Is Unemployment Better for Busy Teens?

credit: Google images

credit: Google images

Some parenting standards can be planned in advance. We imagine we’ll know precisely how to respond to many parenting situations and be easily guided by our experience and values. New parents talk at length of the value of making their own baby food and limiting screen time. But then, real life happens and naïve certainty evolves into a realization that we’re often not sure what to do. This can lead to less thought through parenting decisions, like letting your toddler stand in the back of a shopping cart or allowing your teenage son to watch the Fast and Furious franchise while on the verge of getting his driver’s license.

So I’m asking you, dear blog readers, to help me think through an upcoming parental decision–whether to encourage our sooner-than-I-could-ever-have-imagined-to-be 16-year-old son to get a job. Seems easy. Right? Old enough to work means get your butt to work. I mean, hey, I got a job as soon as I turned 16. I remember how proud I was to don that polyester poop brown and orange jumper and a plastic nametag for my first gig at the Ponderosa Steak House. I had a driver’s license and my mom’s hand-me-down ‘76 Chevrolet Chevette that needed gas and insurance coverage. I had responsibilities!

And I suppose having a job during the school year was fine for me. Unless you factor in an early immersion into a grown-up world of restaurant co-workers who happened to not be all high school students like me. Some were high school dropouts. Some were struggling single parents. A few were rehabilitating criminals. But aside from this early exposure to the wider world–something I’m not sure I want for my own kids–my grades never suffered and my little blue hatchback always had a full tank of gas.

I’ll argue this wasn’t always the case when I went to college. That’s when I really needed money to pay for tuition, books and housing. But the heightened difficulty of college coursework meant that holding down even a part-time job during my college years caused my grades to suffer. Making ends meet during college is something I truly hope our kids won’t have to worry as much about.

For me, there seemed no other way. But that’s not the case for my children. Our son doesn’t need to have a job right now. The hubs and I are fortunate enough to be able to provide for his needs. And, unlike some kids with more refined tastes, our son rarely asks for extras. He seems perfectly content with bargain priced t-shirts, a few pair of no-name-brand jeans and wearing one pair of athletic shoes at a time until they’re either outgrown or worn out.

But even though he doesn’t necessarily need money, shouldn’t he get a job to learn responsibility? Start saving for college? Gain some work experience? My immediate answer to all of the above is yes. (Although please God not at a place like the Ponderosa.)

But what about his already busy schedule? My son participates in high school sports–something I never did. I’m pretty sure our son isn’t on deck for any college sports scholarships. It’s not that. He just likes to play. It’s part of his high school experience and something he most likely won’t get to be a part of once he goes to college. And these activities often mean he doesn’t return home from school until after 6 o’clock. Sometimes later. Then there’s dinner and homework for courses admittedly tougher than what I took at his age. You probably don’t need to read another blog post about how kids today are pushed too hard academically and have more homework than we did in high school. So I’ll skip that for now.

I suppose he could find a job that only requires him to work on weekends during the school year. But that would mean zero down time day in and day out and that cannot be a good recipe for a healthy mind and body. So I’m tempted to discourage any paid employment during the school year. Am I wrong? The hubs thinks so. He says kids on more competitive traveling sports teams typically have games or practices most every day including weekends. What’s the difference? He says a weekend job wouldn’t really be like “working” if it were outdoors and connected to something our son already enjoys. In the hubs’ mind, there isn’t much difference between the kid spending all day on a winter Saturday skiing for fun or getting paid to  teach kids to ski. Is he right? Do our kids have the energy and ability to endure long days every single day? Cause I don’t. Good grief, I sure don’t.

So, as much as I’ve always been a believer in young people having some skin in the game, I’m reluctant to have my boy grow up so fast. I’m thinking a summer job might be sufficient. But maybe I’m being too soft. I prefer to give this decision a bit more thought than the time I let him stand up in the back of a grocery cart. Cause you can likely imagine how well that turned out.

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