07/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Put Your Kids to Work. They'll Be Glad You Did

I recently read a sweet little book called Growing Up Country, by Carol Bodensteiner. She describes her childhood growing up on a dairy farm in Iowa. What struck me most about her account is how much she enjoyed being challenged with work on the farm. At each age, she "graduated" to harder and harder chores, and it felt like such an achievement to her. Which doesn't mean she loved all her chores all the time, but like many people who have grown up on farms, they taught her how to work hard and get things done, which comes in handy when you are a grown-up.

Just last night I was talking to a farmer from Kentucky, and he was lamenting how his kids just want to watch TV and play video games: "In Montana by the age of three those kids have a rope and a horse and they are put to work." Slight exaggeration, but not by much. What his comment reminded me is that whether or not we live on a farm, it's up to us to raise our kids as if we do live on one. Part of our job as parents is to teach our kids how to get things done, and appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done. Not only does it take some of the chores off our plates, but it also makes for a more functional family.

We all know people who never learned how to work hard, and sometimes it feels like they can drag the whole world down. Here is the truth: We are all fundamentally lazy. But given the right training, encouragement, and reward for hard work (which doesn't have to be money, it can be praise), we can all be turned into productive -- and, as a result, happier -- people.

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