should parents encourage their kids to have jobs during school?

A reader writes:

Several friends and I were discussing the pros and cons of our children working while in high school or college.

As an occasional employer of new college graduates, I find young adults without any work experience (not counting internships, which aren’t always like a real job) have more difficulty adjusting to the concepts of the work environment like a schedule, actually being at work for 8 hours or more, a limited lunch time, and not taking time off whenever they want. Then there is also cell phone use and social media use on work time. I feel that working at an entry-level, minimum wage job, even for a few hours a week, provides valuable life experience and motivation to do more.

The other view presented was that teens and young adults are only young once and that school and activities take enough time. If they don’t need the money, let them have fun. One person even said she didn’t want her daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way. I would love to hear what you think on the matter. I believe that in this tight market for college graduates, those with no work experience are at a disadvantage.

I believe that people should get lots of work experience in college, and ideally some in high school too, for exactly the reasons you say: There’s real value in learning how to operate within an employment context, how to get along with managers and coworkers, how to advocate for yourself, what professional behavior is, and what is and isn’t reasonable to expect at work. And there’s value in simply learning how to get into the routine and rhythms of working, and building whatever mental muscle it is that makes you get up and go to work even when you’d rather stay home that day.

There’s also real value in making mistakes (especially mistakes of professionalism) when the stakes are lower and learning from them then, rather than making them in a post-college professional job.

Where I differ from you is that I do think that internships can provide some of this. In some cases, internships alone can provide what’s needed; it just depends on the internship.

But “they’re only young once so let them have fun”? I worked summers throughout high school and college, and I had plenty of fun — probably too much, in fact. High school and college students who want to have fun are going to have it, job or no job, believe me.

In fact, before my sister and I were old enough to have paying jobs, my mother required us to spend our summers volunteering. While most of my friends hung out at the pool, I volunteered at a library and a hospital, and then later spent high school summers working at a vet clinic, a grocery store, a cookie store, and a frozen yogurt store. I’m convinced it gave me a head start on understanding how the work world functioned, which my friends didn’t get until a lot later. But I still got in plenty of time goofing off and getting into trouble.

As for the “I don’t want my daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way” mother — well, ick. Way to teach her kid humility and appreciation for hard work. And does she think her daughter is going to graduate and go straight into a VP job?

I’d argue a parent’s job is to prepare their kid for a healthy, happy, successful adulthood — not to protect them from real life as long as possible. Unless the kid is going to be independently wealthy forever, work is part of life. If you don’t let them start experiencing that until they graduate at 22, you’re going to do them a disservice.

{ 640 comments… read them below }

  1. Ihmmy*

    I’m a strong believer that everyone should have to work a public facing job for a bit, if only to garner sympathy for retail clerks and waiters who have to deal with exhausting people all day long. I worked retail for most of my time in school (high school and uni) and it gave me such a better sense of patience for what people who are currently working retail go through.

    1. Prismatic Professional*

      I am always amazed at how surprised people are when a customer service call goes smoothly when the customer _doesn’t_ shoot the messenger.

      1. literateliz*

        I’m not sure if this is a new thing, but recently I’ve noticed that when I call a customer service line, after I tell the person what’s going on, they say (in a very scripted way) something like “Okay, I understand you’re feeling very frustrated about this, and we’ll do our best to fix it.” It actually makes me really uncomfortable. I just want them to solve the problem and not try to be my therapist, but I also feel bad that people blow up at them so regularly that they actually had to incorporate this soothing “there, there, it’ll be okay” kind of verbiage into their script. :(

        1. Prismatic Professional*

          Ugh. That being scripted is really uncomfortable. The training could be really listen and empathize with what the customer is experiencing. Imagine this was your problem you are calling for help on.

          1. literateliz*

            Yeah, I mean, part of my problem with it is that I never go into these phone calls angry or confrontational, and something about the script makes me feel like when someone tells me to calm down and I want to be like “I AM calm!!!” It’s really awkward, which I can deal with because I know they’re required to do it, but I feel like it just serves to put a wall up.

