So here’s a statement that will make me sound like I’m 110 years old: life is very different for teenagers today than it was when I was growing up.
The latest evidence to support that? Only one third of American teenagers had a job last summer; down 40% from 2000.
I don’t have the statistics on the percentage of teenagers who had summer jobs back in the dark ages when I grew up, but unless your parents were super rich and could afford to take you with them on a month-long trip to Europe, you spent the early days of summer scouring the want ads, asking your parents’ friends for jobs, or making the rounds of the local mall filling out handwritten applications.
Of course we worked during the summer…what else was there to do? Nobody knew what an internship was unless you were talking about the path to becoming a doctor. No one traveled to exotic locations to build houses for needy people. And the year-round sports that consume so many high schoolers’ summers didn’t exist.
An informal survey of how my daughter’s friends are spending the summer confirms what the newspaper reported. Jennifer Lynn and one other classmate are the only girls of her group who aren’t building their resumes by volunteering in the Dominican Republic, taking summer school classes in Florence, or interning at a high tech firm.
Those experiences can certainly teach valuable skills. But I think there is also a lot to be gained – in addition to the added funds in their bank account – by working a minimum wage summer job. Skills such as learning to work with people who you wouldn’t choose as friends, taking direction, customer service, respecting authority.
And there’s one more good reason for teens to have a summer job: you have to have some bad jobs so that you know when you’ve gotten a better job.
My first summer job was at Baskin Robbins. We had to wear white dresses that the manager had purchased at a medical supply store – hard to look cool when you’re wearing a reject from the nurse’s clearance rack. While the other soda jerks and I were earning $1.75 an hour scooping Jamoca Almond Fudge into cones (sugar or regular), the manager was in the back, reading romance novels. Our closing time routine included scraping the floor with a putty knife, thanks to the popularity that summer of Bubble Gum ice cream.
That’s by no means the worst summer job ever; I have a friend who spent her summers in North Carolina picking tobacco.
But by the next summer, I was able to land a better job at a teen clothing store in a mall, working with girls I liked and a hard-working manager. While I didn’t want to make a career out of folding t-shirts, I had gained some perspective; at least I wasn’t scraping up gum. Learning appreciation? That’s wonderful on-the-job training for life.