What Children Learn from “Real” Summer Jobs

In the not distant past a summer job for a teenager meant painting houses, landscaping, construction work or being a lifeguard. Today we hear about children taking volunteer trips to Africa or Mexico, getting in touch with themselves at an ashram or seeking an internship with a well-known professional. Both of these paths have merits but are we losing the chance to teach our children the value of working to earn a dollar by advocating for the latter. I read an article where a musician spoke to several of his old friends, now famous musicians, and they all mused about the hard work they had done as teenagers. The jobs they had taken and survived ranged from farm workers to cleaning staff at the local deli. What all of these people concluded was that they had learned what it means to work hard for little pay, be responsible and to navigate dangerous situations.

Aside from the fact that it is harder and harder each year for a teenager to find employment, it is a fact that wages along with expenses have grown. Many cities now pay a living minimum wage of $15 an hour, which for a teenager would be exceptional pay if they are living at home and not bearing the burden of household expenses. The challenge is for the teenager with little or no experience to land a job when their competition is an adult.

As parents we all wish our children were more responsible. What better way to teach this trait than to work and know you are a vital part of an organization. It is also true that making a young adult responsible and accountable for their failures along with their successes teaches responsibility. How hard is it to teach someone to say, “I made a mistake and will correct it to the best of my ability.” These words and the sentiment are lost in our society today.

Parents might shrink from the thought that their teenager could be put in a dangerous situation at work but yet they readily give them cars and the means to travel at will. Knowing that life can be dangerous and we must be vigilant and proactive about our safety and the safety of others is a valuable tool to learn at a young age. Before much time passes these young adults will be starting families of their own or leaving home for college and the workforce. Encouraging our children to embrace life and enjoy it does not preclude us from making them aware that disasters do strike. These problems or disappointments are a natural part of life and having the confidence to work through them is a huge lesson worth learning.

So when your son or daughter is weighing the benefits of working for a small business in your area or seeking a lofty internship with a rocket scientist, don’t be so quick to assume the internship will offer the greatest learning experience.

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