Nobody’s eyes light up with excitement when a Sacrament speaker announces his topic is “work.” Whoo-hoo! Talk about a subject with an immediate negative connotation.

But wait a second. Isn’t a hard work ethic one of the keys to missionary success? Don’t we all tell our mission-bound kids, “Love the people, obey the rules, and work hard?”

And isn’t hard work what it takes to make a marriage work? And hold onto a job? And succeed at a career? And serve in a calling?

And isn’t it the thing that seems lacking more and more, with each succeeding generation? Parents who had a tough upbringing sometimes try to spare their children that same fate, and give them the luxury they never had. Do this for enough generations and you will have a crippled society of lazy, whiny people who dread even the smallest amount of effort and for whom selfishness is a prominent trait.

What these well meaning parents end up doing is depriving their kids of an essential life skill. Over time the generations have softened until any kid mowing a lawn expects to be paid for it, and chores now include bed making and room straightening-which used to be givens, while “chores” were extra stuff– heavy duty work such as baling hay.

We also have more and more people in the world who feel entitled, who think either the government or their family should support them from the cradle to the grave. Allowance is something you get for breathing, not because you earned it. And we have a growing population of people who are unable to save up for something and defer gratification. They’ve never even heard of “layaway” or buying something only when you can afford it.

These squishy-muscled kids are also the ones ward leaders sigh about when in a meeting, trying to choose a good leader for a certain responsibility. “If only she were more dependable,” they’ll say. And the roster will be filled with other loafers who also want not to work, but to be entertained.

Sometimes parents mistakenly opt for “schoolwork” over all other work. What they don’t realize is that a basic work ethic will see them through even the toughest school assignment, but that intellectual/scholastic ability doesn’t always apply to marriage or the workplace.

When I was a kid nobody asked their parents for money. It was unheard of, and probably unavailable. So my friends and I were constantly coming up with creative ways to earn money. We walked rambunctious St. Bernards, we edged thistle-choked lawns, we babysat utterly lawless infants, we sold watery lemonade, and we put on inconceivably bad plays and spook alleys, all of which were attended by paid admission only.

One summer, long before “recycling” became a word, we crumbled up the weeds we had trimmed, stuffed homemade pin cushions with this compost (hey-no waste!) and promptly sold them around the neighborhood, just before they began to reek. Our local popularity did not experience great gains that year, and we did not publish a glossy stockholder’s report.

But we kept at it. I even turned my childhood book collection into a library, complete with card catalogue and overdue fees. The joy of capitalism was thriving on our block, if not among grown-ups, certainly among their ambitious offspring, who were learning how to crush flowers into fabric dye, and selling the potions at ten cents a bottle, to the children of horrified mothers.

Another scheme had us going door to door offering to dress and photograph any family pet. It included a free spin around the block in a baby buggy, the guaranteed thrill of any animal’s lifetime. Portraits of testy cats in floppy hats-or of spaniels in sun glasses-became as common as resin grapes in our neighborhood (and much more personal, we pointed out in our sales pitch).

Today you rarely see this sort of, well, desperation. Kids expect minimum wage for moving a widow’s sofa or carrying boxes for a new move-in. One time I suggested giving ice cream coupons for prizes in a speech festival and heard a kid hoot, “Big deal. My mom buys me all the ice cream I want.” Who is this woman-a little girl who actually made good her childhood vow to let her kids eat all the candy and ice cream they want, whenever they want it?

I asked some kids if they’d like to have a car wash so they could cool off in the summer heat wave, and one said, “No way, man. Play in water? Pass. I’m going water skiing with my new jet ski.” And he was ten years old!

And just try finding a babysitter who won’t need a suitcase and an armed escort to take home her earnings from one night’s “work.” It’s like trying to find a kid who knows which end of the shovel to hold.

What are they going to do when they graduate into adulthood-refuse to go home teaching unless the family has a plasma screen TV and lives on the new space station?

I have a radio advice show and recently a woman called me about her son, who was earning money to buy a car. She asked me how much of the car’s total price he should be expected to pay. I told her whatever amount of the car she wanted him to appreciate.

My ward is made up of mostly young families. Like it or not (and the answer is not) , I am seen as the matronly woman who has pretty much raised her kids and knows all the parenting missteps one should avoid. Young moms in their twenties look to me for a voice of experience, and here is what I tell them:

Teach your kids to work hard. Actually the more honest statement would be ” make your kids work hard,” but teach sounds nicer. If you live in a concrete suburb and there simply isn’t enough work to do, manufacture it. Get them gardening in whatever space you have, show them how to scrub baseboards, vacuum draperies, scrub toilets, iron cotton clothing. Teach them how to cook entire meals when they’re still adolescents. When a clock or a gadget breaks, teach them how to repair it instead of just replace it. Get them painting, hammering, mowing, wallpapering, sewing, and working on the car. Pull weeds, sweep porches, wash windows, replace hinges.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Ahh, exactly. First of all, we don’t need a scientific study to tell us that busy kids don’t get into trouble as often as idle ones do. Second, self esteem rises with skills attained, and you are giving the gift of confidence. Third, there’s a good kind of pride in work well done that teaches intrinsic joy that spills over into everything kids do, including schoolwork.

But fourth, and by far most important, is that you have to develop a good work ethic in your youth. If you wait until adulthood, just like learning a foreign language; it’s never going to feel native, and it will always be more of a struggle. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Kids who know how to work hard can be plunked down into the worst schools in the country, and still learn. They’ll have the gumption to read on their own, set their own standards, and excel.

Kids who know how to work hard will earn their Young Women medallion, their Duty to God award, and their Eagle.

Kids who know how to work hard will apply that energy to gaining a testimony, and not give up until they get one.

Kids who know how to work hard will write home from their missions that mission work is a lot easier than being at home. They will appreciate every task you taught them.

Kids who know how to work hard are not going to throw in the towel at the first argument of newlywed life.

Kids who know how to work hard are going to stand out from the crowd in the workplace, and get promotions and recognition others won’t.

Kid who know how to work hard will be more satisfied with the work they do, because it will be of better quality than that done by slackers.

Kids who know how to work hard will never dread or resent work, but relish it.

Kids who know how to work hard will be able to do anything they set their mind to, because they’ll know that with extra effort, goals are reached.

And kids who know how to work hard will never be discouraged about making it to the Celestial Kingdom , because they know that you can always pick yourself up again, work to finish a task, and even do what might seem impossible to others.

So there is it, in a nutshell, how to raise kids to be happy, productive adults. Is having to work “negative?” It’s one of the most positive things you can do.