Attitude,  Honesty,  Humility,  Parenting

Dumbing Down Our Kids: 11 Rules of Life to Challenge the Teens in Your Life

If an adult called all teens young, dumb and broke, there would most likely be a hormonal backlash with a protest march and a side of attitude.

But for some reason when a teen writes a song with the same title, his young followers blare it like their mantra and dance like someone’s watching.

When we adults think of our own teen years, most of us probably agree… young, dumb and broke sounds fairly accurate. 

That’s not our dream for the next generation though. So how do you think the majority of our young people drifted so far from our grandparents’ standards of working hard, saving before you spend, and not acting entitled? 

Should we blame it on society? Culture? Media? Parenting?

E? All of the above?


11 Rules of Life

Sometimes the following ’11 Rules of Life’ get attributed to an alleged speech given by Bill Gates to high school students. However, they are actually from the book, Dumbing Down Our Kids, by Charles J. Sykes.

The first time I read this list I thought about my offspring. Would they agree with it, act indifferent, or hate it? If you have kids, nieces, nephew, or grandkids, think about them while reading this.

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it.

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will not make 60 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president or have a company car. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a designer label.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. When you screw up, your boss isn’t going to ask you how you feel about it.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes—learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room. 

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.


In My Face

I’ve read this list about six times now. It would be easy to say it’s only for teenagers, but the last time I read it I inserted my name into each rule and asked myself if any of it rang true as an adult. 

  • Do I whine, That’s not fair, when something doesn’t go my way?
  • Is there any entitlement lurking beneath the surface? 
  • Am I nice to nerds?

You should try inserting your name. Go ahead—I’ll wait. 

(Jeopardy music)

While the school rules might not apply to most of us anymore, Rule 5 made me pause. I never flipped burgers, but I certainly scraped my share of gross plates, changed a buttload of diapers and scanned a bazillion drugstore items. 

My age reflected my duties though and life felt appropriately normal. If I wanted cash, I knew my parents would gladly whistle the Seven Dwarfs theme song. “…it’s off to work you go….”

I’m not sure what happened after the 80s and 90s, but society’s slow fade from teens doing hard work to hardly working disappointed a bunch of grandparents and left some of us parents wondering, Where did they learn that? Was it partly my fault?

In the past few years I’ve heard two teenagers say they wanted to find a job that wasn’t too hard and that paid a lot. One of them belonged to me. #soproud

I’m sorry? I think you have the wrong number. 


Old, Smart & Rich 

Have you morphed into this new title? Society says your goals should have revolved around acquiring wealth through hard work, sacrifice and luck.

The bible says you should have worked hard, trusted God and blessed others with your moolah.  

No matter your age, brain trust or portfolio, teens are watching. Even with earbuds in and that Really, Mom? Seriously, Grandpa? look on their faces, they’re most definitely listening, observing and wondering if we’re gonna toe the line. 

Stand strong, fellow adults. They may know more about the new Agility Prime, Oculus Quest, and which robots will take over our jobs, but they still need guidance.

Any time my kids get a little sassy about my lack of technology skills, I remind them that I’m the one who taught them how to use a spoon. (Yes, you may steal that one.)

Mr. Sykes was right—life is certainly not fair. But thanks to his list, my husband and I still have time to work on not being boring. 

In effort to grow and change, I’m checking myself and my kids with this list as a springboard for intentional living. My desire is to launch young adults into society without a blankie, remembering hard work won’t kill them and nerds are cool.


Don’t tell the teens, but do you think the ‘11 Rules of Life’ is groovy, rad, dope or lit?

Did you insert your name and read it again?

Do you have a life rule to add? Tell me in the comments!


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  • Cid

    Referring to #9..and “finding. Yourself”… Just finished reading. Thomas a kempis the imitation of Christ and one of his quotes is “if you seek your lord Jesus in all things you will truly find him but if U seek yourself you will find yourself and that will be to your own great loss”

  • Jim Brinkerhoff

    Thank you, excellent post. I worked in labor relations for 35 years and was an HR Director for a medium sized California County for 14 of those years. I experienced the transition from employees expecting to adapt to the job to employees expecting the job to adapt to them. Fortunately there is still a core of young people who arrive with a good work ethic and who care about those around them. It’s up to us as Grandparents, Parents and youth leaders/mentors to set an example and teach our youth about the real world they will enter and eventually be responsible for. We’ll need God’s help and solid Biblical teaching as we move forward.

    • Carrie Talbott

      You’re right, Jim, there are still hard-working kids in this world. Unfortunately, we are fighting an uphill battle that our great-grandparents never had to: video games and social media. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m the parent, and it’s OK if our kids are mad at us for making them learn skills that don’t involve two thumbs and a controller.

  • Jennifer Zarifeh Major

    My husband and I both grew up with immigrant parents who had health issues. His parents were both 100% deaf. My mom has a severe hearing loss. His mom lost her hearing on a ship coming from Poland. My dad grew up in a war zone and had painful arthritis from a wee age. They all worked their tails off to rise above their circumstances. We learned very young that hard work is what propelled a person, not hand outs. Thus, that is what our siblings, and then our kids, all saw and knew. All of our boys were heavily into sports, and learned really quickly that is was talent AND hard work that made for success. None of our 4 kids have any respect for the entitled folks around them. When my kids do get sassy (a skill that I taught each of them) I remind the boys that they’d still be trying to hit the Cheerio in the toilet bowl if it wasn’t for me, and I remind my daughter that there is only one queen on the throne, but she can wave as I pass by.