Our kids have worked since they were fifteen. Probably because they wanted to eat off-campus at lunch and our scanty meal allowance didn’t give them much hope of more than dollar tacos at Taco Bell. We have always had the intention of our teenagers getting a job as soon as they were old enough. Jon and I both worked in high school, and benefited from the experience.
On the flip side, I know and greatly respect families who have decided that their teens will not be working because they need to be focused solely on academics and extra-curricular activities in high school, or their sports don’t allow them to have time to have a job. Or, it just is not something they would consider for their child.
But, like SO many things in life, this topic is not a black and white decision. As our children are in college and entering the last couple of years of high school, we have learned a lot along the way, and the biggest lesson—there are both pros and cons to our children working.
1. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN THE VALUE OF MONEY before they leave the home. Each of our three children, who all have very different personalities, have made mistakes at some point with saving and budgeting the money they’ve earned in their jobs. And that is really good. They have had to experience the “poof” phenomenon that all adults with jobs clearly understand—where did it all go SO FAST?
They are learning priceless financial (no pun intended) lessons right now.
2. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN THE VALUE OF THEIR TIME. Working naturally causes our teens to be more efficient with the time they have each day. If your teenager is prone to couch potatoing in front of a video game or Netflix, working may be the best thing for them. Having a job significantly reduces the down time available, so what is left is studying, eating, school activities and a little friend time–a good recipe for a balanced week.
3. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN TO WORK UNDER AUTHORITY. They will experience managers who are difficult, unfair, or just a new personality type. They will also see good management examples. Teens will learn to respect the natural hierarchy of the workplace.
4. TEENS WITH JOBS CAN HELP CONTRIBUTE TO THE FAMILY. We require our kids to pay us $100/ month when they are old enough to drive. This money goes toward gas and insurance for the month for their cars, and although it doesn’t cover all of the expense, the fact that they don’t get to keep ALL of the money they earned for fun money is definitely a sacrifice when they get that paycheck. Welcome to adulting. And, it helps them appreciate the transportation they are being provided with all the more.
6. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN THE TYPE OF WORK THEY ENJOY (OR NOT). Our children have been in the food service industry (Starbucks, Chick-Fil A, serving at restaurants), retail industry (Tillys) , and general service industry (Discount Tire). They are clearly learning what type of work they enjoy– and what they don’t. They have a greater sense of empathy for those who work in these industries, as they know how hard, or boring or exhausting these jobs can be. It is one step in helping them refine their work journey for the future.
5. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN TO SAVE MONEY for the things that are important for them. Our son, his Junior year, spent a vast majority of his money on fast food. And he had nothing left to show for it at the end of the year. This was really disappointing to him, and he has decided that the money he earns his senior year is going to be used for a better purpose.
6. TEENS LEARN INTERVIEW SKILLS. Our teens learn to advocate for themselves, identify their skills and assets, and communicate those clearly to a person in authority.
7. TEENS WITH JOBS LEARN THAT DOING THINGS THEY DON’T LIKE WON’T KILL THEM. Often times our adult jobs include tasks that we don’t enjoy. That is reality, and we want to prepare our kids to have that expectation when they are working as adults. Just because part of a job isn’t fun or enjoyable, doesn’t mean we quit. We remind our kids “Work is called work for a reason.”
Back to things not being black and white, we have also let our teens quit jobs they really don’t care for. But they have to give it three months before they make that decision. Our son really wanted to quit his job at Discount Tire his junior year (for reasons we found out later were quite valid), but he stuck it out and ended up liking it there. Great life lesson on perseverance.
8. TEENS WITH JOBS DEVELOP EXCELLENT CHARACTER TRAITS. They learn to be prompt, to follow directions, to work with co-workers they don’t particularly care for, to plan their time, responsibility on the job, multi-tasking, learning new skills, and appeasing difficult customers (just to name a few!).
Working in high school prepares our teenagers for launching into the real world. There are incredibly valuable life lessons that working in high school prepares them for. A high parenting value for my husband and I is preparing our children for the real world…which jobs do in significant ways.
There are cons. Cons that sometimes have made us let our kids take a few months off of work. Again, this is not black and white. We need to stay flexible with our kids lives, keeping academics and emotional health as a priority.
There are less cons listed below than the pros above…but they are still significant and worth considering when making this decision with your teen.
1.YOU LOSE YOUR DRIVERS This was a big one that caught me by surprise. As a mom of three with a husband who travels every week, I couldn’t wait until our oldest daughter received her license—yay drive help! But since we also asked her to get a job, she was often scheduled to work when I needed that extra driver to pick up another child from soccer practice or after school activities.. This struggle has not gone away over the years, but we have decided the value of work is higher than the value of an extra driver.
2. YOU HAVE LESS TIME WITH YOUR TEENS. They are busy. And then the job makes them more busy. This is an important con to consider. Often our teen is scheduled to work during the dinner hours, so if having dinner together as a family is a high value, this might get in the way. Teens will often be working on the weekends, after school, or in the evening, and when they are home they are studying or resting or hanging out with friends.
3. THEY MAY MISS OUT ON FAMILY EVENTS. This is the reality of working. Sometimes our teens have not been given days off that they requested for special occasions or family outings. This is always difficult at the time, for all of us. But it is another life lesson—being a reliable and loyal worker speaks volumes in your work life. And sometimes that comes at a cost.
4. ACADEMICS. For some children, having less down time during the week actually helps them condense their studying to be more on task and efficient. However, there have been many Thursday nights our kids have been scheduled to work while having two or three tests the following Friday. This teaches them to plan ahead for these tests, but it also means late nights after they get home from work.
And sometimes, if our teens have not been able to keep up their academic workload because of a job, we have given them time off from work because school is always a priority.
5. SPORTS. It is very hard for teens to hold a job during their high school sports seasons. Our son is a golfer, so from spring to fall every year we learned that he needed to put his job on hold because practiced after school every day with tournaments on the weekends. Most employers aren’t flexible enough to work with that schedule. So, he works from October to March every year, and that works for us.
So there it is! Our lessons from the past several years. My husband and I have had many late night discussions about each child and their work life–making sure they are finding a healthy balance with all that they are involved in. We have had to make some difficult decisions along the way, but in the end we are glad for our own stories around work and are seeing our children develop many character traits that we want them to take into college and adulthood.
PS: Keep an eye out for a blog about TIPS NOW THAT YOUR TEEN DOES HAVE A JOB!
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