I read this Bloomberg article titled Why Aren’t American Teenagers Working Anymore, and wanted to discuss it with you. According to the article, summer jobs for teens are declining. For reference, the numbers look like this:
In July of 2016 43% of teens were working.
In July of 2006 53% of teens were working.
in July of 1988 & 1989, 70% of teens were working.
The article also goes into some of the theories about why the decline may be happening. Some people suspect they’re being crowded out of the workforce by older Americans who are working past the age of 65. Some people think teens are being pushed to volunteer for the summer to impress college admission counselors. Others think teens aren’t working because the earnings are low and only go a tiny way toward the costs of college.
But apparently, the data says the real cause is that the teens are studying. They’re taking harder classes and more classes, and they need the summer to keep up.
I found this fascinating.
Growing up, I always had some job or another to earn pocket change — a paper route, babysitting, even collecting aluminum cans. But once I was turned 13 and was officially a teenager, I got a paycheck job working at the local movie theaters and kept it until I moved away to college. In the summer, I would add other jobs too — like working the counter at the frozen yogurt shop at the mall. In college I had even more jobs. I worked at Sundance resort making wildflower arrangements. I worked at a florist. I worked at Franklin Covey selling planners. I flipped burgers at an on-campus eatery. I worked at the Gap. I did research in the National Archives. I worked at a garden nursery. I gave out samples at a grocery store. Eventually, when I was advanced enough in my major, I was able to get graphic design positions on campus too.
I really appreciate what I got out of working teen jobs. I liked earning money, I made different kinds of friends than I had at school, and I liked learning from different kinds of bosses and managers. Most of all, I think it gave me a general sense of earning confidence — I knew what it took to get a job, to fill out an application, to make a resume, to have an interview. I knew how to be a good employee and what it meant to get a regular paycheck.
If you get a chance to read the article, I’d love your take on it. Did you have a summer job as a teen? And will your teens be taking jobs this summer? If yes, what sorts of work have they found?
P.S. — When I think of job-hunting, I always picture the job board scene in Hudsucker Proxy.
64 thoughts on “What Was the Best Summer Job You Had As A Teen?”
I heard this story on NPR, and it fascinated me as well. I had so many different jobs as a teen and while in college! My first job was at the public library, then I worked for my aunt as her assistant (she was a chemist). My senior year of high school I worked in a hospital on the “tray line” assembling patient dinner trays (it truly is an assembly line, with individual workers in charge of entrees, desserts, salads, etc.). These jobs allowed me a degree of autonomy, in that I made my own money to buy clothing, treats, etc. These jobs gave me experience dealing with customers, peers and supervisors, but just as important, allowed me to figure out what I DID NOT want to do for the rest of my life– an important lesson, too! I think it is sad that many young people are not experiencing this today.
I’ve had a lot of jobs too… I started babysitting when I was 12 at $3.50 an hour. I babysat all through high school and college (best money for a non-academic job, I’ve found!). My first paycheck came from waitressing at a diner/ice cream shop in my hometown later in high school. I’ve also worked as a camp counselor, cashier at a book store, phone fundraiser for my university, research assistant for a journalist, and French tutor. I’m glad I started working young, learned the value of hard work and money, and took responsibility for buying myself things. I also did a few unpaid internships, and do think there’s a lot of pressure to do that in college (especially in DC where I was), but its absolutely a privilege and frankly a messed up practice, in my opinion. I can’t say working ever hindered my studying… in fact, I’ve found I’m more productive with my time when I’m busy and have a schedule to work around. It really helped with my time management. Do these students REALLY not have time to work, or just don’t think they do (and aren’t expected to work by their parents and/or don’t need to financially)? My high school and university were both very rigorous and demanding… but a lot of us made it work (no pun intended ;)
My first job was as a freshmen at my high school, making $5.25/hr cleaning classrooms. I also worked in the cafeteria for an hour a week. I had jobs all through high school and college, and started my first full time job right after I graduated.
I don’t want to generalize about all teens, but I don’t think as many of them are willing to work any job, being more picky about what they want. The thing is, you really can’t be too picky when it’s your first job, or you have no experience. I think the experience of working with others, under others, and with customers or people is so valuable, it really doesn’t matter what the job is.
I’ve known so many people who had no jobs in high school and college, and struggled to find jobs after graduating. You gotta start somewhere, and the earlier the better when it comes to work experience!
“I think the experience of working with others, under others, and with customers or people is so valuable, it really doesn’t matter what the job is.”
As for the kids being picky, I can’t tell. Are they more picky about jobs than I was? Maybe. But there were certainly jobs I didn’t want at all.
