Get A Job, Kid?
Happy Monday. Reader Joanne starts off the week with a very interesting question:
At what age does WG think it’s best for kids to get their first job? My son is 16 and can’t think of anything worse than working. All he wants to do is hang out with his friends. I think he should get a job. And also, do you think working can hurt kid’s grades?
Of course your son just wants to hang out with his friends. Given the choice between goofing off and working for a pittance at menial, soul-destroying labor (your standard teen job), who wouldn’t choose goofing off? Aren’t you glad he’s normal?
However, you sound as if you feel that a job might be “good” for your son. It might teach him responsibility, build a work ethic, lend structure to his schedule, and keep him out of trouble.
And it might. Even though Working Girl HATED every single one of her adolescent jobs, she has to agree that they taught her the rule of cause and effect. I.e., if she worked, she had money. If she didn’t, she didn’t. If you call that character-building then, yes, WG got character.
So you might be surprised at this answer: Unless there is real financial need, teenagers should not have jobs. They should concentrate on school and on activities that lead toward their eventual life work. Flipping burgers is rarely an ultimate career choice. So why flip burgers in high school?
Discovering your true livelihood is really hard (for most people—others seem to know what they want from an early age). Adolescence, when in theory you do not need to be earning a living, is an ideal time to do this. Your job as parent? To help the kid discover.
Yes, it’s important to learn responsibility and whatnot, but a job is not the only way to accomplish this. “Character-building” is something that needs to go on in every part of a child’s life, in school and at home, all the time.
And, yeah, Working Girl does think that having a job can hurt a teen’s grades. Even the kid who gets straight A’s while working 20 hours a week as a grocery bagger would be better off spending those 20 hours delving deeper into the fields that interest him (reading beyond the textbook, doing extra research, interviewing experts in that field, whatever).
Does this answer surprise you? You may have noticed that WG spends a lot of time on this blog raving about the wonders and glories of work. And work is as important a part of life as love! But our goal should be to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling. It can take years to find out what that is.
Start the search early!