Folks, your kid needs a job if he/she is in high school. It doesn’t have to be something complicated – fast food, raking leaves, interning – whatever. The point is, there are life lessons to be learned through employment that they won’t get anywhere else. Also, to be frank, you have probably enabled a sort of passivity and lethargy with your high school aged kids. This appears to be the current culture with very few exceptions. How have you done this? Ask yourself if you’ve ever done the following:
– allowed your child to leave their dinner dishes sitting right there at his place setting after he’s finished eating. You saw him get up and leave, thought about calling him back to bring them to the sink, sighed and resignedly brought them there yourself;
– paid for your child’s gas or entertainment. OK, you probably let her use your car or maybe you’ve even bought her a car of her own (ugh – big mistake but OK), but now you’re also going to foot the bill for the night out, including travel, movie tickets and dinner. All she had to do was ask for money and you grabbed the wallet;
– picked up your child’s room even though you asked him a million times to do it himself. You were just so tired of seeing it so messy…oh, and you paid him the allowance anyway;
– paid for his prom tickets and tuxedo, and his date’s corsage (and gave him a conspiratorial wink and a smile when he took credit for buying them himself);
– caved and bought her the fancy $200 cleats even though she’s just warming the bench and probably always will be.
Face it – if indeed you have allowed any of the above scenarios or something similar to play out in your house, I have some bad news…your kid is taking advantage of you. There are a million more examples, but suffice it to say that if you are their primary source of income and they’re doing little or nothing to earn it, you are setting them up to fail. In this life we work for pay. If our work is substandard – or if we fail to show up – we won’t get paid. There is no safety net (OK well unemployment I guess but that’s a subject for the political bloggers) and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my high schooler living with me when they’re 25 and unable to hold a job.
When-I-Was-A-Kid-Story-Alert: When I was a kid, I got my first job at 13 bagging groceries at The Farm Stand. I wore a stupid yellow uniform coat and a name tag, endured my unemployed friends fake-buying groceries that I then had to put away when they ‘forgot their money’, and learned the importance of showing up on time or else feeling the humiliation of my boss’ hairy eyeball. The store smelled like deli meat, and after a 3-hour shift so did I. Honestly, I smelled like deli meat for the entire two years I worked there. I worked Saturday afternoons while my friends were hanging out and having fun, raced to punch in for my weekday shift right from the bus stop and collected my meager paycheck every week. I did homework until midnight and missed out on a bunch of cool high school stuff. I guess you could say that I kind of hated it at first…but then something magical happened. I learned that I could trade my time and effort for money. I learned that the harder I worked, the more I would earn. I learned that promotion was based on merit (yes, I became a checker within 6 months!!! Oh happy day!!!) and that my boss trusted and counted on me. What a feeling that was! The Farm Stand was only one of several interesting jobs I’ve held, but it was my first and I learned some valuable lessons that have shaped my work habits throughout my career.
Employment is a grand adventure in the quest for independence. Independence cannot truly emerge without responsibility. With a job they can learn about having to be somewhere at a specific time. They can learn about giving up fun sometimes because they are committed to work. They can learn time management. They can also learn some handy customer service skills and develop an understanding of hierarchy and respect for authority (it’s missing right now, I’m telling you). Also, when that first paycheck arrives you can marvel at how responsible they become with the money – because of how hard they worked to earn it! Yes, they will think twice about the In n Out Burger run if that $7 is coming out of their pocket. They might even save for college.
But wait, you say, your son is a starter on the varsity football team. Athletics are all-consuming. He’s getting a scholarship and will play D1 in college. Really? Well, if that’s the case then congrats on your kid being a part of 1% of our high school kid population. You are exempt from this discussion because – barring any injury – your kid will probably enter the draft after his junior year of college and make more money in one year than I have in a lifetime. But be sure and ask yourself if this is really the case. Can your kid count on athletics beyond high school? Beyond college? Sadly, most cannot.
Well, you say, my kid is a brainiac – she’s going to Harvard. Let me ask you…do A’s and B’s in multiple AP classes take the place of learning some good life lessons? I mean, if your kid can’t hold a job how is she going to pay back the student loans from attending the Ivy League school she (or is it you) is striving for? Don’t you want to turn out a well-balanced young adult who is ready to put their nose to the grindstone and succeed in life? Eye contact, a firm handshake, the ability to multi-task and inter-relate. The ability to know one’s place and earn respect. We don’t teach these things anymore. They’re becoming a lost art. We’re so wrapped up in getting our kids into the ‘right’ college that we’ve forgotten what they really need. They’re running our households. They think what they’ve got going is more important than what we (their parents) have going. They’ve got us wrapped around their fingers and we’re allowing it. The push in this kid raising culture today is rigorous academics or athletics/extracurriculars, or a combination of both. We’re building their curriculum vitae for them – they’re just participants following a formula. What have they earned on their own? It’s so programmed. The final frontier, the one we haven’t screwed up yet, is that familiar old friend that most of us became acquainted with in our teenage years – the part-time job. There our kids will stand alone, on their own merits, performing a task for which they will be paid. Their moms can’t excuse their absences or do their work for them (no offense to all my fellow moms but we are all guilty of this in some way and it’s enabling the potential for failure).
Work ethic is different from academic or athletic excellence. It’s a competitive jungle out there – you have to demonstrate a skill and do it better than the rest of the pack to get a shot in the professional world. It sounds funny, but doesn’t that start in someone’s back yard with a rake? Or at the local McDonald’s flipping burgers?
If your high schooler doesn’t have a job or has no plans to find one, make a course correction. He/she needs the experience of accountability and responsibility more than you know. So have him practice in front of the mirror…”do you want fries with that?” or “paper or plastic?” It will make a man out of him like nothing else.