I wonder how much is just their peer groups. At our high school in Oakland, a tiny number of kids have a car (meaning: they don’t have parents that pay for that kind of thing), and they seem to be excited about any available work. Maybe it would be different if we lived somewhere else.
I read the article and was surprised by the findings. I agree with you Gabrielle, working as a teen taught me a lot. But I mostly did it because I needed to make money to save for and then pay for college. The few friends that didn’t need to save for college (thanks to scholarships, mostly) used their earnings to pay for things like car insurance and gas. I realize that college costs have spiraled out of control and that kids these days can’t expect to make enough to cover their expenses. But it’s disappointing that teens aren’t gaining the same experiences.
The college thing is frustrating. A kid could work all summer and their earnings would barely leave a dent in the costs for fall semester.
The only people I know who could make enough during the summer to pay for a whole year of college worked fighting fires for the forest service. It was hard dangerous work, but they were well paid.
My husband was also well paid for a college summer job driving tomato trucks in California’s central valley. Again, hard work, long hours and not a lot of fun.
I agree that working all summer doesn’t really touch tuition but, for my college son, it provided money for books and any necessities (shampoo, clothing, etc). For him, it was nice to have money to explore his new city and live a little (cheap eats out with friends).
Best high school summer job- lifeguarding at a water park. Soooo many cute lifeguard boys.
I was always jealous of the life guard jobs. The life guards were so cool!
I babysat from age 11 through college. Worked at an ice-cream shop, for a catering company, at a drug store, convenience store, slung pitchers of beer at a beer garden, worked two different sweat shop factory jobs and worked as a graduate assistant to a professor. Then there were hundreds of hours of unpaid clinical work to practice as a therapist. By the time I was out of graduate school and working in my profession at a professional salary, I felt like I had it made. I was doing something I loved (which involved sitting and talking) and after so many jobs prior that had me on my feet and often sweating, it was a dream. I’m glad I had that perspective vs. feeling entitled to that first “real” job.
We expected our sons to work in the summers starting junior year of HS. They bagged groceries, coached soccer, did landscaping work, and painted houses. Both were able to secure paid (summer) positions in their respective fields by junior year of college. I don’t buy that teens today are being pushed out of the market. I think they simply can’t cotton to working for minimum wage when their parents are handing out twenty dollar bills whenever needed.
I just haven’t seen that. The teens I know really like earning money. And why wouldn’t they? It’s feels good! The “teens are lazy” line of thinking doesn’t ring true to me. But it does seem different than when I was a teen. I don’t even know if you can get hired for paycheck job at 13 anymore. I’ve heard you have to be 16 in some states (but have never looked it up to confirm). I think summers are shorter too. I feel like we got essentially 3 full months of summer break, but our kids get closer to 2 months.
I think in New York State you have to be 14 or 15 and there are very strict laws about hours you can work. I think the number of hours gets upped at 16 and then again at 18. But I can’t remember exactly. I know you have to have special working papers that the school you go to has to issue.
I never had a summer job during the school year in high school- it would have been impossible to work on top of sports (I was getting home at 5 at the earliest and often 8 or later at night, and would often have 4+ hours of homework a night). I did babysit quite a bit on the weekends, starting when I was 12 or 13, and sometimes during the summer. I would also do random (paid) jobs, like planting Christmas trees for my grandparents who have a tree farm, or doing interior or exterior painting for my parents who own rental properties. My first real summer job was the summer before college- I did exterior painting. Throughout college, I did a summer custodial job at a local high school (which was physically HARD work but I enjoyed), a supervisor job at a pool, exterior and interior painting on the side, worked at a cafe/store, and an on-campus art gallery during the school year.
I do think it’s harder to find summer jobs. Even most summer jobs want related experience and are often filled by college students.
In IL, you have to get a signed work permit from school if you are under 16 and you can only work until 7pm on school nights. My daughter will turn 16 the day she starts school for her junior year. She has a job life guarding this summer making $9+ per hour, but that is the only place she’d find a job as a 15 year old besides baby sitting and dog walking.
I think the biggest problem with teens and summer jobs in my area is that a lot of them play HS sports and are on travel sports teams. They often have practice twice a day and weekend long tournaments. They are encouraged to do these consuming activities to look good on college admissions or to get an athletic scholarship to defray the tuition costs, but it makes it very difficult to find a job that will work around that kind of schedule.
This is my experience as well. If your child wants to remain competitive in their sport, the schools hold camps all summer long to improve skills (and keep coaches employed). If it is a no cut sport, like cross country, my kids get babysitting jobs. I want them to experience having a boss and being responsible to a business; but my daughter worked 15 hours as a hostess last week and babysat for 15 hours. She made $21 after taxes at the “real job” and $210 at the babysitting. I am sure those stats don’t make it to job reports.
