By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
The summer break is long, and it can feel even longer if you do not have any activities planned for your teens. What do you do? Should you send them to day or sleepaway camp, an academic enrichment program, or just let them hang out with friends? The choices are many. One way to keep your teens meaningfully engaged is to encourage them to get a summer job. Experts agree that having a summer job will help them mature in several important ways.
A summer job will make your teen a more responsible person. They will learn, as Dr. Barbara Greenberg, an adolescent psychologist, says, “the importance of showing up on time and the expectations associated with being a valued worker.” Simply put, your teen will learn to show up for work on time daily, follow directions from their supervisors, and complete whatever duties they are assigned.
Your teen will also learn important lessons about management, including how to manage their time well, multitask, and interact appropriately with colleagues and customers. As Richard Weissbourd, a researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, says, having a summer job “is a real lesson in how to treat people.”
Most summer jobs that teens are qualified for, like working as camp counselors or amusement park attendants, requires them to work well with others, and that is an experience they will have with a summer job. Dr. Greenberg says that teens “learn about the importance of being a team player which is a valuable skill throughout life.” When they work with others, they are exposed to different personalities and points of view which in turn help build empathy. And empathy, according to Michele Borba, the author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, is an extremely important skill for their future careers.
The Value of Money
Let’s not kid ourselves: One of the main reasons why your teen might agree to work in the summer is to earn some extra spending money. Most summer jobs aren’t that well-paid but that is not such a bad thing. It will teach them the value of money. They will appreciate how hard you work for the money you have been giving them, and they will learn important lessons about money management. As Kathy Sweedler, a professor of consumer economics, says, “Money management makes a lot more sense to us when it’s our own money.”
Despite the low pay of most summer jobs, having a job will make your teen feel great about themselves. Dr. Greenberg says that “self-confidence and self-esteem increase as a result of being a good worker and earning money.” Indeed, a summer job is a wonderful opportunity for your teen to prove to themselves and to you that they are good at something. They realize that they are capable of learning and applying new skills, and doing it in new and unfamiliar environments.
A summer job can also boost your teen’s chances of getting into the college of their choice. A job that is related to their academic interests is impressive to admissions officers. Dr. Katherine Cohen, the founder of IvyWise, a well-respected college admissions counseling firm, says that a “job that’s relevant to a passion the student has will help show admissions officers that the candidate looks for opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.” Even a job that isn’t related to their academic interests can make a difference, especially if they work in the same place for several summers and assume additional responsibility over time. As Lisa McLaughlin, an executive at Princeton Review, the well-known test prep company, says: “Scoop ice cream all summer and then do it the following summer as well and hopefully earn yourself a management type position or raise.”
A summer job can also serve as career preparation for your teen. Teens who have summer jobs develop a deep understanding of the world of work and how to do well in it, which in turn can lead to better jobs and higher salaries. They also learn about themselves – their strengths and weaknesses, what they are interested and not interested in doing professionally – which can help them find careers best suited for them. Finally, they will learn how to job-hunt, interview, and they acquire soft skills like communication and conflict-resolution. Dr. Marc-David Seidel, professor of entrepreneurship and the author of a recent study on the topic sums it up well: “Parents may think that their kids could do better than a job at the local fast-food joint. But our study shows even flipping burgers has value. Working can offer educational and developmental opportunities that prepare adolescents for the real world.”
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.
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