By Lon Woodbury
Every successful emotional growth or therapeutic school
or program uses scarcity as an important tool. This
is not deprivation of basic needs like food, water
or shelter; that kind of scarcity usually backfires
and creates fear, resentment and what is called "an
underground." An underground is where students
reluctantly do only what they have to in order to just
get by, and there is usually no positive change in
their thinking. Instead, I have in mind a scarcity
factor where beyond the necessities, students must
earn what they receive. If they do not make any extra
effort, they get only the basics. It is up to each
student to decide what he or she wants badly enough
to work for. Actually, virtually the whole discipline
of economics is based on the existence of scarcity
in the real world.
When the structure of a school or program is well
constructed, this scarcity factor extends to relationships
with peers. That is, in a well-structured school or
program, the students even find it difficult to make
ongoing friendships until they can learn how to make
them based on trust, honesty and respect. Easy friendships
are not satisfying, because they are usually based
on a lowest common denominator, like drugs, hanging
out, etc. These easy friendships demand little, but
provide little in return. However, when a child makes
the effort to earn respect from peers through honesty,
responsibility and the like, the resulting friendships
are much more satisfying, and well worth the effort.
Even when making good friends, the scarcity factor
applies, just like it does in the adult world in which
the students eventually must enter.
Children must be raised with enough scarcity in their
lives to learn the lesson that they have to work for
what they want. If given "stuff" freely,
without learning the lessons of work and earning their
own way, we often get children who feel they are entitled
to all the good things in life. Without learning this
lesson about the scarcity factor, their future is problematic.
Adults who have successfully supported themselves or
supported and raised a family, know that it doesn't
come about without a lot of hard work. Trying to raise
and support a family by assuming it just automatically
happens is a formula for great disappointment, and
often disaster. The scarcity factor applies in family
The scarcity factor is an important consideration
for parents to keep in mind for their children. The
modern tendency for parents to give their children "all
the material advantages" very well could be a
major explanation why so many teens are not emotionally
capable of handling the responsibility of college,
or work, at least initially. We see many young adults
with a turbulent start to their adulthood as they learn
the hard way that the world does not consider it owes
them anything. The turmoil comes from the young person
having no clue about the scarcity factor that requires
earning something by working for it.
It can be argued that this need for a child to learn
how to deal with scarcity as part of growing up is
in our genes. Except in the late 20th and early 21st
century in industrialized countries, human groups have
lived consistently on the verge of disaster. There
was no room for slackers and every person in the community
had to pull his or her own weight. Often, the consequence
for someone who broke the rules, or didn't contribute
to the tribe's survival, was extremely harsh by today's
standards. The human race evolved under conditions
of constant scarcity and out of necessity everyone
was required to learn the vital lesson that they had
to work to contribute for survival.
It doesn't make sense that the human trait so
universally required in the past, no longer applies.
Much more sensible is the suggestion that even in times
like our current abundance, for emotional health, a
person still has to learn to earn what they get by
struggling with scarcity. Besides, for most adults,
the world still enforces that need to work for what
you get, though not as obviously as in the situation
of a wandering tribal group subsisting off the land.
Despite the complexity of modern civilization, the
scarcity factor is still as important as ever.
A quality school or program recognizes it is an important
part of the student's learning to deal with scarcity.
Wise parents would do the same when raising their own
children, not being too generous about providing cars,
personal phones, credit cards, or full college expenses
with little effort spent by the child to earn this
Remembering the scarcity factor is important in order
for a school or program to be successful with teens.
And, parents who want to give their child a true advantage
would do well to provide good lessons about the scarcity
factor for their children.