            1. Meggers*

              I coach in a call center, and I would say yes, empathy is getting more focus than it used to. The scripted thing is a problem, of course. Many call centers use MUCH more scripting than we do (we have essentially none), and that is part of why we have none – it SOUNDS like a script. Of course, some reps are AWFUL at empathy, and something mildly scripted is better than nothing at all. (I know it may not seem that way, but TRUST ME!) Also, not all clients/situations really need an empathy statement.

              Many/most upset clients won’t listen well to a solution until they feel like the rep heard and understood them; empathy (when executed well) is a good way to communicate listening and understanding.

              1. Ad Astra*

                I don’t usually need an empathy statement. Something like “Hmm, yeah, that does sound like a problem” or just “OK, I think I can help you with that” would be fine. I’m not a disgruntled customer (yet), I’m a customer who’s calmly asking you for help.

        2. Saturn9*

          In the industry, we call that “an empathy statement.” And yes, we are required to say it. Very required. Quality takes points off if they grade a call where we don’t do it, followed by coaching and being put on a PIP if we don’t do it consistently.

          Fwiw, it makes me entirely uncomfortable too but one of the corporate overlords decided it was a good idea and now it’s A Thing and I do it because I enjoy luxuries like living indoors.

          1. literateliz*

            I think I was unclear above, but I do realize this and that’s what bums me out about it – that someone is basically required to say this to me to keep their job. I didn’t in any way mean to criticize the reps themselves for doing their job! Sorry if it came across that way.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Oooh, yes! Another good point.

      As for my own experience, I found it harder to have fun without a job. I don’t even mean trouble-fun, but normal-fun, like going to the movies and such. Hard to do with no money! Having jobs helped me figure out both the work world and a bit of money management (some of it the hard way).

      I also ick at the “too smart” thing. There’s a really great article i read on Cracked a few years ago about my generation (Gen X) and how we were told all this stuff about how education would keep us from ever having to flip burgers, and this was said with the implication that flipping burgers was the worst thing ever–and then years later, when the economy crashed, we got mocked for being too proud to flip burgers (even if we’d actually applied for fast food jobs and been turned down). I think everybody in society needs to grok that flipping burgers is, while often unpleasant, real work that someone has to do, and that no one is “above” it just because they have a high IQ.

      And all of that said, parents should keep an eye out for whether their kids’ bosses are taking advantage of them, because that happens sometimes when bosses think a naive young worker won’t know their rights. But that’s another topic really.

      1. Helen of What*

        Also, making a good burger has value in itself–at least it’ll make you popular at BBQs.

        (So. Hungry. Need. Lunch.)

        1. Dorth Vader*

          My husband worked at a pizza place in high school and he makes the best pizza. Definitely worth the fact that we couldn’t go on Friday/Saturday night dates.

      2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        Yes so much to your “defense” of burger flipping- especially in light of current wage debates. I’ve never done fast food specifically but worked food service on and off, even after earning my degree, and the idea that I was somehow “less than” my customers because of the job I managed to get was incredibly dehumanizing.

        1. Dr. Ruthless*

          I worked as a cashier at Victoria’s Secret the summer before I began my PhD (I’d also worked there summers and holidays during most of college). It was amazing to me how many customers (and sadly, managers) thought that everyone working there must be dumb as a post. In reality, there was a pretty wide cross-section of employees there–college students, professional/full time retail employees, school teachers making an extra income in the summer (I impressed one of these, a high school literature teacher, by describing straightening the panty table as “Sisyphean”) or folks who were looking for full time office-type jobs, but hadn’t found them yet.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Having seen the Vicky’s panty table during a massive sale, I think your metaphor was apt.

            1. Dr. Ruthless*

              There’s a special place in hell for the shoppers who would come up to a freshly straightened panty table, and lift up every. single. pair.

              I’ve been out of retail for a decade, but I still can’t pick up a neatly-folded item unless there’s better-than-fair odds I’ll buy it. I still tuck tags, too.

              1. Recruiter*

                +1!! Yes! I worked in retail for a few years and now I re-fold and readjust the display. It was a never ending cycle straightening and folding clothes.

