One of the rules in my family was that by the time we were 16, we got a job or our allowance stopped. Counter intuitive perhaps but the idea of more money or no money had me looking for something in the months before my 16th birthday.

Now that I’m a parent I’m beginning to wonder if I should encourage my kids to get work in their teen years. Reflecting back on my experience, these are some of the things I learned.

First Impressions Matter

My first job was with a restaurant chain. There were a number of other people from my high-school who worked at the same place. One of the rules was that we were not to eat or drink anything unless we’d paid for it and we were in the staff room. On the second day of my new job, one of the more popular girls from high-school asked me to hold a drink for her while she got something. What she got was the manager who found me standing there holding a drink I hadn’t paid for. I’m a rule follower by nature. I have a good work ethic. The manager didn’t know that. Even though I tried to explain what happened, she didn’t know me. I was given a formal warning. It took nearly a year for the manager to trust me and recognize I was not who she thought I was.

Work Hard but Set Limits

I worked at this restaurant chain for two years. I was working on average 28 hours a week, Monday – Friday from 5-9 pm and every Saturday from 7-3. Many weeks I had overtime hours. During the end of my time there, we were told that every high-school student had to do one closing a week on a school night, which meant getting home around 2 am. I was already having trouble keeping up with all my homework and working. There was no way I could pull off doing a close on a school night. I began looking for a new job and found a great one in a local mall that was only open in the evenings on Thursdays and Fridays until 9 pm and closed on Saturdays by 6 pm. I needed to set limits. If I didn’t there was no way I could get the grades I needed to get into university.

There is More to Life Than This

One of the most surprising parts of my first job was how many middle aged, intelligent people were working the same job. These were hardworking people who for whatever reason found themselves in their mid life wearing a uniform and following extremely simple directions to assemble food. I knew then and there that I was going to work hard at university so that I had options in my adult years.

Minimum Wage is Good for a Teenager Living With Their Parents

The money was great for me at the time. Twenty eight hours a week, at $5 something an hour in the mid 1980’s while living at home provided me with a good amount of spending money. I remember one woman I worked with. She had two jobs, a disabled husband and four kids. She was exhausted. Minimum wage, even with two jobs, was hardly enough to make ends meet. I didn’t want that life for myself. I recognized that post secondary education would be an investment in my future.

Getting a job in high-school was one of the best things I could have done. It gave me a taste for what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. It was extremely motivating for going to university so that I could work in a job that I enjoyed instead of just putting in the hours somewhere.

There is a debate among parents of teens. Should teens work while in school or should school and extra curricular activities be their work?

This is a decision for each family to make. I feel torn on the issue. If my kids are putting a lot of effort into their school work and involved in extra curricular activities, I’d like that to take priority. However, if they aren’t involved in anything extra curricular and have too much free time on their hands, a job will keep them busy, give them experience and give them a little extra spending money.

Did your parents encourage you to get a job when you were a teen? Will you make your teen get a job?

Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

I've Completed My Million Dollar Journey. Let Me Guide You Through Yours!

Sign up below to get a copy of our free eBook: Can I Retire Yet?

Posted in


Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Nobody ever made me work as a kid or in high school or even in university. We had to do an internship at university and the company wanted me to stay on during the semester, so I did (10 hours per week on average or however more I wanted). I’m a software developer and I was doing computer and network administration for them. After that I worked part time at the university but really just because I was asked if I would help out and it was an interesting subject and it would pay about as much as the other job so I switched.

Now I’m 30 something and have two small kids and I’m contemplating things because I stumbled upon this old post :) I’ve never had one of those minimum wage teen jobs. I’m not so sure that it’s necessary to do that. Sure it might help some people “learn how to work” but for myself I don’t see how it would have helped. I probably would’ve just hated it. I knew exactly what I wanted to study at University and what kind of job I wanted after that and I didn’t need a shit job to make me want that.

11 years ago

“Soon” in a bureaucratic timeline is still a life time.

