If you only pay attention to news stories and social media posts about young people these days, it’s easy to get discouraged about the fate of future generations. Reports of ridiculous and potentially dangerous “trends” have become an indictment on the lamentable state of today’s youth. (Eating Tide Pods? Really?)
And these so-called “challenges” are nothing compared to horrifying events such as school shootings, bullying and teenage suicide that are a parent’s worst nightmare. I can truly worry myself sick about the safety of our children when they’re outside of our care.
If more kids were raised “right,” I firmly believe we’d have many fewer problems among today’s youth. Now, I realize “right” is a subjective term. But farm folks understand what I mean. Others do, too. On my commute this morning, the drive-time DJs were asking listeners to share “signs you were raised right.” Callers listed examples such as opening the door for someone, being polite to restaurant servers, respecting elders, removing your hat for the National Anthem and giving a firm handshake.
That discussion begged the question: “Are my children being raised right?” I hope so. As farm kids, my husband, Jason, and I feel like we were raised that way. Growing up in a rural lifestyle inherently instills values that we are trying to pass on to our son and daughters:
- Say please, thank you and excuse me.
- Don’t waste food. Eat what is put in front of you.
- Work hard and do your best.
- Be careful with money and understand the value of dollar.
- Share—with each other and with those less fortunate.
- When asked to do something, don’t say, “That’s not my job.” Better yet, take initiative to do it before even being asked.
- Go to church, say grace before meals and pray before bedtime.
- Hold family dear and cherish your time together.
- Be kind—to people, animals and the land.
Granted, that’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s not exclusive to farm families. I can tell you, however, I see those traits in most of the agricultural youth I encounter. Take 4-H and FFA members, for example. I’m always impressed by them. They’re universally polite, helpful, smart and confident. These days, an increasing number of members don’t have a farm background—but they’re still learning the principles these programs emphasize. I recently judged speech contests for the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives and the Missouri FFA Convention and was awestruck by the poise, talent and effort of the young orators.
In the story on page 28 of this month’s TF, “Show business,” Alex and Caroline Rhode exmplify the kind of kids that farm life and agricultural education develop. At 16 and 12, these siblings were patient while I took photos of them wrangling cattle in the mud, insightful when we sat down to interview and passionate about their future plans. Daddy wasn’t doing the work for them. They were taking responsibility for their own projects.
The values, morals and skills learned on the farm or in agricultural education programs such as 4-H and FFA can translate to success in school, at home, on the job and in life. Later this month, MFA’s Ag Experience interns will arrive for a summer of on-the-job learning. Some will be repeat participants, including Madison Byrd, who will reprise her role as an intern here in the Communications Department. She did such good work in 2017 that we asked her to return. Through the years, many MFA interns have been offered full-time employment in our system because of the positive attitude and work ethic they displayed. Employers crave characteristics such as problem solving, efficiency, integrity, independence, creativity, responsibility and time management—all of which can be learned in agriculture.
We aren’t raising our children on a farm, but Jason and I are determined to instill those type of values in our children. We are acutely aware that our control over them will start to be compromised as they edge closer to double-digits, so we’re doing our best to establish expectations now. If you have children or grandchildren or influence young people in some way, help teach them these traits. Make sure they have good manners, show respect for others, recognize right from wrong and refuse to take part in risky, irresponsible behavior.
As the school year comes to a close, I’m reminded that a new crop of young people will be either entering the workforce or continuing their education. Is that hopeful or hopeless? It could very well depend on whether they were raised “right.”