I’m now in my mid-30s and started babysitting at 11 too. Nowadays you can barely leave your kids home alone at 11 without the threat of someone calling CPS (seriously, I know people who have full-time summer childcare for their 12 and 13 year olds) much less have them babysit another child. I think the culture regarding children and work and responsibility has changed pretty significantly in the last few decades.
I didn’t “need” a job but I went out and got them because I loved earning money and being around adults who were peers. I worked in a tennis club pro shop, at clothing stores, in a restaurant and at a country club plus I babysat like crazy – and that was just in high school. It’s an incredible experience, and one I expect my kids to get.
Jobs like those above also served the purpose of showing what I didn’t want to be doing for the rest of my life but it gave me some compassion and patience for dealing with a wide range of people.
I grew up in a beach town where kids used to be able to get summer jobs. Today all of the summer jobs (ice cream shop, mini-golf, t-shirt shop, etc…) are taken by Europeans who come through some sort of placement organization. These workers can start in May and work through the end of September, which American kids can’t do because they need to return to school.
As a teen I worked mowing lawns, and doing odd jobs for the neighbors. In college I scooped ice cream during the school year and during the summers I worked at a shaved ice shack and a road side orchard fruit stand. Later I did internships and work related to my major. The fruit stand and campus ice cream shop were my favorites.
The teens I know who are working now in our area (near San Jose, California) work at an amusement park, swimming pools/water park, YMCA (and other) kids camps. The best paying job is probably teaching beginning piano lessons. My husband occasionally hires a college age person to work in his office during tax season. As I look around most of the food service and retail jobs are filled by adults who rely on the job year round, not as a summer job. The job scene has changed a lot since I was a teen and also because I live in a very different place from where I grew up.
I started babysitting as soon as I was old enough. My first real job was a cashier at a grocery store and then I worked at a shoe store. I worked all throughout high school during the school year and summers. I also worked all the way through college. All my friends in high school had jobs during the school year and summer too. It actually was odd if you didn’t work. I also grew up in a small town and now we also live in a small town. Every where I go I see teens working. So this article was interesting because teens still work in our area. Maybe it’s a Midwestern small town thing?
I worked at a five star restaurant managed by my best friends dad for five summers before heading off to college and I loved it! I started off working in the kitchen filling the salad bar for two summers before becoming a hostess at the front desk. I was a horrible hostess, but became the first female bus-girl in over 20 years at the restaurant, and did that until I moved to Utah and went to LDSBC. I loved every minute of it, and am still friends with all those people 10 years later!
So interesting! I always worked as a teen, and most of my friends did too.
Our local beach is not having lifeguards this summer because there’s a lifeguard shortage… I wonder if that is related at all?
I’m a college professor and interview high school seniors every year for merit scholarships. So many students now haven’t worked a job where they were responsible for their actions, have had to interact with different ages, have had to be accountable to a boss – something where Mom and Dad can’t save the day. Seeing part time work 1. makes the students stand out more to me and 2. makes me have more faith that they have the independence needed for a transition to college.
I agree school must now get in the way – tons of AP or community college courses on transcripts. I also think mandatory ‘volunteer’ hours are impacting some students’ ability to have weekends to work. Plus, most students at my university come from upper middle income families and aren’t concerned with gas money, money for jeans etc.
Working experience would help soooo many of them though! Life skills matter a lot in college too and it seems a lot of students play catch up their freshman/sophomore year.
This was so interesting to me. I look back on my high school jobs as such valuable learning experience. Also, I loved saving money for college and spending some on clothes and travel and I worked as much as possibly could. I started at $5.45 an hour at a pizza place, then worked at Toys ‘R’ Us (all three of my best friends from high school ended up working there!), then, simultaneously worked at a daycare during summers, then filed papers in a law office. I learned so much about being a responsible employee and organizing my time—and saved $8,000 for college, which likely went a lot further back in 2004!
I babysat, worked in the ad department of a local newspaper, did retail sales and then admin work through a temp agency. (In fact, one summer my favorite temp job was doing inventory at Industrial Light and Magic, and Skywalker Ranch (I grew up in Marin County.) My oldest is 19 and she has done a little bit of babysitting and last summer and this summer she worked at a law firm. Ideally I would like my younger kids to work also-but it is hard. There aren’t a ton of entry level jobs available. And yes-school work, AP classes, extracurricular activities necessary for college applications make it way more challenging to find the time to work.
My teenage children are having a hard time holding a secure job over the summer because of their sport activities. They are able to mow lawns and babysit occasionally but nothing which requires a committed schedule. Is anyone else finding this to ring true as well? My sophomore son has football practice in the morning, basketball practice in the evening and summer tournaments and camps every weekend. My senior daughter has cheerleading practice, camps and clinics all summer long too. Is this happening to anyone else?
