Teenagers are not working like they used to.
New data shows that the number of teens with a job while in still in school has dropped to an all-time low, according to this report in the Washington Post. Back in 1991, almost 40 percent of high-schoolers worked during the school year or summer. It’s now down to 20 percent.
No, it’s not what you think. Today’s teens are no more lazy than we were. There are other things going on. Some blame increased requirements from colleges that encourage taking additional courses or programs to enhance an application. Others say that it’s tough for teens to get to and from work, particularly for late shifts in areas that discourage after-hours driving. Some blame the lack of low-wage jobs available for teens and employers who are unwilling to be flexible. Technology replacing jobs could be a factor. And then of course there are the increasingly extended calendars for things like sports and other activities that may help kids land scholarships to pay for today’s outrageous college tuitions.
But these are all just excuses. If your kid’s in high school, he or she should have a job. If they’re not, you’re mostly to blame.
It’s OK if your kid’s not working during the school year, assuming your financial situation allows. You’re only in high school once, and the experience should be enjoyed, if possible. Plus, school is school, and their primary job should be to get the best grades possible. Getting good grades will negate the need to do all that extracurricular stuff during the summer to beef up a college application. Admissions counselors get that, and from what I’ve read place a high value on a candidate with good academics combined with work experience.
But during the summer, your child must work. We’re all familiar with the obvious reasons: the discipline of showing up on time, the teamwork learned by working with others, the experience of following orders, the satisfaction of earning a paycheck instead of just an allowance. No doubt that all of this is very important stuff every kid needs to know. But there’s another, even bigger reason why your kid needs a job: It’s your sanity.
As a parent I naturally wanted the best for my kids. But more important what I wanted was what was best for myself —
and the thought of having teenagers lying around my house all summer was repugnant on many levels. I didn’t just want my kids to work because it would be good for them. I wanted them to be work because it would be good for me. So as early as December I devoted time to finding work for them. And I did find work for them.
During their high school years, my three kids lifeguarded at township pools, worked at YMCAs and summer camps, washed dishes, and doled out frozen yogurt. Are they such fantastic kids? No. It’s because I made sure they had these jobs. I pushed them into getting certified with the Red Cross. I mined my contacts for opportunities. I rearranged my schedule to drive them to and from work. When my kids were in middle school and ninth grade, I even paid them to do volunteer work — not because I’m altruistic, but because 1) they were too young at the time to get a real job, 2) I was fortunate enough to be able to, and 3) I’d sooner stick my head in the oven than have them around all summer.
Don’t worry — it’s not too late for this summer. Maybe the great internships and camp counselor positions have been filled. But there are plenty of small businesses and nonprofits I personally know who would love some help internally to clean up their files and databases this summer. Even if they can’t pay much, consider chipping in, if you can. The alternative? Smelly, annoying teenagers lying around your living room all summer with their friends.
Ugh. Isn’t a little effort on your part worth avoiding this?
Gene Marks, CPA, runs a ten-person technology consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd. He writes daily for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and the Huffington Post.