                1. AMD*

                  As someone who has that instinct but can’t fold clothes nicely, is it better to try to fold it, leave it for someone to fold, or just be careful to not unfold if I am not buying?

                2. Dr. Ruthless*

                  (This is actually to AMD, but I’ve exhausted the ability to thread)

                  I would say that the order of preference goes something like this:

                  1) Try to unfold as little as possible. Want to see the hem of that shirt? See if it’s on a mannequin. Want to try it on? See if there’s an already-rumpled one in your size (this means that I often try something on in a different color than I think I might buy, if my preferred color is all neatly folded. This is probably unnecessary though). For the love of all that is holy, carefully extract the size you need from the pile of clothes. They’re almost always arranged smallest to largest (top to bottom, as well as back to front), and if you’re looking at a neat stack, that’s almost certainly true.
                  2) If you try something on (which is just about the only reason you should have taken it out of the stack and decide you don’t want it), GIVE IT BACK TO THE ATTENDANT. If it hung, put it on a hanger. (Clothes should be arranged on the hanger so that the top bit of the hanger looks like a question mark from the front of the garment). NEVER, EVER leave a pile of clothes in the fitting room. Only monsters do that. Giving it back to the attendant is fine–there’s no need to try to re-shelf it yourself (and there’s probably some idiosyncrasy that means that you’ll get it wrong if you try. We had things arranged light -> dark from left to right, but I wouldn’t expect a customer to know that).
                  3) If, for whatever reason, you’ve unfolded something but didn’t make it to the fitting room (IDK…you realized you forgot your wallet?), then I would refold it as neatly as is reasonable. You won’t do a perfect job, so don’t bother with that. (The reason clothes are folded so neatly in stores is because they’re “board folded,” i.e. literally folded around a plastic board, which is then slipped out. You can’t replicate this. Don’t try). But a reasonably neatly folded shirt on top of a pile of other shirts looks better than a crumpled shirt on top of or next to the pile. This means that the manager might let it slide until closing for it to get cleaned up (whereas if it’s an active mess, it’ll need to get straightened now). Unless you’re a ninja, don’t try to slip it back in where it “goes”–you’ll probably just mess up the other shirts in the pile.

              2. Anonathon*

                I do that too! I also have to be held back from picking up other people’s trash when exiting a movie theatre.

              3. Carla*

                I don’t know, I worked retail too and it’s hard work and all but it is my job to fold and refold those sweaters. And if people stopped looking through those sweaters then I wouldn’t have had that job. If you’re out shopping and your size is at the bottom go ahead, pull out what you want to look at, no need to worry about folding them again. Just don’t be a jerk and completely topple over a neatly folded stack and turn it into a ball of clothing. But it is my job is to fix them up again and again and again and again…

          2. sam*

            One benefit to working retail at the World of Science in high school/during college breaks – people assumed I was a giant nerd rather than dumb.

            It was basically a knockoff of The Nature Company, but with a slightly more science-y bent.

          3. Dan*

            At one of my previous jobs, we worked with a guy who had done retail at Victoria Secrets. We thought he had the best job ever.

          4. AdAgencyChick*

            Now I have a mental image of Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill, with a giant pile of cotton underthings on his head.

            1. Yet Another Allison*

              Pushing a giant pile of underwear up a hill would be just as difficult as a giant rock – the underwear would keep slipping out and going everywhere!

          5. Elsajeni*

            At my first retail job in college, I served someone who looked vaguely familiar and turned out to be the mother of a friend from junior high. Once we’d worked out how we knew each other, I asked about her daughter, and she said “Oh, she’s getting ready for college next year!”, then got oddly wistful and added, “You know, I really thought you’d go to college, too.”

            It’s not like it was even, like, noon on a Tuesday during the school year. It was JULY.

