Why Your Kid's First Job is Worth More Than the Paycheck

by ParentCo. April 09, 2017

making iceream on cone

It happened before I even had time to process what was happening. As I looked around in confusion, I realized every employee had suddenly disappeared, leaving me the lone man on deck. This was no small feat as the ice cream store I worked at that summer was always staffed by at least six people. It was one of the busiest stores in the nation.
I looked across the freezers full of ice cream at a historical interpreter clad in dark woolen clothing despite the oppressive late-summer heat, and I knew I was in trouble. Her milkshake order was incredibly specific, and upon learning that one of the three flavors she requested had just run out, she unleashed a torrent of abuse.
I futilely gestured toward the huge tub set out to thaw on the counter behind me, explaining that it was rock hard and couldn’t be scooped yet, but nothing would turn her frown upside down. After an incredibly long, hot summer spent mopping up sticky melted ice cream, cleaning bathrooms, and hauling trash to the dumpster, this was the final straw.
I biked home from work that afternoon and registered for the LSATs, having realized that I was unfit for a career in the service industry.
There are so many ways kids can use their precious few hours outside of school. AP classes, sports, youth orchestra, volunteering, and just relaxing and recovering from all the stress and demands of being a teenager. It’s hard to decide whether an after-school or summer job is really a worthwhile use of time for high school and college students. Although I’m sure I missed some opportunities by choosing to work, I’m glad my parents insisted that I do so – and not just because I earned money.
I had many different jobs, starting at age 11 when I babysat for the kids next door. Babysitting would actually become my specialty. I found enough steady gigs to eventually pay for half of the car that my parents purchased on my 16th birthday. I learned a lot from those families and kids, including the fact that I love children.
But I was in no hurry to have any of my own. As much fun as I had with my young charges, I could see that raising kids was difficult, expensive, and incredibly time-consuming. I parlayed my love of kids into several summers as a camp counselor, and a gig as a nanny in graduate school, and waited until I was in my 30s to start a family of my own.
Both of my parents are lawyers, so I had a few summer jobs in law firms. From what I could gather, being a lawyer meant feeling constantly harried, never finishing lunch, and coping with a number of irate phone calls from clients every day. It wasn’t until I had a chance to see one of my bosses in action that I started to become interested in the legal field.
The lawyer I worked for that summer needed a file from the office in the middle of a hearing. I slipped into the courtroom and sat quietly behind the bar, waiting for him to reach a stopping point. As I watched him argue his case in a quiet but incredibly articulate and determined voice, I realized there was more to lawyering than just rushing in and out of the office.
I kept this experience in the back of my mind when I returned to college that fall and chose to major in English and Women’s Studies, thus ensuring that I virtually had to obtain a professional degree in order to be employable.
Incidentally, the judge presiding over the hearing that day asked me to leave the courtroom for baring my midriff, thus teaching me an important lesson about proper courtroom attire. This would stand me in good stead when, years later, I became the lawyer arguing her case.
I spent my senior year of college waiting tables in one of the busiest bar/restaurants in my sleepy college town. There I discovered that my sarcasm was an acquired taste that didn’t necessarily go over well with the tourists and parents checking out the college. But I also learned that I like to be busy and that two back-to-back weekend shifts passed incredibly quickly because I had so much work to do.
In contrast with my job filing in the school library – which I’d suffered through for an entire semester before resigning out of an overabundance of boredom – working in restaurants was fun for me because of the fast pace. I was never going to be the world’s best waitress, but I did want a career where I’d be busy and on the go.
Although it may feel like your child has to give something up in order to work after school or during the summer, what they’ll gain in the process far outweighs any lost opportunities. These jobs are more than just a way to earn money. They allow kids to get their feet wet in a variety of fields as they start to imagine their future careers.
And there’s always the chance that they’ll learn a valuable lesson about why the folks who work as historical interpreters really need to slam down a milkshake at the end of a long, hot summer day.



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