need to pull themselves up by their boot straps, like their parents before them… because being born rich is a cheat, and the only way to truly be privileged is to start by being underprivileged.

            Of course, inflation of quality of life is only taken into account for my life, not their future lives… (back when I was a kid we only had 1 TV, and if we wanted to eat doughnuts, by god we’d get our the spears and hunt them ourselves! nowadays kids get their own tablets and all the doughnuts they can eat from the local convenience store, no appreciation for how hard life was when life was hard!)

            Darn kids… no respect for what life was like before they were born… and no reason to care about what life was like before they were born… just like my generation who doesn’t care about what life was like before they were born either.

          • John Climber

            Do you mean there’s little data because there aren’t enough studies, or does whatever data that does exist indicate no meaningful connection between hard physical work and lifelong success? Regardless, you seem to have missed the rest of Sasse’s point: physical labor is not the only way people can learn the skills they need in order to do well in life.

          • Right. People need all sorts of skills to do well in life.

  • John

    I’ve seen this attributed to both Socrates and Plato, and don’t know if it’s tracable to either, but . . .

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
    authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
    of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
    households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
    contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
    at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

    The more things change . . .

    • BJ

      It’s at least from 1953…..

      Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato,-according to William L. Patty and Louise S. Johnson, Personality and Adjustment, p. 277 (1953)
      Edited: missed the who it was attributed to in my cut and paste

    • I believe it’s Aristotle

    • Jay Sieling

      Seems to be attributed to Kenneth Freeman – from a student dissertation at Cambridge in 1907:

  • My first job was at a McDonald’s. We didn’t detassel much corn at McDonald’s, and somehow I went on to a successful career, married well, got educated, and raised two fine men.

    Mcdonald’s. You know, like tens of thousands of other young people right now, nearly 50 years later.

    The bigger question is: Who the heck buys — let alone: reads — the books politicians write because someday they’re going to run for president?

    • Veronica

      Al Franken did pretty well with his last book.

    • jon

      And yet, Think how much better your life could have been if you just detasseled corn more in your youth.

    • Bob Sinclair

      Was peeling potatoes the fast food equivalent of detasseling?

    • Khatti

      Campaign donors and the truly masochistic.

  • MrE85

    I’ve detassled corn. My roots in the ethanol business run deep.

  • Al

    To boomers whining about millennials: You know who reared millennials right? Look in the mirror.

    • jon

      If you want to have some fun find an “old millennial” with their life together, and a “young millennial” who is just graduating, put them together in front of a complaining boomer.

      I’m technically the same generation as college interns at work… (both millennials)
      I’ve paid off more cars than they have ever driven.
      When I started working at my current company, they were probably forming their earliest memory.
      When I bought my house, they would have just been starting their teenage years…

      And yet we can generalize about this age group as if we are cohesive in nature…

      Though to be fair, since the last of the millennials is probably graduating college, I suspect that this rant is focused not on millennials, but on their children.

      • Al

        Find me any millennial with their “life together,” and I’ll show you a laughing millennial. Like any of us will ever have our lives together.

        • Kassie

          This Gen Xer feels the same way. I swear this will be the year I get it together.

          • Al

            When you figure that out, let me know. I could use some ideas.

  • ET

    Long summer months? He must not have kids. Our summers are over before they start.

  • John Climber

    I’m confused by your reaction. Sasse’s point is that we live in an age of increasing complexity, and that some exposure to long work shifts, travel, spending time outdoors, and reading books can impart skills like autonomy, which young adults will need to navigate complexity. That seems right to me. As he notes, not everyone can detassel corn, but that type of physical work is hardly the only thing he’s talking about. So what is it that he has gotten wrong?

    • kevins

      Like how he uses “we” when he really isn’t talking about his own kids.

      • John Climber

        If I understand you correctly that seems a misguided objection. Again, the most reasonable interpretation of his article is that he’s trying to identify the types of activities that will help young adults succeed in a complex and challenging world. He’s not writing for his family but for a general audience, so the pronoun isn’t inappropriate for his purposes.

        • kevins

          OK yeah…I always love it when politicians (and those practicing people politics) lapse into plurals. It is a protective mechanism, and way to present a false, or at least unproven unanimity to empower their point (eg: “We’re parenting too much..”). Saying this begs the question by equating parenting too much, whatever that is, with being overprotective and unwittingly enabling. But again, the plural is supposed to support the criticism by making the the sin universal, and thus less poignant.

  • Jerry

    I was always envious of the de-tasselers. They got paid a lot more for their work than I did for baling hay.

  • What is it that detasseling corn has actually done that sets him apart?

  • Gary F

    No mention of cutting corn out of bean fields.

  • Again, working at McDonald’s is no picnic. I see young people in there all the time. This notion that kids don’t want to work hard is ridiculous. I doubt very much a person who works in the U.S. Senate and has Harvard and Yale on his resume knows a lot of kids in America.

    They’re terrific. The things they’re doing are inspiring. But I guess nobody sells a book that says something good about another generation.

    I really wish people would swing by a community college sometime and see what actually is taking place therein.

    Also, if anyone wants to meet the MPR summer interns — talk about hard workers — let me know and I’ll be glad to let people follow them around for a week. My guess is most of the old folks won’t make it past Wednesday if that.