I never had a job in high school. My brother did, but I managed to avoid it somehow. I’d watched him working as a checker at a retail store, and it looked tedious and thankless. Between summer programs, illnesses, and simple inertia, I got to college without having worked a day in my life. I did need to work in college, but it was missing a few “real world” attributes, like a paycheck (it went straight to tuition). This led to me, in my early 20s, calling my roommate in a panic because my second paycheck was so much less than my first. My roommate laughed for a long time and explained taxes to me.
Upon graduating college and entering the working world, I had trouble staying alert for eight hours, couldn’t understand how I was to focus on repetitive tasks, and in general had a pretty bad work ethic (I should point that my first degree was not in nursing!) I learned as I went, and eventually found a career path I was interested in and passionate about. But those first couple of years were a struggle. Would a summer, or school year, spent working have helped me? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect so.
Obviously, sometimes it’s not a choice as to whether or not your teen is working. That money may be sorely needed for education or for the family. If you have a hard-working teen, make sure you tell them how proud you are of what they’re doing! But I’m going to argue that even if it’s not a financial necessity, it’s good for your teen to work and earn money for a car, clothes, a vacation, etc.
Things mean more when you work for them. Your teen may not particularly enjoy working in order to pay for things they could get for free, but it teaches two valuable lessons. One is- to be cliche- the value of money. Knowing how many hours and days of working pays for, say, a car gives them an insight on how expensive cars can be. Another is the knowledge that they earned money and bought that car themselves, which can be liberating and encourage independence in the long run.
It’s good to know what adult life is like. The vast majority of Americans have to work. Many have to set aside eight hours a day, five days a week towards this labor. They have to create and maintain work relationships with supervisors, coworkers, and/ or employees. Some people love their jobs, some don’t; some have a plan for their career and some are simply trying to get by or keep their family fed. Being exposed to these realities is important for anyone on the road to becoming an independent adult.
It’s good to understand how most people live. Your teen may be planning on a career in neurosurgery or corporate law, and unlikely to live the same lifestyle as someone who works for an hourly wage. But learning to treat people with respect regardless of their occupation is important, as is learning that knowing somebody’s job doesn’t allow you to predict their knowledge, values, or talents.
It can help teens understand what they want (or don’t want) to do. If your teen has complaints or dislikes regarding their work situation, the good news is that this is something they can try to avoid in the future. They can seek higher education, enter a different field, and/ or work hard to be promoted into a supervisory position.
What I should note is that the best-intentioned teen sometimes cannot get a job. When the economy tanks, so do teen job opportunities. If your teen truly needs the money, they can try to start their own business in babysitting, lawn mowing, dog walking, etc. Or if your teen is not in need of money, they can look at a volunteer position. Volunteering is a great way to gain real-world experience, looks good on a resume, and can often be something your teen enjoys and values.
Also, keep in mind that during the school year, your teen needs time to study! A part-time job can be manageable, but work should never impinge on academic progress, if at all possible.
What have been your experiences with your teen working- or being a teen worker yourself?