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.
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