Friday, July 27, 2012

Kids these days...

Kids these days.

I have always put a lot of faith in teenagers. I have always  employed them, I have tried to develop their skills, I have tried to help them grow into healthy adults.  Recently, my faith in our youth has been tested.  I feel myself wanting to give up on them. And so, I feel the need to talk about my challenges with these kids, maybe as a way of processing, but how do I write about the problems with our teenagers without sounding like an old man, an old codger complaining about “kids these days”.

It drives me crazy when I hear people my age or older talking about how much better things were when they were kids. “We would never have done that!”  Every generation has had its problems, and every generation of kids have been a part of that. We get freaked about youth crime but ignore the fact that crime rates have been dropping since the 70’s. We talk about drugs and alcohol, but ignore the fact that we were all skipping school to get high or drinking southern comfort in the park when we were their age.  In fact, I think that most of the kids I meet are better behaved than I was as a youth. Kids take school more seriously, have a better work ethic, are more concerned about the enviroment and their political life, are less racist and less sexist and less homophopic than my peers. And many of them get involved in all kinds of interesting and creative projects. I just read an article about a young woman who is making chain maille clothing using pop-can pull tabs. One of the things I find surprising about teens these days is that they actually go to school on a regular basis. I would go weeks sometimes without seeing a teacher or a text book. (and i graduated!) So, I have always rejected notions that kids these days are so bad.

In my work I have always employed teens. They start as dishwashers and bussers. I draw great satisfaction when I can train them and see them rise up the ranks to become cooks and servers. I feel that we are giving them real life usable skills. Wherever they wind up, they can always find employment. Restaurant work puts people through school. It facilitates travel. And it gives them something to fall back on if plan A falls through.  For some of us the restaurant industry becomes our plan A.  We have servers pushing 50 who have houses on the river, two vehicles, travel regularly and have no desire to “find a real job”.  Years ago, I ditched my Plan A of a PH.D in Philosophy and Religion in favour of what has become a pretty good day job.

For a lot of teenagers, the best thing you can do for them is give them a job. People do more growing up when the get their first job than they will ever do at school. At work we don’t treat them like kids. I don’t talk to their parents and I expect the same level of responsiblity from them that I would for any of my adult employees. At school, kids get stuck in a very artificial setting where everyone they have to relate to is of the same age. At work, they will build relationships with people who are younger and much older than them. This, I feel, is very healthy for a growing mind.  And at work they learn real responsibility: responsibilty to the employer, responsibility to each other and responsibility to the customer. 

Working with teens, particularly teens with questionable backgrounds and difficult family situatuations can be challenging. Many of them just don’t understand the rules. they have no one teaching them that if you have a scheduled shift, you show up for it. On time. Ready to work. They have no one to teach them that if you want to quit, you give proper notice. They have no role model to show them that it is not okay to drink or do drugs before work.  I had one kid, when I was lecturing them about drug use, say to me in his defense, “I always smoke an hour before work, so that I am all burnt out for when my shift starts.”  I hire lots of kids who don’t last very long. But sometimes you hire a kid who you want to put effort into.  There is something about them that you like, or you see promise in them. These are the kids that I give a lot of chances to. They screw up, we talk, they come back, they do a good job, they screw up again, we talk... These kids, my wife calls my “projects”. There is nothing more rewarding, then when I see one of my “projects’ turn out successful; when I can take a teen with sketchy history and give them a skill and teach them how to be a good employee.

I love working with teens, and I think very highly of this generation of teens, but recently my faith in them has been challenged. I can talk about the kids who I gave a lot of chances to, the kids I tried to work with who let me down, the kids who unleashed anger on me when I finally gave up and stopped giving them more chances. I have many of those stories. But I just feel that those are the risk of me taking on my “projects”. Sometimes they will be successful, and sometimes not.  And when we finally part ways I might feel dissapointed or sometimes even betrayed, but that goes with the territory. However, recently I have had to deal with two incidents that have really shaken my faith. 

