As a psychotherapist for teens and young adults, I have the honor of watching teenagers grow up and transform into independent individuals. Leaving the nest is both a beautiful and messy process mixed with highs and lows, and it can be quite anxiety provoking for many teens and their families. Some of the stress during this time is the result of living in a culture where there is more pressure than ever on our teenagers to get into college. In some communities, it’s the right college that counts and I have seen this pressure start as young as 6th grade. High schoolers today feel as though they not only have to be the top of their class, but they have to be the very best at every sport or extra curricular activity because “it will look good on their college application.” Because of this standard, I am witnessing extremes happen in order to achieve this level of accomplishment and honestly I don’t like it. Some teens are sacrificing their sleep, meals and even their mental health to meet certain expectations, criteria or standards that may not directly impact their future or college acceptance anyway.
On the other hand, there are also the teenagers who aren’t interested in any type of sport, activity or club whatsoever and have nothing to fill their after school hours with. This is a different type of panic for those families. Teens start to feel required to dedicate hours to something they don’t care about or have any interest in so they can put something on their college application. These adolescents feel badly about not having something they are passionate about, which is pretty irrational since many adults have no idea about what they are passionate about either! Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is very important for our teens to have some kind of commitment outside of school. It fosters responsibility and could generally keep them out of making poor decisions and engaging in risky behaviors. So what if their “thing” after school was a job?
As a result of this pressure of resume building for college, we have forgotten about the importance of encouraging our teens to get jobs. One that requires them to wake up earlier than they want to, do things they don’t want to do, be around people they may not know or like and meet the expectations of a boss or manager. I have seen the negative outcome of young adults that have never worked a day in their life prior to college graduation. These twenty-somethings never developed the skills they needed in order to succeed in a work environment but we throw them into the work force once they graduate college and expect them to thrive or know how to be held accountable. So many young adults are unwilling to start from the bottom and work their way up. They don’t understand the notion that they may need to take a job they don’t like or salary they aren’t proud of in order to start somewhere.
Unfortunately, teens with jobs is so underrated today. We seem to have forgotten about the important skills our youth need to develop as a result of maintaining a job that will serve them long term. We need to encourage our teenagers to have a job at some point before they leave our homes. They actually may enjoy it a lot more than joining that club that they could care less about and it will teach them more valuable life skills. Here are some reasons why your teenager would benefit from putting some weekly hours of work in…
- Having a job teaches responsibility. When your teenager gets a job, they are being held accountable by someone other than their parents or teachers. A boss can easily replace them if they don’t perform well or do what is necessary to maintain their employment. A lot more is at stake for them if they don’t maintain their responsibilities at work than not maintaining their responsibilities at home.
- Having a job increases self-esteem. It feels really good to be held accountable. It creates self-efficacy and self-sufficiency. They start to feel like they can be counted on and are rewarded for their responsibility through their paycheck or being promoted.
- Having a job teaches work ethic. In order to keep a job, a teen needs to arrive on time and understand that they may need to show up even if they don’t feel like it. Having a job teaches teens the consequences of irresponsible behavior and prevents them from developing a sense of entitlement.
- Having a job teaches teens how to work with people they may not ever hang out with or even like. Your teenager may be working with people from other towns and of all different ages and backgrounds. They will learn how to collaborate with people who are very different from them and learn the importance of respecting differences. Having a job will help them learn how to navigate conflicts in group settings and make decisions that reflect their value system when working with people they may not like or agree with.
- Having a job teaches them how to budget. A teen will learn the value of money. They are less likely to spend their money if they worked for it. If there is something they really want to buy, have them pay for it themselves or split it with them. Teach them how to spend, save and think ahead. This is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives, especially if you want them to be financially independent from you one day.
- Having a job teaches time management. Your teen will not only need to learn how to manage their time on the job to produce what is expected of them, but also learn to manage their time between school, friends, family and work. Isn’t this what adults are constantly struggling with today? Why not give your teenager the advantage of practicing this now because it will pay off later when they have a lot more responsibility on their plates.
I do want to acknowledge that I am speaking to a very specific population of parents and teens right now. There are many families in which teenagers working is not a choice, but a necesity. Their job may help with family income or pay for things they need. These families may not have the privilege of thinking about why their teen may need a job. Consider yourself lucky if you have it as an option.
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