            1. Dr. Ruthless*

              My first job in high school was at the mall (I was 16). I was on break, getting a pretzel from Auntie Annie’s (as you do), when I ran into my middle school algebra teacher. I said hi, and that I’d had his class a few years ago. He said something along the lines of being a little surprised I’d dropped out… :/

        2. anonanonanon*

          I worked at McDonald’s when I was 14 – 16 and the way people treated me was incredibly dehumanizing. I heard so many people telling their kids to “study hard so you don’t end up here”. Middle class people tended to be the most patronizing, in my experience, and just assumed that everyone serving them was stupid, a slacker, or had no other ambitions in life. But a lot of people have a power complex when they’re standing on the opposite side of the counter from someone who is serving them.

          I actually attribute growing a strong backbone to working at a fast food restaurant. Also my quick ability to get out of the way when some lunatic decides to throw burning hot french fries or attempt to jump over the counter because they have 19 chicken nuggets instead of 20. Fun times.

          1. LawLady*

            I got this exact comment once. Someone said to her child: “you have to work hard in school, so you don’t have to do a job like that.” Infuriating. And I was about to start my freshman year at Stanford, which I let her know, but I don’t think she actually learned anything.

            1. ineloquent*

              My dad made this comment about our Red Lobster server once, to his face, after asking a lot about his background and personal life. I was only like 10, and I was sooo massively embarrassed. My dad is a total jerk to waitstaff, and I think a stint at a resaurant would do him good.

            2. ElCee*

              Oh my gosh, yes. Once when I was waiting tables, I was serving a family with teen kids. The father asked me if I’d gone to college and what I’d studied. I thought he was making polite conversation so answered that I went to Columbia and studied English. He turned to the kids and said, “And she is why you shouldn’t be an English major!”

            3. cuppa*

              I’m convinced that these are exactly the same people that treat the workers like crap.

              1. Meece*

                Yes, that’s likely true. Very few people are only jerks to waitstaff … they are jerks to lots of people. This is why Carolyn Hax recommends considering a date’s poor treatment of waitstaff a red flag (in a relationship context). If they treat other people poorly, why will it be any different with you? Answer: It won’t be.

                1. Mabel*

                  And plus, why would you want to date someone who would treat people poorly – especially people who can’t really fight back.

          2. Cordelia Longfellow*

            Ugh. One of my best friends at work started at McDonald’s when she was a teenager, and she really encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to do the same (she got hired last summer). I do think it’s one of the toughest jobs to do, and an incredibly valuable crash course for young people entering the workforce. But whether it’s a summer job or a permanent job, it is hard work! People who think (and especially say out loud) otherwise are jerks.

            1. anonanonanon*

              Customers are also DISGUSTING. It was bad enough when people left their trash on the tables, but I have never had to clean so much poop that had been smeared on walls, floors, and mirrors. People treat fast food places like pits. It’s gross.

          3. Miss Betty*

            I worked at McDonald’s when I was 20. I found the way the managers treated me was far more dehumanizing than the way the customers did. Do they train their managers to treat their employees like poop on their shoes an Hamburger U?

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I worked at a Wendy’s for about a year when I was twenty, and it was a good experience. The managers treated me with respect. There were a few terrible customers, though. One family in particular would have a fit about their order every single time so that they would get a comped meal. The store manager was on to them pretty quickly, and after they did the same thing a couple more times, she fired them as customers.

              That same place had a quality assurance guy who would come around at random, unexpected times. He would park down the street and have someone else place a to-go order in the restaurant or at the drive-thru and bring it to him for examination. Then he’d come in to the restaurant and give a report to the manager about the quality (good, bad, or ugly) and accuracy of the order. It was a really well-run Wendy’s. I wish some of the other fast-food places would do that. I’m sick of getting a burger with a huge glob of mayonnaise hanging halfway off the side of it, and one of the things I learned at the Wendy’s was that it really doesn’t take any longer to swipe the mayonnaise on straight than it does to glop it on crooked.

        3. catsAreCool*

          I worked at a fast food place, and some customers would act like somehow I was beneath them because I worked there. I never could figure this out. It was honest work, and it included a lot of time on my feet and dealing with the public. I think that’s part of why I always try to treat people decently.

      3. some1*

        I agree about the fun. I was lucky enough that my parents were able to give me some pocket $ before I got my first job (besides baby-sitting) but when it was my own $ I could spend it without my parents’ conditions.

