Jamie's right - today's teens are workshy
Too many teenagers have been made unemployable by over-indulgent parents, says the chef. Cassandra Jardine hangs her head in shame
I don’t need Jamie Oliver to tell me that teenagers are “wet”. Nor do I need him to tell me that indulgent “mummies” have rendered their little darlings virtually unemployable. I’m one of those mothers. In fact, I’ve rung my 21-year-old son’s employer to get him off work for the day. In my defence, I didn’t say, like a mummy whom Jamie quotes: “He’s too tired. You’re working him too hard.” But I did claim that he had a migraine because the poor boy was so exhausted from working 15-hour shifts in a restaurant kitchen.
The food business is a special case. I don’t know any other where the hours are quite so ridiculous. Jamie may talk casually about “knocking up” seven 18-hour days in a row, but it’s a killer, not to mention illegal. To do it for more than a month – that’s how long my son lasted – you have to be passionate about the work, very good at it, and/or lacking other options. Jamie, who notched up two GCSEs and was filleting fish while still at primary school, had the benefit of all three goads to hard work.
He also had a father, Trevor Oliver, who pulled him out of bed on a Sunday morning – on the principle that if he was up, the rest of his family should be too. His father also made it easier for young Jamie to get the work bug because he didn’t give him pocket money. If his children wanted cash they were told they could earn it by working in the family business.
Well done, Trevor. Not so well done the rest of us who are in a panic that we have produced a generation of perpetual students or layabouts. My friends and I have produced children who aren’t “bullet-proof and rock-solid” like the Poles and Lithuanians whom Jamie Oliver admires – but are soft, easily daunted, delightful but distractable.
Our child-rearing programme has been designed with this end product in mind. We have provided unconditional love, with lashings of praise and plenty of pocket money (often a rent-free home, too), so it is hardly surprising if our children have a sense of entitlement. My friends who are employers see what he means about this “embarrassing” generation. “Every time I look to see what she’s doing, she’s on Facebook,” says a woman who is employing a friend’s daughter in her small business. “If I’m not around, she goes home early. She’s a sweet girl, but she doesn’t have any hunger to work.”
Now, we are all reading about Tiger Mothers in the controversial book by the uber-disciplined Chinese-American mother Amy Hua, and wondering if it is too late to change. We’d love to have concert pianists in the family, but we weren’t prepared to lock our children in their bedrooms without supper. Nor were we prepared to drill them in mental maths for two hours a night to make sure they came top of the form; we thought it would be enough just to sign up for Kumon, laugh about it, then drift away.
But take heart. We might have blown it for producing childhood prodigies, but it doesn’t mean that all is lost for our young. They will, however, have to adapt to the realities of the working world, just like we did at their age. People can and do change; we have to believe that or we wouldn’t bother to watch television programmes like Jamie’s new series Dream School, where hardened low-achievers are encouraged to stay on at school by being taught drama by Simon Cowell and history by David Starkey. I expect that some pupils at the Dream School will get the work bug; some may even stick with it once the cameras have disappeared.
If children are going to learn about working hard, someone is going to have to teach them, too. Parents can start charging rent and insisting on minimal lie-ins, while reciting the mantra “my house, my rules”. But employers have to be clear about what they want. Most of the people I know get rid of dozy juniors, but one woman goes through a regular ritual after they’ve been hanging around listlessly for a month. She takes them aside and explains a few facts about what’s expected. Often they look amazed; quite often they change their ways.