April 24 is “Take your Child to Work Day.” This 15-year old program is, according to the founders, designed to “create an enriching educational experience for our nation’s daughters and sons.” The observance was first held in 1993 and was called Take Our Daughters to Work Day. The purpose of the observance was to expose teenage girls to career options. It has been estimated that over 25 million children have participated to date. To create equal opportunities, the day has now been expanded include sons as well as daughters.
This is an annual event, on the fourth Thursday in April and every time this day rolls around, I look at my two sons (10 and 13) with anticipation and ask them if they want to miss a day of school to visit the office to see what I do all day. Their resounding “NO!” comes from children who have been exposed to my workplace more than their peers. Being a small business owner, my children have spent many an exciting weekend at the VanNatta Public Relations stuffing envelopes, emptying trash cans and cleaning the parking lot. On Saturday, when many children are stationed in front of the Nintendo®, my kids get a choice of going to the office or doing chores at home. I stand proudly in my title of the “World’s Meanest Mom.”
There seems to be a societal resistance against having children work. It is my opinion that because of this, we’ve been slowly and insidiously trained a generation which feels disconnected from the concept of work or believe it is a punishment and money magically pops out of machines. A major complaint from employers is that young people are entering the workforce with an attitude of entitlement, unprepared to show up on time, meet dress codes and work full time. Congratulations, you have now graduated from high school, but are you ready to hit the streets to seek an 8-hour day?
In the children’s defense, I realize that life and school isn’t what it was in the 1970’s. They appear to have more homework, more social pressure and more fears and demands than we did at the same age. Not to mention the homework. Also, if you haven’t been playing soccer since 3rd grade, you probably will have trouble making the team in high school. This compels parents to keep kids deeply involved in extracurricular activities. So, while, at 12, I was home watching Gilligan’s Island, most kids today are going to sports practice after school, leaving just enough time for dinner before scouts or music lessons Lives of our youth are more complicated than ever with family and societal strife influencing their attitudes. They have a myriad of choices pulling them in every direction. It’s an attention deficit disorder life where things change every forty-five minutes.
As business people, how should we approach “Take your Child to Work Day?” If you have children, your students will find a sparse classroom on that day anyway. Most parents are finding this a great opportunity to connect with their kids and remove the mystery of what happens between 8 and 5. If your workplace permits, it is valuable for children to see both the fun and challenging sides of work. Plan ahead and provide activities in which they can make a difference and really help at work (organizing bookshelves for the younger kids or making copies or filing for older ones). Take them to the employee lunchroom and share your sandwich.
I encourage you to not let it end there. Whether you are part of a family business or not, we are training our kids to get out of school and find a way to make a living, aren’t we? We hope they will be able to secure and continue in an interesting job of their choosing. We want them to make their own way in the world. You don’t want them coming back to live with you at twenty-two, do you? Keep your children engaged in opportunities to work, learn and earn, even at the earliest age. Give them the pride of purchasing their own Gameboy®, movie tickets and treats. I promise, they’ll appreciate it and perhaps be more prepared for the real thing.
So, while you take your kids to work, I think I’ll send mine to school. They can work on Saturday.
Mary Louise VanNatta, CAE has received her Certified Association Executive designation from the American Society of Association Executives. She is CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, Inc., a PR, association management, event planning and public policy consulting firm in Salem, founded in 1967.
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