Originally Published March 6, 2006
Last Friday I had stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts to grab a cup of coffee and had a few minutes to sit and sip before picking up my daughter from driver’s ed. I’ll take 5-minutes peace, anytime, anywhere – it’s hard to come by some days. Anyway, I engaged in some “people watching” and observed four college guys coming out of a tanning salon. Being a warmish day I had the window down and caught a whiff of their cigarette smoke as they lit up. I cringed. Didn’t they listen to their parents, teachers and pediatrician when they said smoking was bad for them? I wanted to lecture them then and there but refrained from causing a scene.
With tinted windows I don’t think they knew I was sitting there as they were on the opposite side. I could hear their conversation clearly as they discussed how excited they were about heading to Florida for Spring Break and how getting a tan ahead of time would save them the potential of burning later. Haven’t they ever heard the phrase “malignant melanoma”? I wanted to get out and show them the cherry red spots appearing all over my torso and arms from my childhood in the sun. Decided not to, might scare them away.
They laughed about how surprised “the girls” were going to be when they see their tan lines. (Something I only thought girls cared about up until now.) They discussed a few other things about what they were planning on doing in Florida but I’ll skip that part for propriety’s sake. Like I said, I don’t’ think they knew I was there.
Flicking the butts onto the ground and not even bothering to grind them out, they hopped into their vehicles, new ones, SUV’s, Jeeps, a sports car, each one of them, remember there were four and one shouted, “C’mon, hurry up, we need to go pick up the keg before class starts.”
I sat silent for a few seconds, okay dumbfounded, and you want to know what the first thing that popped into my mind? No, not the obvious of the harms of smoking, tanning and binge drinking, I know that all of those things are issues that each of those guys will have to come to terms with on their own. At this age, they think they are immune to anything harmful or bad. No amount of nagging, cajoling or pleading by parents or teachers is going to make a difference until they are ready or should I say mature enough to listen. For some that takes decades but I won’t digress here.
So here goes…What really got me was the thought, “Where are they getting all the money to support these activities?” Where do they get the cash for sessions in tanning salons, cigs at 5 bucks a pack, and a week in Florida and kegs of beer while attending college at the same time? Is there some secret philanthropist out there that I don’t know about?
What happened to 12 year old cars at book value prices that needed clutch and brake work not to mention the weekly gallon of water for the radiator in warm weather? Do you remember digging through the bottom of your backpack, under the seat of your car and maybe even begging your roommate for some spare change to buy a cup of black coffee in a Styrofoam cup between two 3 hour classes? Oh, that’s right…only the homeless ask for spare change these days, not the college students in town, they have those plastic cards now.
I don’t know about you but not many in my circle could afford to spend a week in Florida during Spring Break because we were all picking up extra hours at work so we could meet our fall tuition payment in time. Only a few headed to warmer temps and the others who did went because their grandparents retired down there and gave them a pull-out couch to sleep on for a few days in exchange for accompanying them to the early bird dinner at the local Howard Johnson’s. They usually didn’t come back very tan but they did come back without hangovers!
So I’m just wondering, is all this living with excess good for these kids? I really don’t think so. I think they have and are given too much before they know how to appreciate it and properly manage it. I will be the first to apologize to one of those guys if they told me that all that I saw and heard was on their own dime as was their tuition. I would still not agree with some of their choices but I would respect their choice to make their own decisions in how they spent their hard earned cash and lived their lives. I think they are in the minority though.
I think parents are footing the bill for the majority of what I saw last Friday. Parents, who justifiably love their children, want them to have a good education and would do anything for their kids to help them succeed in life. Unfortunately I think too many parents somewhere along the line have succumbed to a society which tells us over and over that if we’re not giving our kid every ounce (and penny) of help that they, they are somehow dooming them to a lifetime of failure. They have bought into it and are paying dearly for not thinking what the long term effects will be.
When does a child start paying his/her own way? 18, 21, 25? How many just keep racking up the debt, have Mom and Dad bail them out and then do it all over again? Take a look at today’s bankruptcy statistics among recent college grads and you’ll get an idea. How many are back home again after four years of college “finding themselves” but not finding a job and they still haven’t once paid a medical co-pay?
I’m not against helping kids succeed. I’m not against wanting what’s best for them; an education, happiness, fun in their lives, But I do think they have to have to take part in earning it, sort of a “matching gift” program. You show me you want it badly enough to work for it and I’ll find a way to help you realize your dreams. I believe that they have to know what it takes to survive in this world financially and I am being irresponsible if I do not teach them in little increments now, when it’s still easy to undo any damage and continue on.
We’re told not to “Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” but we’re also told “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” Too many college students today have a cart full of stuff they think they need and have acquired but haven’t realized to make it go anywhere they need that horse to pull it along. Mom and Dad aren’t always going to be there, they better start pulling the cart now, cuz the stuff just keeps getting bigger and heavier.