When I was 14 my mom took me out for coffee to the only restaurant in our little town.
(Well… there was another, but you didn’t go there unless you wanted a reputation.)
The time we spent together was very benign. I don’t remember a thing of it. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
But I remember what happened when we went to the cash register to pay. My mom greeted the owner by name (this happens in small towns) and asked if he had a job for me.
Surprise! You’re getting a job.
I stood there in shock as I watched my mom apply – in person – for my first job.
She told him I was willing to do anything, that I was a hard worker, and that I wouldn’t let him down.
My mind was whirring.
How did she know I’d be good at this kind of work? I’d only ever done housecleaning, cooking and laundry. It seemed that even there I didn’t ever do it good enough. So why was she telling this man I’d be so good at the job?
My new job
I started the very next day.
I worked in the back doing dishes. I didn’t have a uniform yet so I couldn’t do anything up front. Which suited me just fine.
Once my uniform came in – in all it’s brown, orange and beige glory (it was a skirt with a bib and a beige blouse underneath) – I was allowed to clear tables. Wow! I was moving up in the world!
Eventually I worked my way up to waitress, pizza cook, grill cook, catering and of course, cash.
It turned out my mom was right. I was great at working hard, all the customers loved me (especially when I remembered their ‘regular’ order) and this kind of work seemed to fit me just fine.
I worked there until after high school graduation.
I was only 14 when I started working. I had at least one week night (6 hours) shift plus shifts on Friday (7 hours) and Saturday (8 hours) and sometimes Sunday (6 hours+). That meant 21 hours on a slow week and 27-30 on a busy week. Then there were the shifts I was called in to replace a sick employee, or when I had to work overtime.
I didn’t make much
My starting wage was $4.00 an hour. In the restaurant I worked in I got no tips. (Rough life, I know!)
And I was still in high school. I was taking piano lessons and theory and doing exams each year. I was a straight A student. I was involved in ISCF (InterSchool Christian Fellowship, a division of IVCF – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) and my church youth group.
By the time I was 18 I had traveled to Europe with my own money, and paid cash for a 1981 Toyota Tercel. I saved my money and spent it wisely.
Although I was shocked and not very pleased that my mom got me a job without my consent, in hindsight I am very glad she did.
Working was good for me
I learned how to work hard, and how to balance life and work.
I had to be diligent with my work because there was no time to slack off. I learned how to rest during times of rest because if I didn’t, well… I’d never get the chance. I scheduled in my friends, fun and fluff.
I survived. I did well. I graduated from college with no debt (my parents paid for none of it, but I did receive a scholarship and a gift one semester from a friend). I worked through college like I had through high school, although this time I was teaching piano lessons.
I’m glad I worked. I’m glad my parents didn’t give me the option. Even though there were plenty of times I wanted to quit and have a ‘real life’ like some of the teens in my class at school.
That’s why I think many of the teens in our culture, including my own teens, are losing out.
Why many teens don’t work
I think there are many reasons teens don’t work, more than I can address today. But here are some:
1) Parents want to keep their kids ‘young’.
We are afraid to let them experience the hardships of balancing work and life, of paying bills and donating money to the government. We don’t like to see our kids tired and having to say no to fun activities.
And I say this to myself, as well as to those who have teens: Are we really doing them any favors?
If they don’t learn how to handle work and life while they are at home, when will they learn it? Will the experience be any easier in 5 years? In 10 years?
Wouldn’t it be wiser to let them learn how to earn money and budget their time and expenses while we can coach them from home, instead of waiting until they have to carry ALL the loads at one time?
2) There is a lot of pressure for kids to perform.
I mean that literally. Our culture wants us to give them every opportunity to shine: dance lessons, piano lessons, choir tours, gymnastics, hockey, soccer – whatever!
As parents we are pressured to give our kids every lesson and opportunity. The insinuation is if we don’t we will have deprived our kids of their childhood.
And it’s a lie we’ve bought, folks!!
There’s nothing intrinsically required of parents when it comes to all those lessons. We, as parents, are required to raise our children and teach them and train them according to the bent they have been given by God.
For some that may mean extra lessons – but not necessarily, and not in everything under the sun! For some it may mean spending more time playing board games, or riding their bikes, or… getting a job while they are in high school!
Training our kids is more than just giving them a strong academic education. It means training them to live a godly life at every stage.
That includes teaching them how to work, how to budget, how to earn money, and how to relate to bosses and co-workers. All of that is part of training our kids.
Have we become so short-sighted that all we see is a (hopefully) good report card and the trophies and certificates they may win?
3) The truth is our economy is also to blame.
There are hardly any jobs for teenagers anymore.
McDonald’s used to be the place where teenagers got their first job. Now you’ll find college graduates and retired career people flipping burgers and making milkshakes. And if that’s the only place they can find work – I’m glad they found it there.
But that means we as parents need to work harder to find positions for our kids to work and gain experience.
The world is changing. It’s not so easy to chat with the owner of the store and secure a job for my child as I pay my bill like my mom did so many years ago.
I need to pray with my kids, asking the Lord how, and where, and when do they need to work.
Not IF they need to work.
And then I need to be brave enough, Mom enough, to help them get that job, keep that job, and do well at that job. Because – well – that’s part of the process of training our kids.
That’s why teens need real jobs.
How about you?
- If you are a teen with a job – tell us how you got that job! We’d love to hear your story!
- If you are a teen without a job – tell us why you are not working yet.
- If you are a parent of a teen, share your experience! How did you, or will you, introduce your teen to the world of the ‘real job’?
- And finally… do you think teens should work during high school?