“Develop a Backbone, Not a Wishbone”

In 1959 Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colo., wrote an open letter to teenagers, which was published in the South Bend Tribune on Dec 6th. The judge worked in juvenile court in Denver from 1940 till 1975. I’m guessing he would have seen quite a bit in his time.


In 2012, a post on Facebook featuring some of his letter went viral. His words are just as pertinent today as they were fifty odd years ago. I’ve reprinted the letter in it’s entirety as sited in the Pierce County Tribune, Jan 7th 2010, with my emphasis.


“Open letter to Teen-ager

Always we hear the plaintive cry of the teen-ager. What can we do?…Were can we go?

The answer is GO HOME!

Hang the storm windows, paint the woodwork. Rake the leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the walk. Wash the car, learn to cook, scrub some floors. Repair the sink, build a boat, get a job.

Help the minister, priest, or rabbi, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. Visit the sick, assist the poor, study your lessons. And then when you are through – and not too tired – read a book.

Your parents do not owe you entertainment. Your city or village does not owe you recreational facilities.

The world does not owe you a living…You owe the world something.

You owe it your time and your energy and your talents so that no one will be at war or in poverty or sick or lonely again.

Grow up; quit being a crybaby. Get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone, and start acting like a man or a lady.

You’re supposed to be mature enough to accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.

They have nursed, protected, helped, appealed, begged, excused, tolerated and denied themselves needed comforts so that you could have every benefit. This they have done gladly, for you are their dearest treasure.

But now, you have no right to expect them to bow to every whim and fancy just because selfish ego instead of common sense dominates your personality, thinking and request.

In Heaven’s name, grow up and go home!”

– South Bend Tribune, Sunday, Dec. 6, 1959.


The more things change, the more they stay the same!


Some recent commentary, has proposed that these words were too harsh. Not me. If fewer people less concerned about political correctness and more people told it like it is, I think the world would be a better place. We sugar coat so much for our kids. Everyone has to win a prize these days, we are encouraged to praise everything our kids do, no matter if their efforts have yielded poor results.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely in favour of praising effort, but don’t pretend the kid who comes last in a race is as fast as the kid who comes first; don’t pretend that your child’s speech was just as good as the kid’s who came first in the public speaking competition, and do not kid yourself that your six year old doesn’t know that the best and fairest is shared around the team, rather than going to the best player every week, or that they don’t know the score, even though you encourage participation and not winning.


For me, there’s nothing the matter with acknowledging competition, there’s nothing the matter with losing, there’s nothing the matter with telling a kid just how it is, and there’s everything the matter with not trying your best, and blaming someone else for your failings.


I reckon a good few adults could do with taking notice of what the good judge said.


What do you think? Too harsh or fair enough?




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