How will children see themselves if the most important work we ever ask them to do is play a video game?

Chris —  July 2, 2012

Never has it been more important to teach our children to work. Parents who allow their children to be lazy undermine the child’s sense of dignity and compromise their future. For parent seeking to teach a work ethic, Proverbs is an incredible gift from God. And Dan Phillips’s book on Proverbs is a great resource for studying Proverbs.

Much is at stake where diligence is concerned. As Proverbs warns, just a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you suddenly (Proverbs 6:6-9).

I was privileged to grow up on a farm in Iowa. A farm is the ideal place to learn a work ethic. Children work alongside parents as they bale, pick, plant, raise, and harvest. (Though as I have otherwise confessed, boys and bulls on farms can make for a dangerous combination). I didn’t always work hard, but I did learn to work hard. And I never doubted that my family counted on me, even when I was eight years old. On our farm I saw wagon loads of the result of hard work. I waded in bins of corn, loaded pigs to go to market, and baled sweet smelling hay.

In our post-agrarian culture, it is more difficult to teach a work ethic. But it is still possible if we  meditate on biblical wisdom. Consider 6 lessons from Proverbs 6:6-9.

6       Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7       Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8       she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9       How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10       A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11       and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

6 Principles For Instilling a Work Ethic from Proverbs 6:6-9

  1. Read Proverbs together as a family. Proverbs is God’s gift for sharpening our wisdom saw. Read and meditate on these verses together as a family. Where mining the precious jewels of Proverbs is concerned, I highly recommend (see my endorsement) Dan Phillips’s, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs.
  2. Set an ant-like example. Both my parents modeled a work ethic. Forty years later, I can picture either my mom or dad working incredibly hard. The first ten things about teaching our children a work ethic are example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example, example. After that, be sure you are a good example.
  3. Acquire a taste for work. I didn’t like coffee as a child, and I didn’t enjoy work either. But I have learned to like them both. The reason Proverbs has so much to say about work is because a work ethic does not come easily in a fallen world. Tell your children not to be discouraged if they don’t like working. Assure them that if they are disciplined, over time, they will acquire a taste for work and enjoy seeing the results. Grant hope.
  4. No need to move a mountain; just carry a crumb. Ants don’t lug cinder blocks. They just relocate a cracker one crumb at time. Yet, over time, the results of their industry are amazing. In the beginning, we need to give our children very, very manageable tasks which allow them to see progress. Do not ask your child to rid Western civilization of every dandelion the first time you send them out to weed the yard. Ask them to bring you back five, very dead, dandelions.
  5. Fear Laziness. Preach this with passion. You don’t have to be lazy a long time. Just a teaspoon of laziness can lead to poverty. Children do not need to fear the bogeyman, but they ought to tremble at the prospect of being lazy in life.
  6. Work Together. A single ant would never get it done. Ants cooperate. Likewise, we need to teach our children the joy of working together. It is not a fair assignment to banish a six year old to his room to organize until the rapture. Instead, say to him or her, “Let’s have fun doing this together. And then let’s show Mommie how much we got done.” There is a reason my daughter Marybeth and I are raising pumpkins together!

For balance, which I so desperately need, see John Starke’s, A Word for the Ambitious.

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5 responses to How will children see themselves if the most important work we ever ask them to do is play a video game?

  1. I love this article, Chris. It highlights the need for repentance and reformation in the church, and bears down on the heart of the whole capitalist debate that we are witnessing today. If the church would preach an un-compromised Gospel, like Calvin & Luther did, we would see that good, hard work blesses our neighbor and thereby blesses and glorifies God.

    And way to go to you and Marybeth on raising pumpkins! 🙂

  2. Chris,

    This is so true! I so value the work ethic of my parents and the example they still set for me at age 60+. We are starting small at our house–as you recommend. Fiona gets to “help” put laundry in the dryer, silverware in the dishwasher, etc. I find that in my busy working-mom days, these activities serve dual purpose: valuable time with Fiona AND getting the work done together. Yes, my 2 year old LOVES laundry day!

  3. One of the things I have read from developmental psychologists is the value of what they call “close play.” If you or Eric are fixing a meal, a little girl Fiona’s age will play close by and imitate the things you are doing with her toy. This has proven to be a very important part of child development unfortunately destroyed in many homes by videos in the other room.

  4. Over the years I have heard people repeatedly say “I want my son/daughter to work at camp so they can develop a work ethic” Repeatedly in recent years I have heard many a former staff person say”I learned to work at camp” What they didn’t say, to my face anyway was, that I worked them to the bone and they’ll never forgive me. It usually with a greatful heart as young adults that they look back appreciate what they learned because it prepared them for life. It is so much harder for “city folk” to find work for children, but it can start with picking up toys and doing house hold chores so that basics like that become a habit.

  5. John – – you really did work them hard! What great memories.