The value of a summer job

(Art Institute of Chicago/Unsplash)

This might be at risk of sounding like an “I used to walk two miles to school in the snow” story, but I remember a time when having a job, especially in the summer, was the norm. To be clear for many it still is, but it seems like over the past few years — mostly in anticipation of college applications or post-college resumes — the focus has shifted from having a summer job to taking an additional class, having a unique experience abroad or going on a service trip. All of these are wonderful ways to spend summer, but often don’t leave time for a summer job. Are we doing our young people, especially those with means, a disservice by not placing an importance on working? From a very young age, I can always remember having a job. In junior high, it was an early morning paper route or babysitting, then front-facing service jobs. There were a lot of important life lessons learned from those that I think many young people are missing out on. As a result, I am a strong proponent of our children having a job. Here are just a few of the invaluable lessons gained from a summer job: 

Responsibility: This one may seem obvious because as adults we all know that having a job means you are being held accountable to show up on time, complete the work and meet the expectations of your supervisor. These are valuable lessons that become ingrained the earlier we can experience them. A summer job can teach kids the importance of showing up on time, and if they aren’t able to do that, to be responsible for finding a replacement or letting someone know with plenty of advanced notice. A job also teaches them the importance of arriving dressed appropriately (or in uniform, depending on the job), well-rested and ready to work. They also must learn how to communicate with their supervisor and other co-workers. It may be their first experience outside of school talking or interacting with people who have different backgrounds, ideas or views.

Experience: Summer jobs are a wonderful opportunity to try new things and gain skills that may help your teen figure out what they want to do long-term. They may decide working with kids is something they want to do, or they may prefer working more with adults. Do they like selling something or trying to fix something? No matter what the job is, they will learn skills that no doubt will benefit them in other areas of life. Once you’ve had to make cold-calls, you have a different perspective of how hard it is — and you remember that when you get a call. The same can be true with food service. Personally, I think everyone at some point should work in food service and wait on people. You have a much different patience for people when you have been there and done that job yourself and know how hard it is. Because teens have more time during the summer than in the school year, it can be a great opportunity to develop those skills by working more — so not only do they get more experience and time to hone their skills, they also can make more money. 

Money Management: Many of us may still remember our first paycheck: that feeling of independence, freedom and the desire to spend it. Having a job allows teens to learn the basics of their money and is a great opportunity for them to set up their own checking or savings account. I remember my daughter getting her first paycheck and wondering why it wasn’t as much as she thought and so ensued the life lesson of taxes. After taxes and covering bills and expenses, she quickly realized there wasn’t a lot left. She also became much more aware of how much things she wanted cost. Your priorities or wants change quickly when suddenly it’s your own hard-earned money you are spending. Making these tough financial decisions early on can put them on a better financial path long term. 

In the end, I think there is real value to every teen having a job before going to college. The experience allows them to develop a strong work ethic, gain new skills and earn money which are all valuable life lessons. A job also helps provide some structure and teaches time management, which is way more productive than sitting around playing video games or sleeping until noon. It is a first step to them understanding how the real world works and the sooner they can experience that the better off they will be as they head off to college and beyond. 

Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Comments: letters@

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