by Sandi Schwartz
How many jobs did you have growing up? I started babysitting neighborhood kids at age 11 (which sounds so incredibly young now that I am a mother), and I continued to babysit through to the summer after my freshman year of college. I also worked in the snack bar at the local swim club for several summers and at a book store during my senior year of high school. Have you noticed that nowadays teenagers rarely have jobs? Recently, I was shocked to find out that a few of the high school students in my community had absolutely no interest or time to babysit my kids on an occasional Saturday night. Their mothers gave excuses such as being too busy with sports tournaments and studying.
The reluctance of teens holding part-time and/or summer jobs is now a national trend that has caused a fair amount of concern from experts in the marketplace. Why is it happening and how does it impact a child’s future in the long run? According to Pew Research, in the 1970s and ’80s, most teens worked at least part of their summer vacation, but the share of teens working summer jobs has decreased since the early 1990s. Now only about 20 percent of teens hold a job, which is an all-time low since the United States started keeping track in 1948.
Three main reasons can be linked to this trend: job market changes, education, and college resume-building priorities mainly pushed by parents. First, a shift in the job market has made it more difficult for teens to find part-time jobs. An article in Bloomberg explains that when the recessions hit in the early 1990s, early 2000s, and from 2007 to 2009, teen labor rates fell dramatically. As the economy recovered, teen labor never bounced back. Also, employers are less willing to hire teens because there is more competition with older Americans staying in the workforce and new Americans moving to the country looking for work.
Next, education has become the priority for most teens in the past several decades, so getting a part-time job isn’t even on their radar. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how millions of teenagers aren’t working because they are studying instead. Education is taking up more time as school districts have extended both the school day and the academic year, increased the homework load, and put pressure on students to attend summer classes. Most students aren’t going to summer school because they failed a class; they are going purely for enrichment to get ahead and look impressive to colleges. The percent of 16- to 19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last 20 years. Also, kids are taking harder classes overall. According to Bloomberg, attendance in calculus classes is up threefold since the early 1980s, while attendance in precalculus is up fivefold, and attendance in statistics courses has increased tenfold. The number of students taking advanced placement (AP) classes has also been steadily rising.
Finally, many teenagers are choosing not to get jobs because they want to focus on other activities that they think will impress college admissions officers, such as sports, music, student council, volunteering, and other extracurricular activities. Millions of children in the United States feel overwhelmed and pressured because of their over-scheduled lives. Parents feel like they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t sign their children up for a laundry list of activities. But these kids end up feeling like they are under so much pressure that they don’t even have time to babysit once in a while or have a fun summer job that can actually teach them more about life than any book, class, or organized activity ever will.
Many students now enter college without ever holding a part-time job in high school, and this can have a big impact on their future success. I recently watched a hilarious video spoofing a millennial job interview. The candidate had no clue what it meant to get to work on time, respect a supervisor, or actually get any real work done besides scrolling through social media. She was the stereotypical millennial who had been coddled her whole life and expected the world to revolve around her. As you can imagine, she did not get the job.
If our kids never spend time working at a real job, how will they ever understand what it means to succeed at work after they graduate from college or graduate school with all of their hard-earned degrees? They still need to have some basic life skills that can only be learned in the field, such as:
- Learn time management
- Develop self-discipline
- Follow company rules
- Take on and understand responsibilities
- Learn to collaborate with a diverse group of people
- Learn creative problem solving
- Develop conflict-resolution skills
- Respect colleagues at all levels
- Overcome challenges and failures
- Be able to deal with difficult clients and co-workers
- Accept criticism
Working part-time while going to school also helps teens grow in so many ways. First, jobs help teens experience something new, expanding their perspective beyond school and home by interacting with different people, learning new information, hearing stories from co-workers and customers, and seeing how the world operates outside of their comfort zone. Next, they quickly mature when they learn about responsibility, such as not being able to check Instagram and Snapchat because they need to focus on a cash register, stocking shelves, or helping customers. Jobs also teach teens how to manage money. Teens who earn their own money have more of an appreciation of its value and tend to be more responsible with their purchases. Teens can also get a self-esteem boost from working, as they achieve goals and get rewarded for their hard work. This will also teach them independence and self-reliance. Finally, one of the most important benefits of a teen job is that it teaches them how to multi-task and balance their responsibilities. It is critical for all individuals’ life-long health and happiness to know how to find balance in their lives. By managing homework, extracurricular activities, social and family commitments, and a job, teens will learn how to do this with success.
What Parents Can Do
A huge part of this teen job problem is us—or potentially us in a few years if we have young kids now. Parents are not letting their kids grow up. Instead, we are coddling them because of guilt, fear, and other issues we are holding onto. This is only hurting a whole generation of kids who are staying kids for way too long. It’s really up to us to shift the story by taking the following actions when we have a teenager in the house:
- Start slow. Help your teen figure out a small job that they can do during the summer. If they attend camp, see if they can start as a camp counselor in training. Or maybe they can attend an educational program for half of the summer and do some babysitting during the rest of the break.
- Help your teen learn how to find a job. Without doing all the work for them, guide them on how to write a resume, how to email local companies about part-time jobs, how to network with friends and neighbors about opportunities, etc. I have a neighbor whose son is particularly successful at math, so he created a flyer highlighting his tutoring services and placed them in mailboxes around our community. He landed one great client and was thrilled to make some extra money while helping a younger child at his school excel in math.
- As your teenager gets older and has more experiences, work with them to find out what their strengths and passions are so they can find a job that they will be excited about.
- Prepare your teen for job interviews. Get books out of the library, watch interview-tips videos, and do mock interviews with them to help them prepare.
- Talk to them about professionalism issues, such as appropriate dress, interacting with bosses and co-workers, reporting to work on time, cell phone use, etc.
- Always be available to your child by providing encouragement and to be a sounding board in case they face difficult or challenging situations at their job.