To Work or Not to Work?
Teenagers lead busy lives, that’s no secret. Their everyday consists of juggling academics, extracurricular activities, friendships, and their responsibilities at home. Does that leave room for exploring employment? You may shake your head at the thought of allowing room for one more responsibility, but what if the advantages lay the groundwork for a successful transition into college life and beyond?
A simple place to start is with jobs for tweens, or children ages 8-12. Basic tasks for neighbors or family members can be a great starting point. Tweens can walk dogs, care for pets, water plants, or tend to a garden while the owners are away. These simple ideas to start making and saving money can lay the groundwork for responsible monetary habits that progress into their teenage years. Erin Collins, a high school counselor, says, “Tweens can learn the skills at unpaid/paid jobs that will help them to get ready for a job with more responsibility. Jobs that involve cooking, money handling, and other complex skills are a good way to teach responsibility, time management, and work readiness.” She goes on to say that jobs with multiple steps will help with cognitive processing, learning how to multitask, and evaluating a customer’s needs and wants.
While jobs are important in teaching good character qualities, it also sets the teen up for a positive future. Kelli L. Ewing, LPC, shares, “Having a job not only teaches teenagers responsibility, but also gives them a jump start on the realities of today’s workforce. If the job they choose is in anyway related to the type of work they wish to do upon finishing school, there is also a great opportunity to make connections that could be helpful with job placement in the future.”
Abby Hotchkiss, 19, began working at 12 as a babysitter and a cat sitter. By the time she was 16, she was ready (with references!) to begin an official job at a frozen yogurt and coffee shop. As a current working college student, Hotchkiss says, “I have a set schedule which allows me to study and manage my time around work. I am able to participate in extracurriculars with my job, as I am in a sorority, and a part of a business council.” With the help of healthy habits formed as a young worker, Hotchkiss was well prepared for life beyond high school.
Your teen can explore options like babysitting and housesitting with some simple networking. Teens, ages 14 and older, can also consider applying at nearby restaurants to bus tables, play host or hostess, or even try their hand at the cash register.
Ewing shares that there are great lessons to be learned and self confidence to be gained by teenagers when they work, especially when it comes to money. “Children and teenagers are often not aware of the cost of items that are either desired or necessary until it’s their turn to pay for them. Self confidence can be gained by teenagers who save their money and are able purchase certain items without their parents’ help. Also, if the teenager is a driver who is expected to pay for gasoline/maintenance to his own vehicle, budgeting is necessary to see exactly how much is earned when you have to deduct expenses.”
Katie T., 16, began her work experience by running the snack bar at Kenilworth Club in Baton Rouge. Now a lifeguard, she stresses that staying in most nights because she has work at the pool the next morning has kept her busy, but organized. During the summer months, her job helps her stay grounded. “I’ve realized that making money is fun, but it goes very quickly. It takes some weight off of my parents’ shoulders when it comes to small expenses such as food and gas.” She also shares, “Other teenagers should get a job because it gave me a small taste of independence and I learned that making your own money is rewarding.”
When it comes to balancing academics with a job, Katie says that she works on summer reading during breaks at the pool because every little bit helps. But how can we encourage our teenagers to manage their time during the school year with a job? There’s the old idiom that hard work pays off, and teens will see that lesson first hand through the time management skills they’ll foster in their jobs, the satisfaction of task completion, and learning to find value in constructive feedback from their superiors.
According to Collins, teenagers that work part time jobs actually tend to have better grades than those who do not. She attributes this to the time management skills they’re developing. Regardless, it’s wise for parents to watch the amount of hours their son or daughter is working closely. “Parents can help by monitoring student grades as well as their child’s stress levels in order to make sure working is a good decision for the family,” she adds. Collins recommends no more than 15 hours per week so that grades don’t suffer. Ewing also agrees that keeping the line of communication open should a teen’s grades begin to slip as a result of working is crucial.
Another advantage is that teenagers will continue to grow as an individual, and in ways that may not happen at home. Like Katie, time management skills are put to use, communication habits are beginning to be built, and teens can even begin to learn what is or isn’t going to be a good fit for them in the workforce—like what kind of management style will work best for them. Hotchkiss adds, “All the jobs I’ve had have greatly helped my communication skills, especially since I worked in the service industry. I have learned how to conduct myself in an interview, communicate with managers, and be presentable in a variety of settings.”
Collins also explains that, “Joining the workforce can allow teenagers to see the world from a consumer’s perspective.” They will learn how to help others solve problems and how to anticipate needs and prepare ahead of time. On top of that, they’re learning how to manage time at work and time enjoying leisure activities outside of the classroom and their job. This exploration of self while learning real-world skills gives young workers’ resumes a boost for the next steps on their career path—college and beyond.
Lastly, allowing your teen or tween the chance to get a job is a learning opportunity in fiscal planning for the future—the earlier they work, the more money they can have saved by the time they’re ready to fly the nest. According to Hotchkiss, “I believe I have become more financially responsible from having a job, as I now monitor my own income, bank account, and manage my own spending.” Likewise, the earlier they get a job, the more they may be making when they graduate from high school. Katie says, “Having a job as a teen is great preparation for the real world because the majority of the time, in the real world, you’re going to be employed. The earlier you start the better.” ■