        I have friends now, my age (30s) who get financial assistance from their parents and then get annoyed that their parents want to anything more than hand over the $ and stay out of the situation.

        1. Chinook*

          “before I got my first job (besides baby-sitting)”

          See, I consider baby-sitting someone you are not related to a real job because you have the potential to be fired (or not called back), your are answerable to someone else, arriving on time matters and it requires real work to keep a young child entertained enough not to scream and/or break things the whole time. You also get a chance to negotiate wages and working conditions. As someone whose first summer job was babysitting a 4 year old (who was barely toilet trained) while her mom was at work for $10 for a 9 hour day (plus whatever food the child didn’t eat – I later learned to negotiate teenager sized food when doing this type of job), I considered this as real as it gets and on par with working in fast food when it comes to working conditions.

            1. Dan*

              My mother caught on fast… she rehired the ones we didn’t like, and rarely called back the ones we did.

          1. Natalie*

            The first time I ever advocated for myself was as a babysitter – asking for a raise when the twins I sat for a lot got mobile and were thus more work. I think I was 15.

          2. Hlyssande*

            My mother didn’t let me negotiate fees for babysitting, unfortunately. Since they were all family friends in the neighborhood, they were people I already knew and to be honest, I’ve never quite gotten over being annoyed about that.

            She even made me give money back once when the couple had come back from their date much, much later than expected (like 4 hours later than expected).

      4. Sunflower*

        Also look at most CEO’s and entrepreneurs- read their stories, almost all of them held service jobs at some point in their life.

      5. AndersonDarling*

        All my “smart” friends had jobs at Taco Bell, Subway, and such. There was never a time we thought the work was beneath us. But we all knew that money came from our job, and not from our parent’s wallets. I guess if you intend to pay your kids way forever, then they don’t need to do “menial” work.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I saw an article where a rich person was saying “My kids have a disadvantage because they didn’t learn this like I did.” It made me want to puke. Why didn’t you MAKE them learn it, idiot!? I swore right then and there, if I ever become wealthy through industry or marriage and have a kid, that kid is damn well going to pick up his/her own room, do chores, and do some kind of work for him/herself!

          1. Ezri*

            I never understand that mindset either. You can have money and still teach your kids the value of it.

          2. Revanche*

            Puke indeed! I don’t care if/when we do make it rich, my kid is absolutely going to be expected to pick up after hirself and think of others and generally be a decent human. I don’t understand these people who fail so hard to challenge their kids at the basics and then whine about how they turned out.

      6. nona*

        +1 on the “too smart” thing.

        I also think that if you have some kind of intellectually gifted super-child, work experience is a great way for them to learn “soft” skills, how to work with others, work ethic, etc. You know, all that stuff that gets you from Point A: Gifted Kid to Point B: Adult Doing Something Cool.

      7. Bwmn*

        Came here specifically to comment on how much fun having a job enabled me. For the most part it was money that I could really choose what to do with and have fun and more freedom. Some of that freedom was normal teenage stuff, some a bit more mischievous – but even though my parents weren’t hyper vigilant, but in many ways it was the job that allowed me to do a lot more. So the notion that a teenage/college job and fun don’t go together seems ridiculous to me.

        Additionally, I currently work with a woman who was raised in the UAE to a fairly wealthy family and as such had her summers fairly well determined by her family. We were comparing our teenage summer experiences, and while she got to go to far more exotic places – at age 17 being to choose to stay out all night with your friends vs having all your free time controlled by someone else….it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever heard anyone say they were jealous of my jobs at Old Navy or Starbucks.

        And also to add, getting fired when your young from one of these jobs is a fantastic life lesson. Ultimately the job just does not need to count and is a great lesson on making sure you advocate to have yourself properly trained, know when you’re making professional mistakes, etc.

        1. manybellsdown*

          Yes! My daughter was delighted with the purchasing freedom she got from her retail job. And the fact is – my daughter is lovely, and brilliant, but she tends to be immature. Having a job really helped her with responsibility. If she hadn’t been so sick this summer I’d have told her to get a job again; I think it was the best thing for her.