Yes, I completely understand your problem! My son had a similar schedule the last two summers and now that his schedule is open, he’s having a hard time finding a job. I think it’s true how they don’t really get the summers “off” anymore or at least they only get a few weeks and that’s not enough time to go find a job, let alone work all summer! I often think that high school these days are like what college was to us 40+ somethings. It’s just an entirely different, competitive world now.
Yes. In fact, last year at my daughter’s school there were kids who I believe did not get put on a team, largely because they did not attend summer open gyms and conditioning sessions, which are ostensibly optional and are not officially allowed to be considered during try-pouts. For some of these kids it was because they were working summer jobs.
Yes, my son needs to be at the optional summer basketball for his highschool since we know he would never be put on the team if he did not show up for all practices and games. And he is taking Geometry over the summer to be able to be on the science track.
How interesting! I don’t know what the reason might be, and didn’t see a similar development here in Germany. But then, I didn’t look for changes, so that might as well be the case here too!
When I grew up, I had a permanent job at the cinema, and I’m convinced that helped tremendously to develop my ability to work. The manager was a woman I really admired. It’s safe to say I learned skills I couldn’t have acquired at school!
Especially higher education in Germany lacks in practical experience. When I was at school (I graduated with Abitur in 2000, I was 19 years old then and attended University afterwards) we learnt so much about history, science, languages, culture but next to nothing about how to work, how to apply for a job, how to choose what to study. I felt somewhat unprepared despite the fact that I had the privilege of the best (highest) education available. A bit less theory, more practice would prepare our kids better for work life!
That said, I think every kid benefits from jobbing – safe job environment presupposed.
I worked as a lifeguard and water safety instructor every summer from when I was 15 1/2 to 22. It was an awesome first job. I also worked at a movie theater through my college years! Saved so much money getting to watch movies for free! I also tutored! All great experiences. It’s strange to think studying is the reason why…
My mom was a single mom so I needed to work for any “extras” ( clothes that were not goodwill, any movie outings, prom, driver’s ed etc)
I learned so much from working. I also played competitive sports so learned early on how to be organized and prioritize. Skills that serve me to this day. I often get asked how I manage to get everything done…. I am well trained!
By the time I graduated university, I had been working for over 10 years and that made a huge difference to employers. My kids are 12 and 9 so do not have summer jobs yet ( 12 year old babysits) but I watch colleagues’ kids and in my area in seems to be a few things:
– kids are in competitive sports that are now year round and require a lot of travel time
– kids need to upgrade their grades to get into schools/programs that they want for university
– kids do seem pickier about jobs than when I was a teenager but I also live in a very different socio-economic area than I did growing up so maybe this was always the way in this area.
I have a teenager who couldn’t possibly work. With a rigorous academic and athletic schedule (and two other siblings) there is simply no time in our week for him to spend a couple of hours a week working minimum wage. I’d rather have enjoy that time together, spending quality time.
I don’t think it’s just one of those reasons, it’s a combination of all three. And the world is a different place than when we were teenagers. More people work from home, work remotely, etc. Many retailers won’t hire anyone under the age of 18. Classes and activities/sports take up way more of teenagers time these days. It is easier to find another job when you have a job, but that doesn’t always translate to the job you want to do someday anymore.
It’s been mentioned a few times in here, but I think most kids don’t work because they don’t have to and aren’t expected to. Their parents give them money (though I do agree that the other factors exist, but are much less significant than this).
I’m now in my mid-30s, but my parents didn’t want me to take summer jobs – there was a big emphasis on “enjoy your youth” and “you have the rest of your life to work” – but all my friends had to get summer jobs, so of course I got one too! I made $5.25/hr at a music/video store. It was no lifeguard (seriously, who didn’t want that job?!), but it was fun. I also remember doing the math about how many hours I’d need to work just to buy, like, a fun shirt from Wet Seal and being blown away! I think it’s important kids realize the value of a dollar instead of $20s just flying out of their parent’s bank account.
This is all very interesting! My children are only five, but my coworkers all have teenagers or college age kids. I only know of one who is working her way through college (working low wage jobs within her field). I know another who quit a pet store job after ONE day because she “had to stand too much,” is 19, still doesn’t drive, and has never held a job. Another’s college-educated, 20-something daughter can’t seem to keep a job, even a minimum wage one. BUT, I work at a high-end private university and hear the resumes of our current students. A lot are full of volunteer jobs to look good on the college app, and they continue to volunteer in college. Many do, or are expected to do, unpaid internships on top of athletics and student organizations. Our office hires a lot of college-age interns, and they all have been good workers, almost all of them hustling freelance on the side. So I see both sides of it, and it baffles me. I grew up middle-class and myself and ALL my friends worked part-time through high school and college. I was a hostess and waitress, and doing that job gave me great gratitude and insight for the professional service job I do today in the design industry. My only regret was missing out on so many college organizations because of my working hours. But I never had to call home for money either, had a credit card at 16, and learned the value of saving, credit, and keeping track of my earnings at an early age.
