When I was a teenager I worked a diverse set of part time and summer jobs. My first job was at a pizza place taking orders and making pies. From there I moved on to various retail jobs including a couple stores in the mall, a GNC, a golf driving range, etc. I was lucky; back then there was plenty of work for teenagers looking for summer jobs. Sometimes you had to search a little harder, but if all else failed the traditional McDonalds jobs were always there. However, thanks to a rough economy and higher minimum wages, good summer jobs for teens are harder to find.
Should My Teenager Get a Job?
I have mixed emotions. Part of me recognizes the work ethic that can be developed at an early age by the added responsibility of holding a part time job. There is also some financial reward, and the opportunity to earn scholarships. However, there is a downside to teenagers working. Part time jobs take valuable time away from studies, and limit extra-curricular activities kids can be involved in at school, such as sports or after-school clubs. I remember having to quit my pizza job one summer when football camp started up, and I felt conflicted over which activity to continue. Part time jobs also interfere with the social aspects of being a teenager. When friends are hanging out at the mall, or a friend’s house, you might get stuck working until 9:00 or 10:00 at night.
Find Hard Work Before College
By “hard” work, I mean physically hard work. The summer before I left for college, and the summer after my freshman year, I worked for a landscaping company installing sprinkler systems, mowing lawns, and building retaining walls. Pushing a Ditch Witch through a 3/4 acre backyard in 100-degree heat will make you long for pulling all-nighters back at school. There was a time when I wanted to do that type of work, but I decided I would try to use my brain instead of my brawn (although I still enjoy doing this type of work, and even mowed lawns last summer for some extra cash). Continuing my education meant I could do landscaping if I wanted to, not because I had to. It was a good lesson.
Make Savings a Priority
If your teenager does decide to get a part time job, be sure to reinforce the importance of savings. In fact, anyone with an earned income can contribute to a Roth IRA (up to the income limits established by the IRS). Imagine if a sixteen year-old socked away $1,000 in a good, growth stock mutual fund inside a Roth IRA. Even if they never added another penny to the account they would have about $106,000 tax free at age 65. Now that’s a great head start on retirement savings!
photo by Randy Son of Robert