Summer jobs for teens provide far more than just money – teens also gain perspective, life-skills, and real job training that simply can’t be taught in school.
I remember that summer well – the one in between my junior and senior years of high school. I was 17 and my parents had made it clear – it was up to me to earn money for any extra expenses the following school year. If I wanted to see a concert with my friends, I had to pay for it. A movie and dinner? Paid for out of my pocket.
So in my teenage mind, getting a summer job was imperative. It could make or break my social life.
I searched everywhere for a job that spring and finally one came up: our neighbors were members of a swim and tennis club and had heard of an available job at the snack bar.
I applied and was accepted, to clean tables. Yep, clean tables and make sure the seating area was neat. Not the most exciting job, but at least I would be outside and near a pool.
The work was fine at first – bearable would be a more accurate description. But then things took a turn for the worst. If my boss, Danielle, didn’t like what I was doing she would let me know – by yelling at me.
Her complaints were probably justified, after all, I was 17 and still clueless about customer service, but her delivery was uncalled for. She would yell at me and other employees and worst of all she would do it in front of customers. It was humiliating.
I wish I could say I had a backbone strong enough to endure this abuse (because there really isn’t another word for it). But I was not that girl.
That summer was miserable – but I wouldn’t change a thing.
And here’s why: working a menial job with a horrible boss brought into focus why I really, really needed to succeed in college. I didn’t want to be washing tables for the rest of my life or be stuck under an intolerable dictator.
Before then, college was something I knew I needed to do, and from what my parents and teachers said I knew it was important, but now that message was internalized. The importance of more education had gone from theoretical to absolute.
There were other lessons as well – like earning my own money and trying to make it last for an entire academic year. Nothing will make a teen more careful with their money than the possibility of missing an outing with friends.
Here’s Why Summer Jobs for Teens are Important
Getting a paycheck each week was the only reason I stuck with my table washing job that summer, but in hindsight, I learned a lot of lessons along the way.
Here’s what teens gain by working a summer job:
- Learning to conduct a job search: As we all know, conducting a job search can be a job unto itself. When an adult is in the job market, there’s a lot at stake – a mortgage, putting food on the table, paying the electric bill – but fortunately for teens, the stakes are lower. Learning how to look for a job while the stress to find one is relatively low can be a great learning experience.
- Learning how to be professional: I don’t care if you work at Burger King or become a camp counselor, by getting a job, teens learn (sometimes the hard way) that there are expectations that come with employment – a level of maturity, an ethos of “the customer comes first”, an understanding that ripped jeans don’t fit the dress code. Learning these lessons before college can mean a huge leg up for post-graduation success.
- Learning how to write a resume and interview: I’ve never forgotten some of the tips my Dad gave me when I had to write my first resume and cover letter – I still use them today! Getting this experience early on can make the post-graduation job search that much easier.
- Experience: Sure, having internships related to your field can be a big bonus on a resume, but showing that you’ve held a job, and better yet, managed others (as a head lifeguard, for example) can be equally impressive to employers.
- Time management: Getting to work on time, not taking too long of a break – are among some of the basic time management skills teens learn on the job.
- Refining Interests: Working in any field, whether it’s outside or at a desk – can help teens narrow down the type of work environment they prefer.
- Lessons in Money Management: With a summer job comes money, and often more money than a teen has ever received at one time. This windfall of money is an excellent time to not only talk about money management but also set up some requirements like putting some of the income into college savings or even a Roth IRA.
The Long Road
Fortunately, my summer jobs slightly improved after that stint cleaning tables. Over the following summers, I worked at a Five & Dime, a gourmet food store, as a sales associate at Talbots, as a receptionist, and as a camp counselor.
In each experience, I learned more about myself and how the working world works.
Like that chatting with your friend while people are waiting to be served, probably isn’t the best way to impress your boss.
Or that there’s a better way to handle the question “Do you have any A-line skirts?” than with “Sorry, I don’t know what that is.”
All the little lessons that come with a summer job add up to preparing teens for when the “real” job comes along. The career. The one you worked so hard to get. The one you don’t want to mess up with the small stuff.
The one that makes you realize that money to cover your extra expenses in high school, is only just the beginning…
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