A mother took her three kids, ages 16, 12, and 8, to the zoo for the day. She says they mostly had fun, especially her two younger kids. However, the oldest child isn’t fond of animals.
They passed a Zookeeper working hard and cleaning a giraffe exhibit. The mother was surprised to see her 16-year-old son point to the Zookeeper and tell his brother, “That’s why you do good in school, I guess, or you end up scooping poop for a job!” She says he said it loud enough that the Zookeeper and nearby visitors likely heard what he said. She felt very embarrassed.
She says she quickly moved them away from the exhibit, and they left the zoo shortly after. Later, she asked her 16-year-old where he learned to talk like that. She told him that what he said wasn’t even true, and she believed that Zookeepers even had University degrees, perhaps even a master’s. Her son replied that it was gross menial work for “people who don’t want to work with their intellect.” He also believes that anyone can do the job.
The mom said she was appalled by how he learned to look down on manual labor, particularly zookeeping. Mainly because she realized it wasn’t an easy job. So she thought the best way to teach her son to have more respect and appreciation would be to sign him up to volunteer at the zoo. She found a “Zookeeper of the Week” program and enrolled him.
When she told her son what she had done, he was very upset and said, “why would you do that? That sounds awful.” She told him she thought he said it was easy, so surely one week wouldn’t hurt him. He replied that cleaning up the mess is easy because anyone can do it, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to do it.
His father (they are divorced) thinks she is being too harsh by enrolling him in the program, but she decided to make him do it anyway. She is reaching out to the online community to ask if she’s making a mistake by forcing him to volunteer at the zoo.
Several readers supported the mom’s decision and applauded her for helping her son understand the challenges of being a Zookeeper.
“Making him do the work will make him realize how hard a lot of these jobs actually are and the amount of effort people put into what they do. The jobs we might see as undesirable are the ones that keep a lot of systems running. To make that comment loudly in front of the Zookeeper is just harsh.”
“There are fewer keeper positions each year than there are rookie NFL openings. And to even qualify as a keeper requires years of unpaid intern work or seasonal positions. On top of your college degree and often graduate degree. I have close zoo ties (but don’t work there) and really appreciate the dedication of everyone there.”
Some said it’s not just a lesson in zookeeping that he needs. It’s more of a lesson in good manners that he needs.
“It’s not only the looking down on but the loud public rudeness that is a problem here. Good job OP (original poster) and NTA, but maybe sign him up for a basic manners course as well.”
“It’s one thing to have those thoughts but keep them to yourself – it’s still not great, but at least you’re not going out of your way to shame someone. He purposely went out of his way to say something that would make the Zookeeper feel bad. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is a lesson that kids learn in what, kindergarten? This kid is 16.”
“It seems what you’re concerned about is your son’s attitude toward and treatment of people that he perceives as lower on the social scale than him and his lack of empathy. Respect for other people, whatever the situation, can be taught in another environment if his feelings are so negative towards the zoo volunteering that he won’t learn anything. Talk to your son and husband to make them understand the deeper lesson you want to impart.”
Some readers feel that enrolling him to volunteer wasn’t a good decision when he already has such a poor attitude.
“Volunteers who don’t want to be there often just create more work for the employees. Those kinds of opportunities are for people who genuinely want to volunteer, not to discipline your children.”
“What did those poor zookeepers do to you that you want to punish them by inflicting your son’s bad attitude on them? And what exactly is he supposed to learn? That a 16-year-old can do this job, it just smells bad? Wouldn’t that support his position?”
“You want to dump your rude teenager on the zoo employees? So he can be more rude to them? I would certainly want to teach him, but I’m not sure this is the way.”
What do you think? Should she keep her son enrolled in the program or take him out? Is there a better way to teach him not to look down on people that way?
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