One Sunday morning, at 4:20, I got a call from the Liquor Inspector. “I just locked up your restaurant, did you know it was full of kids smoking and drinking? You better come down and make sure everything is okay.”  Turns out, a former employee had shown up, bullied or cajoled the dishwashers on shift to let them come in to “wait for them”. They turned this opportunity into a party.  My dishwasher says ‘I tried to get them to leave’, but he also joined in on the festivities. Had my inspector not shown up for a random check, they would have partied all night. The next day I was given a big long list of violations, I had to fire two employees, I took legal action against the former dishwasher, and we changed a bunch of policies. We have always operated our business from a position of trust. Unlike a lot of restaurants, we don’t have cameras to watch our staff. We feel that if you give people trust, they will repay it in kind.  On that day, trust was eroded. And the policies we enacted said “I don’t trust you”. And that hurt me.

This past week, I had a similar event at my home. My daughter, sweet and a bit naive, told one of her young friends that we were going away for three weeks. He told a few friends, and they told a few friends. My mother in-law who lives with us, was out at the lake with us, was not planning on staying out at the lake. She arrived home to a house full of teenagers. She should have been frightened, but she stormed into the house full of anger. “Who the F’ is in my house!?” They weren’t just partying, they were drinking my liquor, including my Veuve Cliquot, smoking my cigars and butting them out on the furniture, rummaging through all our stuff, stealing jewelry, much of which had sentimental value, such as grandma’s cameo, and trying to steal our tv’s. Had ‘Nanny’ not come home, I am sure things would have been much, much worse.  We called the police and rushed home from the cottage. We hung out with the cops until 6 am that morning. At one point we were asked “what do you want to do?” Do you want to press charges?  We debated this for a while, we were pretty angry, but decided there would be no benefit to putting a bunch of 14 yr olds into the system. We opted for a “caution”. We asked the police to go talk to each of these kids parents and to ask that they come apologize to us. At 5 am, the police came back and informed us that their mission didn’t go well. The parents seemed ineffective, “what are we to do? the kids are out of control”. So the police encourage us to press charges. Maybe the kids would learn from this. The police also suspected that they had done this before. But the piece that kept coming back to us was how could a group of teens do something like this?

So my faith in teens has been shaken. The three themes I come back to, and the three ideas I worry about are 1) the lack of respect for other peoples property and livelihood 2) the lack of concern for consequences and 3) the inability to take responsibility for your own choices. We all make stupid choices, but when we do, It is important to own them.

As I am writing this, I think that these three concerns are not just concerns for “youth today”. They are issues we had to deal with when we were kids and issues that adults have to deal with today.  I make many poor choices and I am not always good at taking responsibilty for those choices. (I am working on it) I am thinking about successful adults fighting “speed trap cameras”, and I think “you were speeding, just pay the fine, its not the camera’s fault.” And so maybe its not a teenager thing, and maybe it is not a generational thing, maybe it is a common struggle that we all must engage in every day of our lives.

So, I will continue to put faith in our teenagers. I will continue to hope for good things for the future. I will have many moments of satisfaction and joy as I see them grow up and be successful and I will have disapointments and heartbreak when they slip.  It is important for me to not become the old codger complaining about “kids these days”. I must believe in these kids and their ability to overcome their own challenges, to become happy and stable adults and maybe even to make our world a better place.

Part Two: August 29, 2012

So, as if someone wants to test my faith in teens, I have a few new stories over the past few weeks.
I had an employee take a personal check off my desk and write himself a check. He had another buddy cash the check at a bank machine for him. When the check didn't clear, cause it looked sketchy (he even got the date wrong) his buddy was out $450.00. Screw your boss, sure, but screw your buddy as well? Then I had one of my recently released teens bust into my restaurant one night to steel the cash from the cashouts. Silly boy, didn't realize that these days no one pays with cash. busted into the bistro but left empty handed. Then, sunday night, one of my cooks and two of my former dishwashers let themselves in to the bistro, drank my cooking tequila and took my truck for a joy ride.  Monday night, someone, busted the windows of two cars, busted the door of the apartment next door, started to bust my door open. They vandalized, but didn't take anything.

I never thought I would have camera's in my restaurant, but I am giving them some serious thought.

So, I am looking for some new cooks. Responsible adults only please.
I am officially fed up with teenagers.