Driven Kids

Every day during Spring Break, Victor painted lines on the athletic field and changed air conditioner filters at his school. Then he painted a potting shed and two dugouts before moving on to paint a fence around the perimeter of the institution. Although Victor--at age 16--was not a member of the United States Navy, he did come to feel that during his work day, "If something moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, paint it." As a result of his efforts, Victor was rewarded with more money than any teenager had ever earned in the history of Western Civilization, more money than Napoleon had when he owned some of the nicer bits of Europe. After nine days of painting and more painting, Victor received a check for $450. An equivalent amount for you or me gentle reader would be approximately $450 million. Maybe more. Victor had enough money for five tanks of gas, three movie dates, and a new volleyball. In short, Victor had infinite money, enough to last for months to come. When was the last time you, as an adult, ever had so much money that you could buy anything and everything you wanted into the future? Victor had recently purchased a "brand new" 2007 Corolla with only 71,000 miles on it. His parents had chipped in a significant percentage for the seven-year-old Toyota, but Victor had "skin in the game." The family--after some discussion--had agreed that Victor would be responsible for 10 percent of the purchase price, 50 percent of maintenance costs, and 100 percent of gas, insurance, and repairs. On the way home from the last day of work in his "new" car, the check for the greatest amount of money ever in the history of the world tucked safely beside him in the front seat, disaster struck: Stopped at a traffic signal, Victor accelerated into the car in front of him. He was only going four miles an hour, but he damaged the front bumper of his car. The cost of the repair was $430, almost the entirety of Victor's life savings. Victor's attitude was philosophical. "At least I have twenty dollars" he said. "No you don't," replied his father. "I took your car in to the body shop because you were in school." Victor looked concerned waiting for the other shoe to implode. "You have to take me for ice cream." Considering the economics of his father's appetite for all things frozen, Victor was again insightful: "Now I know what it's like to be an American," he said. "Always in debt." Subsequent to the incident at the stop light, Victor has done some work for neighbors: walking dogs, removing tree stumps, mowing lawns. He still swears he will never paint anything again, whether it moves or not. Victor is able to budget his affairs pretty well. When he runs low on cash he stops going to movies with his friends and finds more work. His father likes to believe that Victor may live a long, happy life without ever viewing "Crash, Boom, Bang" or whatever helicopter abusive film is in the theaters lately and sees no reason to supplement Victor's earnings. At the risk of overstating the obvious, compare Victor's narrative with that of "Carl," an ungrateful, snarky child to begin with who, making no contribution whatsoever, was given a 2014 V6, 3.7 L Mustang convertible (manufacturer's suggested retail price, $41,975) by his generous, but clueless parents. Although Carl is only 15 and therefore, cannot legally drive, his parents helped him overlook this annoying technicality and facilitated his procuring a counterfeit driver's license. Carl promptly destroyed the 2014 Mustang convertible by driving into a telephone pole--Hey, it wasn't his fault; he honked!--only to receive another 2014 V6, 3.7 L Mustang convertible the next weekend. I certainly hope Carl will be responsible with this second Mustang and not drive while impaired. That Carl's parents impress me as permanently impaired because who, in their right mind, gives a car like that to an underage driver, is perhaps the subject of another essay. In any case, if Carl does go drag racing and kill a few people, it won't be his fault because cars don't kill people; people do. I will argue that Victor is more likely to have a reasonable life than is Carl. Yes, I agree that "reasonable life" is a silly expression and no, I can't pretend to know what the phrase means exactly. But I bet you could make a good guess. Victor will have a reasonable life knowing the price of many things and the value of some others. Carl will not. Carl will never be satisfied no matter what he is given. Not for more than a few minutes anyway. There is lots of talk these days about consequences and responsibility. I would argue that Victor knows more about consequences than Carl does. "If you hit someone with your car even at four miles per hour, you will lose all your money" is what Victor understands. "If you smack your car into a telephone pole, you get another car" is what Carl knows. That Carl's parents TALK to him about responsibility, I have no doubt. But I would argue that HEARING about consequences is like hearing about sex. I am told that actually having sex is both more instructive and more interesting than hearing about it. Directed advice: next time your son tries to pull at your heart strings and tells you that "all the other kids" have $41,975 Mustangs, tell him to go pick up a paint brush. Later, you might even get some ice cream.

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