Are we doing our kids a disservice by telling them they can do anything?

Too talented to work ... have we led our kids astray?
Too talented to work ... have we led our kids astray? Photo: Getty

Here is an interesting question for you: do you believe your children can do anything, and be anything they want to be?

What's more, do you believe it is useful for your kids to grow up believing that about themselves?

I suspect a large number of you would have answered a resounding 'yes'. And I'm not at all sure this is a good idea.

Let me explain.

A Victorian butcher's chain, Tasman Meats, advertised for 50 apprenticeships for young people. Despite the excellent pay and huge scope for promotion, they had only two responses. TWO.

Yet there are many, many Victorian young people who are unemployed. Clearly, many young people would prefer to stay on benefits than take a less-than-glamorous job.

Now, obviously blue collar work is not suitable for everyone. But surely many of those unemployed could thrive in a blue collar environment. So why aren't they applying for the jobs?

Because clearly, they believe they are worthy of greater things.

And why do they believe that?


Because we tell them they are.

As parents, we are forever trying to boost our kids' self-esteem. We tell them they are special, they are unique, they have boundless potential. Schools teach kids to aim for the stars, and break down any sense of 'greater' or 'lesser' by giving prizes and participation ribbons to all.

And as a result, many young people consider themselves too good for manual labour. This would be fine if there were endless exciting, sexy jobs for them to walk into, but the reality is that the job market is limited. And so kids are choosing to stay unemployed rather than demean themselves with a less-than-ideal position.

I think this is unfortunate, and we as parents are largely to blame. The reality is that not everyone is capable of achieving their dream job. My son is never going to be a sports star, no matter how hard he tries (and boy, he has tried). He just doesn't have the athletic ability. My daughter will never be suited to jobs which require quick thinking, because she is slower, and more considered, and has trouble making decisions.

Not every aspiring singer, or lawyer, or fashion model, or magazine editor will make it into their chosen profession. The competition is so fierce, and the talent pool so wide, that there just isn't room for every person with a dream. I am so tired of judges on televised talent shows imploring the contestants to 'give up your day job to focus fully on your singing'. History shows us that very, very few of these people will make it, and it is a disservice to them to convince them to let go of their back up plan.

We live in a big, wide world in which there are numerous ways to contribute to society and find job satisfaction. We need the butchers and tradies and cabbies and labourers just as much as we need the chefs and the doctors. Most of us need to start at the bottom before we sail on up to the top.

And working hard and earning a wage and being responsible for oneself is hugely praiseworthy, whatever your job or status.

Push your kids to reach their potential, but be realistic about what that potential is. There is honour in ambition, but a strong work ethic and a positive attitude is the most admirable quality of all.