Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chores Teach Children, It's Not All About You

Sue Shellenbarger wrote an important piece in the Wall Street Journal on children and chores a while back. 

How much time each day, on average, does a 6 to 12 year old spend on household chores?

"If you guessed more than a half-hour, you're wrong. Children are spending a mere 24 minutes a day doing cleaning, laundry and other housework -- a 12% decline since 1997 and a 25% drop from 1981 levels, says Sandra Hofferth, director of the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland.

While most parents today focus mostly on teaching kids self-reliance -- keeping themselves clean, fed and botulism-free -- the benefits of learning housework run deeper. For example: After controlling for other factors, U.S. marriages tend to be more stable when men participate more in domestic tasks, says a study of 506 U.S. couples published in 2006 in the American Journal of Sociology.

Housework has unique value in instilling a habit of serving others. Analyzing data on more than 3,000 adults, Alice Rossi, a professor emerita of sociology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found doing household chores as a child was a major, independent predictor of whether a person chose to do volunteer or other community work as an adult. Thus for parents who value service, housework is an important teaching tool.

David Jackson has consistently required his twins, 16, to help around the house, starting as toddlers when they began picking up their toys and adding harder chores, such as stocking bathrooms or mowing the lawn, at each new stage. He sees the chores as a way of teaching empathy and "stewardship -- taking care of the community assets," says the Tulsa, Okla., father. "It helps them realize the world is not all about them."