          1. cuppa*

            I still remember exactly what I bought with my first paycheck – a candy bar and a tank top!

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              I got my first paycheck less than a week before prom and it was a big check (since it was 3 weeks of work.) Every penny went to prom related purchases.

      8. Special Snowflake*

        I had a blast flipping burgers in my student days, and look back on it with great fondness. Of course, it helped that it was an independent, not a chain, and the boss and my co-workers were an awesome bunch. Oh and bonus – my nails were in their best shape ever, due to being soaked in all that hot fat and grease!

    3. Helen of What*

      Yes! The more people who have the experience, the better a place this world would be for all of those in service jobs. Besides, it really does help with not only finding a job later on (having customer service experience is good for entry level client-facing jobs and internships), but it does give you skills (I can count money really quickly! calculate sales prices in my head! remain outwardly placid while being yelled at by a stranger or receiving bad feedback!) which are helpful in life and work.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, I was a pretty shy kid. Being in public-facing roles really helped me be able to develop a “public face” and be more comfortable in my interactions with strangers. (Money and discounts are great motivators for behavior changes!)

        1. Lindrine*

          I spent a couple years out of college working at a Disney theme park. It was great for my self confidence and thinking on my feet. I’m a bit of an introvert. I also made some great friends and have a well of fun stories to tell. And yes, Country Bear Jamboree always had the nicest crowd of people.

        2. manybellsdown*

          And you discover skills you didn’t know you had – my daughter learned that she’s great at “up-selling” people. “Today we have this special offer for $5 Widgets, would you like to buy one?” and she’d manage to sell a widget 7/10 times.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Great point! And I guess that’s why it was an easy transition for me to go from waiting tables to customer service. And guess what else, a couple of times I’ve gone back to waiting tables after layoffs in between office jobs, so nice to have something to fall back on and put money in your pocket quickly! (It pays more than unemployment)

      3. Elsajeni*

        True! All my phone skills come from working at a fabric store for a few years, and so do most of my fast mental math skills, in spite of having also minored in math in college and earned a teaching license in middle-school math.

    4. hermit crab*

      I totally agree with this. I grew up in a touristy area and there were tons of seasonal job opportunities for teenagers (and teachers, and retirees, and whoever else). Definitely LOTS of opportunities for customer-facing skill-building there.

    5. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      Good god, yes. Ideally for at least 3 months covering at least one major holiday (Christmas season in retail, NYE or Valentines in waiting tables), the better to understand the full potential of the public to contain people who may appear to be normal but transform into slavering hell beasts upon being denied the use of an expired coupon or confronted with a busy night during which they are not the center of attention.

      Working in retail also teaches a host of skills transferable to office work (problem solving, teamwork, settling disputes, calming angry people) but really, it should be required simply for all people to have a better understanding.

    6. Jeanne*

      I agree. It’s good to learn how to deal with the public. It’s good to learn empathy with the low wage workers who keep our society running. It’s good to learn that a job is a job and you should work hard at it no matter what it is.

      There is no job that is beneath you. Many of us are lucky enough to not have to work a difficult job for minimum wage. But I will never treat a customer service worker as beneath me.

      1. Dr. Ruthless*

        In high school I worked at a theme park as a roller coaster attendant/operator. I really enjoyed the job (mostly), but it was really hard work. It was physically challenging–I had to walk several miles every day, hunched over to check the lap bars. I was on my feet for an 8 hour shift (or more, if I was pulling a double). It was 100+ degrees. I had to be nice to people even when they were mean. I had to enforce safety rules without being a total jerk about it (why oh why do you bring your not-tall-enough kid on the ride?) I made a whopping $6.50 an hour.

        I also had my first lessons in how expensive it can be to be poor–I was a middle class kid working for extra cash, and I had a bank account. Many of my coworkers, however, were (mostly young) adults trying to live off the salary–from them, I learned about check cashing fees (courtesy of the check cashing truck that came to the parking lot on pay day). My boss was confused about why I wasn’t going to the truck to get my check cashed; I wondered why he was going to pay 2% of his pay (and wait in a long line) rather than go to the bank. Oh.

