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Should my Teenager Get a Summer Job?


Published April 2, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 6, 2022 at 9:18 a.m.


I got my first summer job at age 16, working down the road from our house at a Medicaid-funded nursing home. I was the nursing aides' aide. My shift started at the crack of dawn and consisted mostly of scrubbing things clean. This nursing home gig was not the stuff of teen movies. There were no beach parties, no sun-kissed crushes and no one spontaneously breaking into song. It was not fun at all, and I very much disliked it. If you'd asked 16-year-old me what the perks of having that job were, I'd have only answered, "Money, and not much of it." Of course, now I know that job challenged me in a hundred different ways —from learning how to show up for work on time to developing compassion for some of the most vulnerable and disregarded members of our community.

In a SheKnows article entitled "Should Teens Have a Summer Job? Experts Weigh In," family psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg says yes, our teens should definitely get summer jobs, citing financial education among the many benefits. "There is no better way to learn about money than by learning that you need to earn it," Greenberg says. The benefits go beyond money and include teamwork, time management and self-esteem. Having a summer job helps teens "learn about responsibility and the importance of showing up on time and the expectations associated with being a valued worker."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, summer labor participation rates among teens ages 16 to 19 peaked in 1979 at nearly 60 percent. It's been trending mostly downward since then, hitting 34 percent in 2011 and hovering around there in the years since. As fewer college graduates enter the job market with actual work experience, employers seem to be noticing. In a recent NerdWallet article, "Why Your Teen Should Work This Summer," certified financial planner and columnist Liz Weston writes: "A recent survey indicates many college graduates may be hitting the job market unprepared to meet employer expectations. While 89.4% of recent grads rated themselves as proficient in their work ethic and professionalism, only 42.5% of surveyed employers shared that view, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Job Outlook 2018."

As you and your teen research summer employment options, it's also important to consider how your teen's job will impact your routines and workload. For instance, where is the job located and how will your teen get to and from work? If your teen can't drive or doesn't have access to a car, check bus schedules and bike routes. (After all, part of having a job is figuring out how to get yourself to work on time.) It's okay to prioritize your own sanity and work-life balance by ensuring that your teen's summer gig doesn't turn into a whole lot more work for you.

If you can make it happen without the hassle, having a summer job will provide your teen with more than a little pocket cash. It's crucial real-life experience that will help teach your teen the value of time and money, of balance and routine. Because we're not just raising kids; we're teaching our kids how to be functional adults out in the world.

In this monthly column, comedian, writer and mom Autumn Spencer answers tricky parenting questions. Have a question for Autumn? Send it to [email protected].

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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