If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve probably thought about whether or not she should get a job. I’m not talking about those cases where teens need to work because the financial situation dictates it. I’m talking about when the family is doing fine financially and getting a job is more about lifestyle spending or instilling values in your teen.
What I often hear is some version of the following:
“She has her whole life to work so there’s no reason to make her work now when she doesn’t have to. Let her have fun while she can.”
If you’ve ever had these thoughts you’re not alone. At first, they seem completely reasonable. Who doesn’t want their children to have fun and enjoy life? They do have a whole life of working ahead of them, why should you add to it if you don’t need the money?
It’s a lovely sentiment and comes from a good place, but there are a couple of significant flaws in this way of thinking. The first one being there’s “no reason” for going to work.
If you’re only metric for measuring the value of work is “for the money,” then, sure, there isn’t a good reason for teens to work. But, if you believe getting a job, particularly at this stage in life, offers other redeemable qualities, then there are many reasons why going to work is a good idea.
It is well documented that teens who work while in high school benefit from:
- Better time management skills
- Understand how to prioritize competing demands on their time
- Teaches delayed gratification
- Enhances interpersonal and social skills
- Less entitled
- Able to take direction
- More confident
- More disciplined
- Greater perspective
- Better work ethic
This is no small thing. Even if money was on this list, I’d argue it falls near the bottom. The life skills kids learn by going to work far exceeds the value of their paycheck.
I know parents are worried about overscheduling their children, but there is no evidence children are being damaged by having a part-time job. This is even true for kids who are heavily involved in extracurriculars (i.e. athletics, music, dance).
Turns out kids are able to have an amazing high school experience, filled with Friday night football games, dining out with friends, and just hanging out and enjoying doing nothing while also holding down a part-time job.
Who knew, right?
As is often the case with today’s parents (myself included), our fears turn out to be far worse than reality. This modern-day phenomenon of kids not working says more about our own work neuroses than anything else. Which is kinda strange considering how many of us parents had a job while we were teens and we’re doing just fine.
Good Intentions Don’t Always Lead to Good Outcomes
Turns out the real damage being done to kids comes more from us coddling them than letting them go. We’ve all heard of “helicopter” parents who won’t let their kids out of their line. Or, “snowplow” parents who are clearing away every obstacle in front of their children.
Taking care of and providing for our children is noble and giving and selfless but often does more harm than good. Kids need to fail a bit. They need to be challenged and learn from those experiences. They need to struggle and work hard and see that their efforts don’t always go rewarded.
Having a job as a teenager is fertile ground for learning how things work in the real world. Everyone should know what it’s like to have a bad boss, to “feel” the pain of having to go to work when you don’t want to, and to know they’re not special just because they were the star athlete or the smartest kid in class.
Better to struggle while the stakes are low than on their first real job out of college. Better to deal with not feeling appreciated for their hard work while mom and dad are around to help them cope with such “indignities.” Better to understand how it’s not possible to do everything you want at an equally high level, that you need to prioritize your time based on what you value and where your responsibilities lie.
Some things are best learned through experience and exactly because we spend much of our lives working, our children need to understand the basics of what that means as early in life as possible.
Plus, kids need to understand the direct connection between work and money. No work, no money. No money, no fun. You want to raise kids who aren’t entitled? Make them go to work and pay for some of their own stuff. See how quickly they learn the value of a buck when they have to work for it.
Teens should get a job because:
- It teaches them discipline. You go to work because you have to, not because you want to. And you need to be there on time, all of the time. With a job, there are real consequences for not doing what you’re supposed to do. The sooner they learn this lesson, the better off they will be.
- They start to connect the dots between work, time, and money. Money comes from work and work takes time. Seeing how long it takes to put a $100 in your pocket from working is an “aha” moment for most teens.
- The most surefire antidote to prevent raising entitled children is to have them work for their money. Entitled children are entitled because they are given too much, too often. By definition, when one works for her money, she’s not “entitled” to it, she’s “earned” it.
Why you shouldn’t worry about the negative effects of working while still in high school (or college):
- There is no evidence kids are damaged by having a part-time job. We try to prevent our kids from being too stressed out from juggling too many things but it’s usually the parents who are stressed out. What was good for us is good for our babies. We shouldn’t let our work neuroses get in the way of our children’s development.
- Kids need to be challenged in order to grow. Muscles and bones don’t get stronger when they’re not being used and neither does a kid’s ability to deal with real-world issues. Having a bad boss or feeling underappreciated is a rite of passage all of us must go through. Better to do so under the watchful eyes of supportive parents than when on their own and fully immersed in the real world.
As with most things, this isn’t a “right” or “wrong” issue. However, I do believe in putting the odds on our side and teens working does just that.
So, what do you think? Are you still on the fence with the merits of teens working? Wholeheartedly convinced one way or the other? Please leave a comment and share why or why not you feel that way!