I also think fewer teens are driving (which may be the subject of another post) and that may inhibit some work opportunities. As a teen, I worked in retail and at several restaurants (salad bar, busing tables and as a server). I continued serving all the way through college and even part time through law school. It made for long days sometimes, but I loved having my own money. Plus I met interesting people, learned great skills (selling, managing people, dealing gracefully with problems under pressure), and I made great friends that I still keep in touch with today. During and after college, it also allowed me to have money for traveling (backpacking in South America for two months, interning in Europe for the summer, hiking in Mexico for winter break…) without having to ask for parental funding or permission. For me, this was a really big deal and an early lesson in money equaling freedom and independence.
When I was a teenager in the suburbs at the turn of the millennium, pretty much everyone got a car from their parents upon turning 16, and then worked in large part to pay some expenses related to driving. Now, I really don’t see myself ever getting my future teens their own car. My last Uber driver mentioned that work has dropped now that school is out, because during the school year tons of private high schoolers are riding Uber home. I would much rather my kids sometimes ride an Uber than buy a car for them or rely on other 16-year-olds to drive them around.
I started baby-sitting at 12, usually spending one whole day a week with 3 different families all summer, then both weekend evenings. I learned a lot about kids, families, household management, etc., and I think it really was helpful preparation for raising my own kids years later. I also had a variety of low-skill jobs, including most notably assisting brick-layers. Baby-sitting was the best paid, most fulfilling, most useful job, and it was the easiest to fit in around all of my other activities and school. When I once had to bag groceries all day on the 4th of July, I remember thinking, wow, this is terrible, I am missing out on a great holiday for $4.25 an hour doing this drudgery.
As a parent of a recent high school graduate, a rising junior and a rising 8th grader, I am so sick of hearing about the “lazy, entitled teenagers” in our country. People who don’t have kids in high school currently have no idea of the expectations on them these days. When I graduated from high school, it was unusual to have taken Calc in HS, most kids had taken 1 or 2 AP classes tops and there was little expectation of having an expansive resume of activities to bolster a college application. My graduate completed 9 AP classes during his HS career, starting with the first as a freshman. He completed a full year of college calculus as a HS senior, has 5 college level history classes, 2 college level English classes and a college science class under his belt. I have no concerns about the academic rigors he will face as a college student because those classes were as hard as any I took at a nationally known private liberal arts college in my day. In addition to that, he played sports 9 months a year requiring a minimum of 10 hours of practice a week in addition to games and out of state tournaments. He also logged hours mentoring elementary students and stocking shelves at a food pantry. While he did all that, he also worked when he was able to and graduated in the top 6% of his 700+ student class. Tell me again how he is lazy.
My rising junior will be taking calc 1 this year, 2 other AP classes and is working a job life guarding and walks a neighbor’s dog daily year round. The 8th grader is taking HS algebra this summer so she can do geometry in the fall. I took geometry my sophmore year of HS; how about you? She is also on a swim team, so she will be getting up at 6 a.m. in order to practice before her 3.5 hour math class that meets 4 days a week for 6 weeks of her summer break. Yes, these kids are so lazy it breaks my heart!
P.S. I already responded but I do think everyone, I mean everyone, should be a server at some point. It really opens your eyes to customer service and kindness. I have been out and super embarrassed by people treating servers poorly. They almost never have been in the servers position.
Yes! Totally agree. Such a valuable life experience.
My teens have to work. My oldest is at an elite college. I think the fact that he HAD to work throughout high school to pay for his text books and extra was part of the reason he got to where he’s at. He worked in a medical office every week throughout high school doing filing/paperwork/data entry. He’s on campus for the summer doing his dream job (it includes free room/board + stipend). I’m not sure he would have been hired for this job if he didn’t have a history of responsible work and references. During the school year, he has a work study job, too. My 16 yo daughter (senior in high school) teaches violin, tutors Latin, and babysits. This fall she will also work at her high school as a receptionist one afternoon/week after school in exchange for a reduction in tuition. My youngest (age 13, high school freshman) dog sits for money (in our neighborhood he has a client almost every week) and will work 5 hours/week at his high school doing janitorial work in exchange for reduced tuition. It’s necessary for my children to work. We pay their tuition (thank god for financial aid) but don’t have extra for cars or spending money or extravagances (clothes come from Goodwill). They are responsible, involved, active in community service and extra curricular activities and sports. Thinking a kid can’t have a job because they need to beef up their resume is crazy. A job — regular work — is important, too!
