As someone who comes from a solidly blue-collar family, working as a teen wasn’t just encouraged, it was expected. There was no extra money for things like prom dresses or school trips, so if I wanted to enjoy any of the rewards of high school life, I knew from an early age that I’d have to pay my own way.
I got my first job when I was about 11 years old, babysitting for friends and family. When I turned 14, my mom told me I was old enough to pay for my own school clothes, and most of my hard-earned babysitting money went right to my wardrobe. In high school, I worked retail in the summer and was a part-time teacher’s aide at the local elementary school during the school year, all while managing to juggle school and extracurriculars.
Even though my finances were not as limited as my parents had been, when I had children, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t also get jobs when they were old enough. I knew I wanted my children to develop that skill set too, because the value of working goes far beyond merely earning a paycheck, it is an experience that teaches some pretty important life lessons:
Being on time matters
My dad was always fond of the saying “if you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.” I learned with my first retail job that showing up a few minutes after my shift started wasn’t okay.
People were counting on me, and arriving on time meant that both their day and mine would go much smoother. We can try as hard as we want to instill this into our children, but the message suddenly becomes crystal clear when a supervisor or co-worker is the person being let down.
Dealing with difficult people is part of life
Getting a job at a young age opens your eyes to the fact that not everyone is your mom or your guidance counselor. And while most bosses and customers are patient with teens just learning the ropes, there always seems to be a few who are a challenge. Realizing that people can be demanding, sometimes even rude, teaches us to navigate a wider world.
While putting a teen in a situation that is threatening or dangerous is never acceptable, figuring out how to work with a grumpy boss or tiresome co-worker can help them grow important people skills, not to mention a thicker skin.
Working builds confidence
Even as an adult, I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than having a supervisor commend me on my hard work. For teens, getting kudos from someone outside of school or family means a lot.
While my kids might have taken my praise with a grain of salt (because most teens feel like moms say nice things just because they are moms) a compliment from a boss, customer, or co-worker stayed with them for days. For my daughter praise from her supervisors helped her feel more confident and capable, which translated to other areas of her life.
Buying things with money you earn means something
While I always wished that my parents would buy me a car, purchasing my own first car with money I’d saved was one of my proudest moments.
I have noticed that both of my children took much better care of the things they purchased with their own money, and saving up for a coveted item made it much more valuable than if I’d just bought it for them.
Teaching them to fly is part of our job
As parents, we often want to make life easier for our kids, and I’ve definitely provided my children with more than my own parents gave me. But the things I took away from my early start in the working world gave me more than just school clothes. It gave me a sense of pride, purpose and a strong sense of self.
I see the same confidence and resilience I learned during my working teen years shining in my children who are young adults now, and while I sometimes wish I could’ve had the wherewithal to buy them a car outright, or do other things for them that made life easier, I think being able to stand on their own two feet is one of the greatest gifts I could’ve given them, and it will take them farther than any car ever could.