        1. Applesauced*

          I was just listening to this week’s This American Life and it’s about amusement parks

    7. Chocolate lover*

      I’ve never worked in retail, or in a restaurant. However, I have worked in customer-facing positions at a bank. If you think customers in retail and restaurants get mad, try being a teller when a customer perceives you as getting in between them and their money! Telling them the bank wouldn’t accept their form of ID did not go over well at all.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Yes! I worked as a teller after my stint in fast food and people are crazy when it comes to their money. I can totally understand being upset if the bank is at fault or the bank has stupid rules, but so many people would get angry at ME when they would overdraw their account or be in the negative…..because obviously it’s the teller’s fault that the customer spent money they didn’t have.

        We’d also get a lot of people putting their trash in the drive-thru teller receptacles and expecting us to throw it away. I got to the point where I’d just keep the trash in there when I sent back their money/receipt.

      2. Cucumberzucchini*

        You are spot on. People get (understandably) weird about money. I’d just be following bank policy so as not to get fired and customers would get all angry that I had to put on a hold on their $3,000 check for a new account with a daily average balance of $50.

        1. Chocolate lover*

          Several people threatened us a few times while I was there. One was a local university police officer in full uniform, and a weapon, who paraded up and down demanding I accept his university ID because he was in “full regalia” (the bank didn’t accept company/university IDs as primary ID) and that he could pull out his gun and rob the place because it was faster than me cashing his check (he was not our customer, he was cashing a check off a customer’s account, so of course we have to be careful). My supervisor and one of the VPs got involved, and I thought he and the VP were going to get in a brawl. Thankfully, the VP backed me because I was doing what I was supposed to do. The whole thing was unnerving.

    8. Beebs the Elder*

      So 100% agree. My husband wonders why I tip well even when the service isn’t great. He never worked in a full-service restaurant. Or at a Miller’s Outpost in the 80s the day after Christmas. I will never forget the woman who yelled at me because I wouldn’t take back a well-worn pair of leggings, no tag, no receipt, from a manufacturer that we had never carried. My boss finally gave her $10 credit to make her go away. Or the woman who threw her to-go sandwich at me because I forgot the mustard and tried to give her packets instead of taking the wrapping apart to add it. (Which maybe wasn’t the greatest response on my part, but still. At least it was in a bag.)

      1. Erin*

        Good God.

        Although now that I think about it, I used to be a Santa’s helper at the mall and people would definitely throw things at Santa. Work in retail and you can literally get things *thrown at you.*

        (Parents – something not to mention when trying to get your kid to get a job.)

        1. Silver*

          I worked mostly retail during High School and Uni (1 day in food services) and we did occasionally get problem customers. But only one thrower, it was was during the pre-Christmas rush. This guy got irritated because the registers were taking too long and threw an armful of DVD’s at my colleagues head. Thankfully his aim was terrible and he missed hitting her. Our manager was livid and basically threw him out of the store (without ringing up his purchase), when he got belligerent about being made to leave she followed up with threatening to call center security if he didn’t leave.
          It was certainly great for the staff to feel so supported by management when there was a violent or disruptive customer.

      2. Melissa*

        This is tangentially related but I hate when managers give customers concessions to “make them go away.” This is rewarding them for their terrible behavior, and it just teaches them that if they continue to be horrible they will get stuff for it. Then they do it continually – and worse, people watching the exchange might do it too, or become resentful when they don’t get the same kinds of concessions because they actually behave nicely.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          in MOST cases, it is worth it to stand up for your employee and business and lose the customer!

        2. aebhel*

          This is one thing I love about my job–I’m a librarian, and I’m frequently the most senior person in the building, so I pretty much get to decide how to deal with those people. And my feeling is, if you’re civil, I’ll work with you. If you pitch a fit or are rude to my clerks, I’ll keep repeating the policy until you go away. If I reward jerks for their bad behavior, they just come back and do it again.

        3. Grapey*

          Actually, behaving nicely can get you places. Retail monkeys can get away with a lot more than some people realize.