He left Dubai because he didn’t want his children to grow up in that kind of “scary” (his descriptive) religious/political environment (he emigrated in the ’70’s).

I have to wonder if his children will seek to “push themselves to be a little better” than dear old corner store dad? I think he provides a different kind of motivation for them.

Or you could grow up in India, still on operating on the caste system. So you don’t get a choice of “first job”, you simply take over from your parents (and hope you were born near the top!).

11 years ago

@Scott LOL “I was unaware Dubai was so Third World”. Wow, even Dubai eh? Really, I think if I spent already a multitude of years on my degree and moved somewhere else for my future children, and was asked to spend 6 years in school upgrading, I think I would opt for a corner store job too. I mean, who is going to support the family in the six years of schooling?

I hear that the system may be changing soon.

11 years ago

@Austin: great to be young, ain’t it!

@young: I was thinking just that point. As a matter of fact, I do know a medical doctor who immigrated to Canada from Dubai because he wanted a better/safer life for his children. He found he could either spend 6 years in school “upgrading” his medical skills and knowledge to Canadian standards (I was unaware Dubai was so Third World), or he could get a “real” job. So, he opened up a corner store. And that is what he does. It does not challenge him mentally and it requires none of his educated skills. He does it to better his family. I’ve talked with him a few times and he is one of the truest people I know.

11 years ago


Great point.

11 years ago

Sometimes there are middle aged people who are immigrants and the government and/or employers stop them from advancing. They are not acknowledged for their experience (be it engineering, medicine, architects) from overseas because they have worse language skills than people from Canada.

The Canadian government makes all these hoops for immigrants to jump over before they come here (Points system) and when they do, they are asked to do unskilled jobs.

Like they say, “the best place to have a heart attack is in a taxi cab”.
because the taxi driver was probably a cardiologist from his home country.

11 years ago

A little better than the bare minimum. To work somewhere where they are challenged and use their skills.

11 years ago

A little better than what?

11 years ago

It’s so sad when you see those middle-aged people who just never pushed themselves to be a little better. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

11 years ago

@ 2. Future Money-Bags: “In conclusion: I used to think some people just couldnt make it in life, or weren’t meant to. But I than [sic] realized that every human being is capable of becoming anything they want, and this is not an age-old myth. You are qualified for anything, you just need to prove it to others.”

Your first assumption was correct; your last, not so much. I would doubt any of us are qualified to be particle physicists or used car salespeople. Think bell-curve.

As for “old” people doing brainless/laborious jobs…there are far, far worse evils in the world. And, you have no idea as to WHY that person is actually doing said job. Perhaps that 40-something waitress actually loves her job because it’s high energy, keeps her fit, and she gets to interact with people all day long (plus all those un-taxed cash tips!).

Not everyone in life is here just to make reams of money. If that were the case, we would all be running around in suits trying to sell each other stuff. If we didn’t have all those people doing all that stuff, life would be very different. Think of a life with NO art of any kind whatsoever.

Besides that, think of how our society would operate if you removed the massive portion of “low paying” jobs and the people doing them. Basically, you would have no food or shelter and a whole lotta other stuff. Think about it. Think of one of the most needed links in society — the truck driver. Would you rather have some 17-year old kid driving that semi truck full of produce across the country, or someone who has been doing it for 20 years? (Me, neither — I’d rather buy local! ha ha).

A summary of my “menial” job: service industry, earn above the federal and prov. income, work 30-33 hours/week, weekends and stats off, 6 weeks holidays, will retire when I’m 55 with plump pension (thanks govie!).

THAT is why I do a brainless/soulless job. I don’t love the job, but I do love what I get in return. The low hours give me ample time to pursue and engage in a lot of other activities that do stimulate my brain, soul, and bank account.

My first job was a paper route. What it taught me was I am not a morning person.

What my last job is teaching me is there is a balance and a sacrifice to everything.