I was lucky to have a built-in job as a teen because my dad owned a restaurant and sports bar. During summers I worked as a hostess, then eventually a waitress, and then I finally got promoted to a bartender once I was old enough (which was by far the best: easier work than waiting tables, and way better tips–doesn’t really seem fair, actually!). I didn’t actually have my first experience applying for a job until I was 21 and away at college.
I’m trying to help my 15-year-old niece find a summer job as we speak, and it’s a challenge. Some of it is her, and some of it is just the job market. Issues we have run into:
1) Many places don’t want to hire a 15-year-old because there are restrictions on how late she can work and how many hours a week she can work. These restrictions are lifted at 16, so I think she’ll have more options next year.
2) She doesn’t drive yet and her town has limited public transportation options, so she has to work a schedule around her single mom’s ability to drop her off and pick her up at work, or her ability to walk to the job. That is severely limiting her options.
3) Lots of teens seem to have summer jobs at day camps or lifeguarding at pools, but it seems that all of those jobs were spoken for a couple of months ago; she didn’t realize she needed to start looking that early.
4) She doesn’t follow through on leads. A friend gave her the phone number of the manager at the retail store where he works, but she hasn’t called yet because she’s “too scared” and “[doesn’t] know what to say.” I’m planning to coach her through that phone call tomorrow!
5) There is an amusement park in her hometown that is a huge employer of teens. However, they also bring in a huge amount of Eastern European teens each summer through some sort of program (no idea what it is or how it works, just that most of the lifeguards, ride operators, etc. are from Czech Republic and various former Soviet countries). This seemingly leaves fewer job options for locals, especially locals who are not yet 16.
6) She refuses to do certain jobs. My husband told her that at her age he worked washing dishes and serving food in the dining room at a nursing home that is walking-distance from her house. There are 3 nursing homes, actually. She flat-out refuses to apply to a job at any of them, with no reason other than “I don’t want to do that.” Which I understand, but I do think if her mother would stop giving her money for iTunes, movies, etc. she would be more inspired to try.
I’m 34 and have been working since I was 14–20 years! I didn’t “need” a job but always wanted one and couldn’t believe it when I got one between Freshman and Sophomore year of high school as part of a student job training program ($5/hour). I went on to work at a burger place, an ice cream shop, a furniture store, a cookie shop, and several restaurants in between! I worked on Capitol Hill for a decade and hired many college interns who had never held a job before and clearly never worked in an office setting. The ability to handle yourself in a professional setting and talk to “adults” is what will really get you noticed in those early years after college when you’re looking for a real job.
I’m from Canada, but in my early teen years I lived in a place in the US where most adults couldn’t find a job, let alone teenagers. When I was 15 we moved back to a Canadian city, but I didn’t look for a job until I was 17. I eventually quit before I graduated because my grades had gone down, but got another job in the summer.
Where I live anyone under the age of 16 needs a special permit to be able to work (besides babysitting, etc), and I don’t know anyone who has used one of those permits.
I don’t see an emphasis on boosting university applications with sports/volunteering/etc here either. I really don’t know what the statistics are on teenagers working in Canada- I should probably look it up!
I had summer jobs all through high school and college to help pay for entertainment/dining, clothes, and other “luxuries.” (I had a full scholarship that paid for everything else). Babysitter, day care worker, cook at the day care, landscaping assistant, writing tutor, and architectural intern were all of my jobs during those years.
I’m not really sure why homework/studying would make it difficult to work during the summer, but I am not a fan of kids working during the school year, and I will encourage my kids to avoid this. My husband worked all during high school and college–sometimes full time–and he says that you could tell by looking at his grades.
As a lower income student, I really feel for low income kids who have to work to pay for the things they need. It is not a good place to start. I also think it’s unfair that volunteer work seems to be elevated above other work on college applications.
I just moved to Raleigh, NC from Oakland and one of the big differences I’ve noticed here is how many teens are offering up their services- babysitting, dog walking, yard work, moving services, etc. in Oakland (one of the more exclusive neighborhoods) I couldn’t find a neighborhood kid to walk my dog or do yard work. You had to pay professionals. I’ve been wondering why that difference exists.
The studying thing rings true to me though- I think it’s much more competitive to get into top public or private schools than it was when I applied 20 years ago. I started babysitting at 12 and continued that as well as part time jobs all through high school and college.
