We Are Both Right

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?

It’s Not Their Place in a 9 to 5 World

©shho/stock.xchng

When my kids are in high school, their job will be to hit the books, nothing more. ©shho/stock.xchng

Remember high school? I do. I remember it being an awful lot of work. Every year I took a full course load, not to mention the after-school activities I participated in. From junior year on, I also worked at a local restaurant. I worked as a waitress mostly, but did other things too.

Until I turned 17, I worked no more than four hours a day, 20 hours a week and no later than 10 p.m. Once I turned 17, right before my senior year, the rules changed quite a bit. I could work longer shifts and more of them. Vacations from school didn’t mean vacations from work and Friday and Saturday nights were filled — not with dates or outings with my friends but with order slips and cash register receipts.

It was a good job (I stayed at it until I graduated from college) and I made a lot of money. Money that helped me purchase my first car and pay for college and the prom and buy whatever it was I needed. I learned responsibility and gained some independence. For the most part, working as a teen was a great experience for me.

Still, when it comes time for my kids to work, I’m not sure I’ll be so fast in signing their working papers. My son is only 11 now, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few years, but I think I’d rather him focus on school while he’s in high school — his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his (sigh) social life. I may change my mind once I have to start footing his sure-to-be-expensive teen-years bills, but I think that our kids have to grow up so fast as it is, why not give them a little more time to just be young.

Having said that, I don’t want my kids spending their time playing video games or surfing the ‘net or doing whatever it is that will be popular five years from now. If they aren’t working they should be studying or playing sports or doing something goal-oriented. Down time is OK, but I do expect them to be productive in some way. I don’t think that will be a problem, they are totally overscheduled right now, I can’t imagine that will change much. And to me, that’s how the younger years should be spent.

Let me be clear, I am not against my kids working entirely. I would welcome any of them to get a summer job or take on some odds and ends, here and there — babysitting, snow shoveling, lawn mowing and the like — just nothing that requires a regular commitment, nothing that might take away from their most important responsibility — being a teenager.

What do you think? Did you work an after-school job? Do your kids? Will your kids?

Suzanne says as soon as her kids are old enough, they will enter the workforce. I know where I’m going when I want a scoop of ice cream!