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The Blessing of a B Minus – The Real Lessons of Homework, Chores, and Jobs

When our kids were young, we had to do everything for them.  For this reason, taking care of toddlers is often easier than letting go of teenagers.  But Wendy Mogel believes that as our children age it’s important to give them responsibilities; otherwise, our overprotectiveness inadvertently prevents them from becoming the contributing members of society we hope they’ll be.

“If you absolve your teen from routine responsibilities like laundry, you will teach him that there are two types of work: exalted and menial.  In this distorted view, exalted work includes studying, practicing a sport, rehearsing a musical instrument, or tutoring children in a third world country.”  In comparison, ordinary tasks, like changing the toilet paper roll, are beneath them, which is problematic because “a large portion of life is maintenance and repair.”


Mogel argues, “When parents let their teens believe they are too special to do ordinary work, they raise ‘handicapped royalty’ – young people who study brilliantly and are full of conviction but don’t know how clothes get clean or how to read a credit card bill.”  The reality is that in order to be successful in life one needs to be able to balance the mundane with the marvelous.

The Blessing of a B Minus maintains “The purpose of homework is not to bring glory to the family in the form of perfect grades” rather to teach children “planning, prioritizing, delay of gratification, and tolerance of frustration.”  This is why it’s important that parents allow for natural consequences, like points off for lateness or a lower grade for sloppy work.  In addition, if you keep coming to their rescue, their teachers will be deprived of the information they need to instruct your children from where they, not you, are at.

The next step in preparing for the curriculum of life is chores.  Mogel says in her experience “chores lead to better school performance because they teach teens how to organize their time and their actions.”  Still, Mogel does believe surrendering to a messy bedroom is a necessity with an adolescent in the house.  “If your teen consistently cannot find things he needs, such as schoolwork, money, car keys, or important papers, or if he is hoarding old food or dirty dishes, it’s time for him to clean up.  Other than that, the room is not your business.”

Finally, Mogel argues that a paid job is better than an exotic volunteer experience when it comes to impressing college admissions officers.  “Why aren’t colleges awed by kids who lay pipes in Kenya?  When teenagers participate in a community service program paid for by their parents, whether in Africa or closer to home, they are not working for money.  The adults who run the program are.”  If you want to prove your child is responsible, skip the ‘internships’ in a parents’ office as well because colleges know that responsibilities re minimal and often manufactured.

“A paid job is the exact opposite of supervised transcript fodder like volunteer experiences and internships.  In a paid job, the teen is often working for adults, so she has to cater to them.”  But perhaps most importantly a paid job teaches them to walk in the “shoes of people who work very, very hard for low wages.  It teaches you that service is not servility and that any job can be done with dignity.”

The Blessing of a B Minus believes when your teenager is need of an attitude adjustment, you should make sure that you’re modeling a reasonably reverent attitude toward chores.  Are you creating a double standard?  Are your clothes neatly put away?  Do you leave all the cleaning to a housekeeper because you work so very hard?  Do you perform chores but complain all the while?If the answer to any of these is yes, then Mogel believes you’re teaching your child that chores are a dreary substitute for life, not a practical way to enhance it, and you both might have a few lessons to learn.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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