I will strongly encourage my children to work. The life lessons of having to be somewhere on time, having a team depending on you, respecting a boss, and working hard tonewrn money for what you want to buy are invaluable. I had to work to pay for my own cell phone and car because my parents couldn’t afford those. I will make my kids pay for theirs as well, even though I could afford to pay for them.
Maybe in *some* communities the twenties are flying out of parents’ hands but I truly think that is NOT typical for most places. Most of us couldn’t possibly do that even if we wanted to. My kids all worked, but when I was a kid I really could get a job within a day. Now, when they were ready to work legally they had to try for MONTHS to get a job. It’s not so easy now, there are fewer jobs for teenagers. Many restaurants and stores don’t even hire under 18. And if you don’t have a car?? It’s triply difficult. If you’re lucky enough to be near public transit, it often takes a LONG time to get to and from work. If you’re not that lucky, it’s pretty much impossible.
We tend to view these as problems from an upper middle class point of view, maybe because that’s who is writing about it, but most of us aren’t in that category at all.
I babysat starting at age 12 or so. When I was 15 I started working at a local ice cream story that was only open during summers. I loved that job and kept it through the summer after my freshman year of college. During college I started working for the Alumni Association part-time and kept that job for my sophomore through senior years. In the summer I worked at all of the new student orientations representing the alumni association’s student org.
Fun fact: while at the ice cream stand my sister worked with me too. She and her husband bought the ice cream stand this past winter so now she’s back there again this summer, albeit as the boss and not just one of the girls behind the counter!
I have a 16 year old, and this is her second summer working at our neighborhood pool part time as a lifeguard and swim instructor. It is one of the few jobs that is seasonal AND flexible around family travel plans.
My teenager and most of her friends are very busy during the school year between studies, sports, and other extracuriculars. She has many friends that are taking a break from it all for 10 weeks. I think that is fine, but I want my kids to have a little bit of structure and accountability during the summer.
She is learning basic work ethic like the importance of getting to work on time, communicating with supervisors, problem solving, and coordinating her own schedule. TO top it off, she has a little spending money in her pocket!
p.s. the driving thing is a big obstacle
I worked every summer in high school and college. I babysat and I was lifeguard. I loved it. I was certified by the Red Cross to lifeguard, teach lessons, and finally to operate a pool. I don’t remember wanting to study at all. I really loved being outside all the time and meeting people and watching them to make sure they were safe.
My kids are young, but already like trying to earn some money and they run a little farm stand when we have more produce than we can eat before it goes bad from our garden. The deal is they have to help in the garden to sell things there.
Out of curiosity, since you do have teenagers, do your teens have jobs? How do they and their peers compare to what the article talks about?
Such a fascinating topic! My first “job” was as a mother’s helper to a neighbor, but that was very sporadic. My real first job with a regular paycheck was as a page at the public library – I worked there part time through most of high school. The summer after my freshman year of college I got a job for a marketing firm taking surveys of teens at the local mall & entering the data. After that I worked at an art supply store. I never felt like I worked nearly as much as some friends, who held regular jobs (usually at one restaurant/sandwich shop/ice cream parlor) for years, but I enjoyed the money I did earn!
My son is still in elementary school, but he’s already scheming about starting a dog walking service walking my best friend’s dogs :-) As far as “teens these days” — Honestly, it makes me cringe when I hear people even use that phrase! Kids are kids, and teens “these days” are, in my experience, really not much different from teens in any other time. Or at least, if teens have changed, it’s as much a result of how parents have changed as anything else.
I grew up in the suburbs and began modeling when I was 12. It taught me a lot about economics (I had to pay for all the photos you use to try to get work, as well as, in that era, photo printing, etc., plus I always had to factor in the cut the modeling agency took). It also taught me confidence, as I was comfortable going into the city and to meetings by myself at 15. I worked throughout college (tutoring, in the library) and temping in the summers (usually a receptionist-type job). I also babysat. All of these jobs taught me a lot about the value of a dollar and how to make money, but they also helped me prioritize time and responsibilities. I don’t know why kids aren’t working as much today–it does strike me that it may be harder for them to get jobs, for reasons many have already mentioned (and also because the J visa program takes some traditional summer jobs, too–though I’m a fan of this program). As someone who recently struggled through interviewing a lot of millennials for a few positions, though, I also found many of them were simply not subscribing to the idea of “putting in time” doing a lot of the unglamorous work at a company before they get to do the exciting, creative stuff. And maybe that is an outdated concept. But I definitely didn’t want to hire anyone with that attitude.
