Last Fall, my wife and I wrote to you about our teenage son "Joey" who, at 15, decided to turn against the beliefs he was raised with to join the Tea Party. You advised us to respect Joey's new-formed beliefs, and to go along with things - every step of the way. We took your advice and told Joey that we would be providing him with the support that was required by law (food, clothing, shelter) but that any extras - designer labels, his iPhone, and recreation - would have to be paid for out of his own pocket.
My wife and I also renegotiated Joey's allowance, basing the amount of work he does around the house on a fair-wage for hours worked system. The amount of chores he completes each week takes approximately one hour of his time. We decided that since the Tea Party is against "living wage" legislation that we would be paying Joey the Federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). This actually resulted in a large cut to his weekly allowance. My wife and I decided to put the money aside and, at the end of this experiment or six months later (whichever was to come first) donate the money to charity. We offered Joey the opportunity to earn back the balance of his allowance by taking on extra chores at the hourly rate; with the overtime rate kicking in after only three hours of work (we considered the amount of time he spends in school and on homework to go towards a forty-hour work week). Joey leaped at this challenge, and immediately began to feel the bite of reality.
Once Joey had gone through his allowance savings, he started asking for extra chores; however, few were available. After the first snowfall, we offered Joey the opportunity to wake up an hour early (5 AM, instead of 6 AM) to shovel snow at the rate of $10/hour, but he chose sleep instead and was upset that I had shoveled the driveway and the walk by the time he woke. When he complained that this was unfair, I explained to him that when work calls the employee must answer; that this is a part of developing "a work ethic and a sense of morality" that he originally insisted the poor do not have.
When Christmas rolled around, Joey got a Jitterbug phone (which he is embarrassed to be seen using) to replace the iPhone he could not afford; as well as a few things he wanted, but nothing near the extravagant gifts my wife and I usually give to him. Joey was disappointed, but we explained that he is a "working man" now, which means he should be buying gifts for others as well as receiving. Since he did not purchase gifts for my wife and me, we did not give as generously as we normally would. During school vacation, we took him shopping for new clothes and sneakers - at JC Penney, where he was mortified to be seen purchasing store-brand clothing. My wife wanted to give in when she saw how upset Joey was, but I convinced her to keep up with the "tough love".
Due to a lack of snowfall, there were no (more) driveways to be shoveled over the winter and warm-weather yard-work does not yet need to be done. Last night, Joey asked me if he could "collect unemployment benefits" since "work has been slow". My wife and I responded that he was not eligible for unemployment benefits since he did not have enough work hours banked, but that he could try applying for T.A.N.F. benefits [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as "welfare"]. The look of horror on his face was priceless, when I explained to Joey that since he was a single man with no children he probably would not qualify for T.A.N.F. benefits anyway.
This morning, when my wife and I came downstairs for breakfast, Joey was standing in the kitchen holding a sign that read "Working Poor. Please Help. Need Gas Money for Carpool to Get to School". My wife and I plan to have a long talk with our son this evening (I am writing this on my lunch break), but we are pretty certain that this experiment has reached a concluding point. It has been a great success, and we just wanted to say thank you for the wonderful advice!
Two Proud Liberal Democrats
P.S. We made Joey walk the two miles to school, just to drive home our point!
Dear Two Proud Liberal Democrats:
Thank you for writing back to me to follow up on your situation! I love hearing back from people who have had success with the advice I have given - it makes me purrrrrrrr like a kitten!
Although I cannot guarantee that your son will not continue to hold ultra-conservative viewpoints (which is his right, should they be his beliefs), I do believe that you and your wife have taught him the importance of having compassion for others, and not to judge someone until you have walked a mile (or two!) in their shoes. You have done your job as parents, the toughest job there is! Keep up the good work!
P.S. You went even further than I suggested! I didn't think to take away his iPhone or to restructure his allowance. Bravo!
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