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Posted October 31, 2003 

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 building also.

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 abundance.

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.

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