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The Lost Art of the Working Teenager

| October 03, 2019
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Now that we are back in the full swing of the school year, it seems almost impossible that the relaxed pace of summer ever existed. Those three glorious months make way for sleeping late, family vacations, and even – gasp – a summer job. By now, one month into school, most teenagers have repurposed their time for sports, clubs and homework. After all, in our current, very competitive environment, it can mean the difference between the college of their choice and no choices at all.

 

But let’s not completely abandon the idea of a part time job. 

 

I wrote a blog last year about the money lessons you can teach your children in the summer, one of which was to make sure your kids earn their allowance through actual work they do to contribute to your household. This is one of the easiest ways that parents can teach their children responsibility and money lessons. Money magazine reported that nearly 9 out of 10 families require their kids to do at least one hour of chores per week to earn their allowance.

 

However, older children can benefit greatly from having a job outside the home where Mom and Dad aren’t the boss. When I was a kid, I started working as soon as I could earn my way. After a busy babysitting career in junior high, I made the leap to cookie girl at Paradise Bakery in high school. Most Saturdays, I worked the 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. shift in addition to at least one weekday shift after school. And I loved every minute of it.

 

The job gave me freedom, responsibility, money to make my own decisions, and even a new set of friends. It let me dip my toes in the adult world, making decisions about work and money while still safely under my parents’ roof. Having a job taught me what it’s like to have an employee evaluation, how to strategize to move up in the company, and how a team works. 

 

When you’re young, it’s difficult to see the lessons you learn from working. However, most teenagers enjoy the opportunities that come with earning their own money. Since I didn’t grow up in a privileged family, my siblings and I knew we had to trade our free time for a job if we wanted spending money. 

 

Children are growing up differently these days. The environment is much more fast-paced, families are overscheduled, and academic and athletic standards are hypercompetitive. Sadly, this may not leave room for a part-time job. According to the Pew Research Center, only about 35 percent of U.S. teenagers were employed last summer, down from 50 percent two decades ago. The Economist calls this issue “Generation Jobless” and claims it has not only hurt the individual teenager but also the economy because of the lack of youth contributions. 

 

At the same time, neither schools nor parents focus enough on teaching the basics of finance. A recent Investment News article cited the low financial literacy level among US adults, at only 57 percent. If we expect those adults to teach their children about money, we are not setting future generations up for success.

 

Teens who work get a crash course on the value of an earned dollar. They also have the opportunity to make their own good or bad decisions with the money they make. Two decades of studying how money personalities develop have shown me it is far better to make money mistakes when you’re 17 -- rather than 37. 

 

Jobs teach other valuable lessons such as independence, self-reliance, time management, responsibility to others, and new skills. In addition, data shows that working as a teen can boost your income in your 20s.  According to a 2009 Pew Charitable Trusts report, for every year a person works in their teens, their income increases 14-16 percent in their twenties. 

 

For teens who want a dependable schedule, Indeed has a list of jobs and tips on how to get started on a job hunt. The increasing popularity of the gig economy offers other options besides traditional employment for teens in search of their own money. I even received an email over the summer from a neighborhood teen outlining his skills and the gigs he is happy to do for local families.

 

If you do have a teen with free time on their hands, or even if they don’t seem to have a spare minute, consider asking them to work to earn spending money and to pay for expenses. Even a few hours per week offers valuable lessons in how to be responsible with their time and balance work with friends, hobbies, and even school. This will give your child a head start on the path toward financial literacy. Besides, working a job as a teen while still under your parents’ roof is like learning to ride a bike with training wheels. 

 

I’m not a cookie girl any longer. My job is more serious these days – providing tools to help clients manage their present and future financial situation. Earning money early on was a gift in my life, and can be an excellent tool for families as parents help their children become capable adults in the future.

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