I think it’s fascinating to see how attending college plays such a big role in this. I come from a middle class family where no one has attended a four year university or college (they went to trade schools or training programs) so after seeing how expensive college was, I didn’t even apply to a single university. I was a 3.9 GPA, in student leadership, Honor Society, lots of extracurricular activities, did volunteer work and as a kid in a farming community, worked in the summer on the farms. While deciding what career path I wanted to take I attended a local community college. Why go to some big university when I could get the first two years out of the way in a much cheaper fashion? After getting my associates degree I entered a medical training program, got hired at 21 by the hospital I interned at and I still work for them today, though very minimal hours now that I have 4 kids. I graduated without debt (I worked part time through school) and landed a career that has served me well with pretty darn decent pay. I was also done and working full time when I got married at 22, and was able to put my husband through college without debt. When my kids are older I will make sure they know that trade schools are viable options to get into a career.
It’s nice to see other people story. I have never had a summer job :( where I lived when I was a teenagers, there no job for people at my age :( Its true that teens nowadays have to study even in summer.
I didn’t have to work, because my dad said school was my work, but I usually did. I started cutting the neighbors grass at 10, babysitting at 11 and continued on until I was 17 when I got a job at a garden store. My babysitting and grass cutting money carefully saved bought my first car. My retail job couldn’t touch college tuition, but it was helpful for gas in the car and getting my dorm set up. I went back to babysitting in college and a work-study job on campus.
My littles are 4 and 1, but we will require them to work in some capacity when they are old enough, even if they can’t make enough money to pay for big things. I’m convinced that the people who treat cashiers and servers poorly never worked in retail or restaurants, so from that regard I think it teaches people skills to have been on the other side of the counter.
It took my brother a lot longer to discover the value of a steady job than it took me. For many years after college he insisted he would just work random jobs here and there when he felt like it instead of trying to find a career. Finally, at 26 he got tired of having no social life because he had to work nights, not being able to find a girlfriend because he didn’t have a job paying above minimum wage, and no chance of advancement in his job at the grocery store deli counter. It took him 3 years to dig out of that hole and get into a job that lets him work during the weekdays and have health insurance. I’m convinced it’s in part because he didn’t learn those lessons in high school from an after school job.
As far as sports go, I’m in support of athletics since I ran cross country and my husband played football, but we both were able to do some work while participating in sports. My husband was able to do football practice (including 2 a days) and still work 60 hour weeks at a landscape supply shop in the summer. He worked during the year and summers for four years there, while maintaining schoolwork and being picked for captain of the football team senior year. Even with practices and camps, there’s room for babysitting, laying mulch, and mowing lawns. In addition, MOST kids do not go on to play sports professionally, or even after college. They will however have to work a job. Staying active is important, but isn’t it more important to invest in learning how to be a good employee, coworker, and able to contribute to society?
For the parents who don’t make their kids work because of (your sport here) camp, how are you teaching them money management, how to stay out of debt, and the value of a good job? Will it matter if they’re amazing at their sport if they can’t function as an adult? Obviously every kid is different, and some will transition just fine from their team sport to the workplace, but it seems that many kids coming out of high school and college today lived too much in academia and not the real world.
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I worked as soon as I could from my best friends’ dad’s non-profit in the summer starting freshman year summer in high school, then lifeguarding, teaching swim lessons, pool operation, then working all through college at the library then more lifeguarding in college summers, then internships! My boys are not motivated at all. It’s very frustrating. I saved money for college and for traveling. That was the whole idea. I think the focus is more on volunteer work now (which is fine) but I want them to know how to earn their own money and to be able to work with others.
Oh…the best job was teaching kids how to swim! I was overjoyed to see that happen. To help little ones get over their fear of water or just see the progression. It’s so important too. Lifeguarding is very rewarding and still needed! The verification classes were really fun too!
And I just realized I commented on this in 2017! Similar answer! Gabby, you can delete if you want! :-)
These answers are so interesting – I’m surprised there are no answers from a more rural childhood. In the Midwest, we all walked beans, detassled, pollinated corn, baled hay, or derouged corn. It was HARD work. I look back on being 12-13-14-15 years old and waking up at 5 am to slog through a soaking wet, then oppressively hot cornfield for 6 hours pulling tassels (by hand) out of the tops of corn plants, and holy cow – the bugs, and the smells, not to mention the port-a-potties. But the paychecks were worth it at the time! I don’t think many teenagers do that kind of work anymore, I don’t know if my own kids or their friends would do it. I also knew kids who raised their own cattle or hogs or chickens. We also baby-sat starting at 12. The best thing that came out of covid was that my 12 year old and his friends bid a mowing job and now have to submit invoices, watch the weather, make a plan, and do some hard, physical work in the heat. They’ve never seen this much money in their lives, and I love that they are learning hard work = cash. And, like I learned in the cornfield, they are learning what its like to really do manual labor. I wonder about links to mental health, self-efficacy, self-esteem, locus of control for kids who never have these experiences.