Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Light Bulb Lesson

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Have you seen My Super Sweet 16, an MTV program on the “there’s-no-good-reason-for-your-child-to-watch-this” list? The show features spoiled girls and boys celebrating their 16th birthdays in a way over-the-top fashion.

In one show Priscilla goes to the dentist to remove her braces before the big event to the tune of $1,000, only to have to turn around and put them back on again the following week. Another soon-to-be 16-year-old is allotted a $300,000 budget for her party, while yet another treks across the country to purchase the perfect party dress for $8,200. And what about the girl who hails from Memphis whose parents gave her a custom $125,000+ Hummer. She wants to add a chandelier.

Then comes Exiled, one of the few programs on MTV that is actually good for your children to see. The fed-up parents of the “Sweet 16-ers” decide to send their spoiled divas and dandies to remote parts of the world—places like the Arctic Circle, the Andes mountains and the jungles of the Amazon—to teach them a lesson or two.

In a recent episode, Bjorn enters his home after returning from another shopping spree at the mall. What Bjorn doesn’t know is that his parents, Carlton and Maureen, are about to ship him off to the hot desert sands of Morocco to live with a family from the Berber tribe. Carlton and Maureen say things like, “My son has no idea about the value of money.” And, “He feels entitled to everything. He doesn’t know how do a full day’s work.”

The show is painful to watch. Bjorn complains and whines. He begs off doing chores he feels are “too dirty” and refuses to help gather food for supper. By the week’s end, Bjorn seems to be learning something. He says, “Getting paid for my hard work feels pretty amazing.” A little later he writes in his diary, “Shopping is more fun using the money I earned myself.” He then adds, “Can’t believe I am saying that.”

This show makes me wonder about the lessons I am teaching my daughter. We often talk about the value of money and the need to “take care of our property.” The other day after wearing a new jacket only one time, she lost it. “If you don’t find it by Friday, you’ll have to use your savings to purchase a new one,” I told her. I figured this was the best way to teach the lesson. The show Exiled confirmed my hunch.

Not too long ago we had another challenge and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Addy never remembered to close her closet door. You might be thinking “So what?” What you don’t know is that when the closet door is open, the light stays on. When the light stays on 24/7 it has a faster burn-out rate. Changing the light bulb requires effort— a ladder and tools to fetch, as well as removing a globe attached by inconvenient screws, then reversing the process once the bulb's in place.

I hated nagging, so I finally told her, “The next time your closet light goes off, you’re changing it.”

“Sure,” she said, not at all concerned.

I stopped harping about the door, but I wanted that light to go out—the sooner the better!

Finally it did. I helped Addy gather everything she needed. She had to carry the ladder up the stairs, climb up it, use the tools. It took her about twenty minutes to replace the bulb and put everything away, including hauling the ladder back down the stairs.

“I didn’t know it was so complicated,” Addy said. “I thought you just screwed a light bulb in and that was it.”

Being responsible for the consequences of your actions is an important thing to learn. I think the best reality training begins at home, a point the parents of the Sweet 16-ers just haven’t gotten yet. By making sure Addy knows how the world works in her home, we can use our travel money to expand her life experience rather than squander it on remedial training.
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