In our world today, more than ever, teenagers are on the move. With instant access to a world outside the home, they often demand and get access to ongoing activities, social gatherings, and opportunities to just ‘hang out.’ On top of this movement, is now the growing obsession with sports that run year-round.
And there is another category of teens who are not very active, and these kids often spend most of their time engaged with technology.
Of course, if we were to choose between the two, we would all want and choose the more active and engaged teenager who isn’t staring at a screen all day long. Yet, neither of these paths results in a teenager who becomes well-prepared for the rules of reality. In other words, the life of teenagers doing little more than they want to do (bringing immediate pleasure) is not preparing our youth for how the world works.
It’s Not Fair!
I often ask parents, “How will you feel when your 26-year-old is living in your house, after losing six jobs, complaining about how unfair the world is to him?”
Reality is the best playground for learning the rules of the real world. And in that world, our perspective can turn to one of two directions: We blame…or we accept responsibility. If we blame, then we are stuck and cannot grow or adapt. If we accept responsibility, we can learn, adapt and evolve to do better.
In my work as a licensed psychologist with a specialization in children and families, I’m frequently asked about the need for a teenager to get a job.
My resounding answer is almost always a very positive yes.
Why Your Teen Should Get a Job: The Big Three!
1. Work is the best reflection of the reality you can offer them.
If your teenager is driven from one soccer game to another, spends time with computers and cell phones, and hanging out with friends, there is very little resemblance to the demands of reality.
To make their way through college, and simply step into the real world, with no exposure to reality … is often tough. The research supports this, as those teens who work during their teens get jobs quicker and sustain employment easier than those who do not.
I am a big fan of real-life jobs because this reality teaches life lessons that you can not (particularly at this age). Some employers are grumpy. Sometimes the job is dirty. Sometimes you think you should get paid more than you’re worth. You have to learn to get along with peers, and picky customers. All these are valuable lessons for life.
2. Work teaches kids to value real-world effort, and the rewards it brings.
In the real world, we don’t get paid for getting A’s. We don’t get paid for participating in three different soccer leagues. We don’t even get paid for being the best in our dance class.
In reality, we get paid for good effort … that produces a bottom-line result for the business.
Many children have never experienced this relationship. They’ve also not experienced the reality of how little they will get paid for unskilled labor. This is good to understand, as they realize how many weeks they must work to replace that new iPhone. This certainly helps to put things in perspective.
Research has shown over and over that we simply do not have the same appreciation and attachment to what we are given, as compared to what we have earned with our sweat and effort.
As most of you have seen, many teenagers demonstrate little appreciation and gratitude for your hard work and the goodies which they enjoy as a consequence of that work. And likely, you have found that your lectures, discussions, and reminders about this fall on deaf ears. Notice what happens now when they want a new pair of sneakers or the latest phone, and you let them earn that. This is a lesson you cannot teach with your words.
3. A job teaches real-life responsibilities.
Until your teenager takes on a job, the responsibilities they are given often do not come with real consequences. Certainly, their failure to turn in their homework has a consequence, but it’s not one that many adolescents feel strongly about. A failure to lock the door at home simply results in a lecture from mom or dad.
Adolescents that step into the workplace are often greeted with a different perspective. They are offered responsibilities, and with the responsibilities come reality-based consequences.
This provides great opportunities for your son or daughter to see themselves in very positive ways. They receive input from supervisors, the public, and even their peers. They also experience the pain of failing in these areas as well, often with a harsh response closer to the way the real world works.
The Bottom Line: Reality Rocks!
Give your teenager the gift of being well-prepared for life. Require that they get a job, and you will give them this gift. They will learn lessons well beyond what I have outlined here. When your son or daughter is twenty-five, they will thank you for this preparation and the difference it makes in their lives.