My wonderful niece just got her first job at 16 and she’s excited for her initiation into the world of food service. Alright, I think she’s more excited for the extra cash, and the rest of us are excited to see her grow and develop with this new experience – the way we all did when we first started working.
But it turns out, as I have discovered, that a whole cohort of parents actively don’t want their teenagers working until they’re out of school and fully grown adults. I had no idea that there were perceived detriments to teens having part-time jobs as my friends and I were counting down the days to when we would finally turn 14 and 9 months and be able to put our applications into the local Subway or McDonald’s.
My parents encouraged me and all my siblings to get jobs when we could, with the only caveat being that we weren’t allowed to work over a certain number of hours, so we were still prioritising school. But the moves towards independence by having an income we could control and the responsibility of working for someone, were welcomed and supported.
The way I see it now, getting a job as a teenager, if you don’t actually need the income for your basic needs, is more about personal development and growth than it is about any financial gains. The confidence I gained as a young person from navigating a workplace, meeting new people, taking directions from a boss, and speaking to and serving customers was immense.
And when it was stressful, the lessons I learned from those circumstances are the ones I still remember now. My very first job when I was 15 was a complete disaster. My boss was a man going through a harrowing divorce, and he was barely keeping it together, treating me to long tirades about his ex-wife on every shift, where unfortunately the staff only comprised the two of us.
He would swear at me whenever giving ‘feedback’, and I would go home and cry. When I finally worked up the courage to quit, having found a much less stressful job as a tutor, he berated me, begged me to stay, and then, as a parting gift, made me clean the toilets (which was never on the job list before). I wouldn’t say I liked that experience, but it taught me a lot about what was and wasn’t appropriate behaviour in a workplace, how to react to strong feedback, how to set boundaries, and when to call it quits.
The jobs I had after taught me how to manage my time, deliver results and take direction. I worked continuously from that first job for the rest of school, then with three jobs simultaneously in university, and into full-time work directly after graduating. I’m glad I did, and I am grateful to my parents for encouraging it and supporting me in those early years with lifts to and from work and help in opening a bank account and doing a tax return.
The argument against teens working, at least that I have come across, is that they have the rest of their lives to work, and they should enjoy being teenagers while they can. There are obviously plenty more specific reasons why some teenagers can’t or shouldn’t work, including mental health concerns, and these complex factors might impact their school or home life or other responsibilities. But if the concern is that kids are growing up too fast or that the grind of work will detract from their ability to be young, I disagree.
Yes, in ideal circumstances, no kid should have to work to contribute to their family until adulthood. But working five to 10 hours a week at a part-time job for some extra cash and the experience is definitely worth the sacrifice of time spent otherwise, and is also helpful for when they apply for future employment.
I feel proud of my niece for taking the initiative to find a job, even though she’s been so stressed about doing something completely new with people she doesn’t know. To me, that seems like an important life experience. But perhaps my views are the result of indoctrination by the capitalist machine, and kids should be kids.