          I used to work customer service at a large grocery store and a woman wanted to exchange a big thing of baby powder (talc for the cornstarch type…allergies I guess?). The only problem was the item to be exchanged had a different store brand label on it!

          I pointed that out (as non-discreetly as I could), and the customer was beyond embarrassed and started to walk away. However, I called her back and processed the exchange for her. There was nothing out-of-date on the product, so I knew it would be put on the markdown shelf for quick sale. (Yep, we do that.) Even if it wasn’t, our store lost 4 bucks but gained a new potential repeat customer…and she did come back often.

        4. Jeanne*

          This happens more in larger companies. The jerk customer can call a national customer service number and the manager is in trouble no matter what really happened. Smaller companies have more leeway.

        5. Xarcady*

          At my retail job, the individual sales associates are able to make concessions, up to a point, for irate customers. After that point, the manager needs to be called.

          But we can lower prices for *anyone*, not just the irate. So I’ve started to give the really nice customers 10% off an expensive purchase, just because they are being nice, because I’m sick and tired of always giving the mean people what they want. Something along the lines of, “I can see you are a loyal shopper here. I think I can get you a 10% discount on this. Just let me try here.” They leave happy. And good behavior gets rewarded. And I have never, ever, been called on this by the higher-ups.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I got screamed at once by a customer because we got his sandwich order wrong. To be fair, the front line messed it up twice before I stepped in and made it myself, and I took the berating too. The guy’s wife was super embarrassed. It was not fun.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          I was working in a bookstore when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. This was before Scholastic realized just how big a hit Harry Potter was — they knew it was big and had done a huge print run, but they didn’t realize just how astronomical the demand was going to be. We literally couldn’t keep the book in stock. It was selling like hotcakes.

          I have never been screamed at like I was by the customer who had not pre-ordered a copy and was completely livid that I wouldn’t sell him one of the copies behind the counter. You know, that other customers had pre-ordered. No, I’m not going to sell you someone else’s book, no matter how much you yell. I just lost a customer? GOOD.

          …not my most professional moment.

      4. Oryx*

        I once worked at a cafe in a bookstore and once had a customer complain to my manager because I wouldn’t give a free bagel to the girl in front of him who dropped hers on the floor. I mean, sure, it was just a bagel I was just so dumbfounded that this guy was making SUCH a big deal about me giving a free product to a person he didn’t even know and SHE was the one who dropped it. If as a customer I drop something after purchase, I’m not going to expect the restaurant to comp it — I’ll pay for a new one.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My Starbucks has remade my drink because I dropped it. I went in to buy a new one, and when the barista recognized me he remade it for free. I was so shocked by his offer.

          My thought is like yours, I drop it, I rebuy it.

        2. INFJ*

          This reminds me of the time that I was in line at a Subway in a WalMart and a customer lost it after she dropped her empty soda cup (yet to be filled with a drink) and the staff wanted to charge her something like $0.13 for a new one.

          On top of her having a hissy fit because she didn’t want to pay for the cup, another customer in line came to her defense asking, “You want her to drink out of a dirty cup?” That second customer got out of line and swore off Subway forever. I found it quite amusing that somebody who had just shopped at WALMART was storming out of Subway on the grounds of ethical disapproval of their policy on charging customers for an extra cup….

          1. Saturn9*

            I’m probably just gross but I’d have minimal issues drinking out of a cup that was on the floor. I mean, the outside of the cup touched the floor but there’s a lid on the cup with a straw in it and you drink out of the straw, not by licking the side of the cup. Hypothetically, dirtier hands have touched the outside of the cup already.

            I guess if the cup landed straight upsidedown on the rim or if the straw had been on the floor, then I’d have issues? Maybe?

        3. Ad Astra*

          If I dropped my bagel in front of the cashier before I had a chance to eat any of it, I would expect a free replacement bagel. I don’t actually know what the policies are at bagel shops, I just know that I’ve always had me item replaced for free in those situations. They always treat it like it was the employee’s error, even when it was pretty obviously my own.

          But goodness, I certainly wouldn’t insist on a free replacement, and I really wouldn’t go to war over some stranger’s dropped bagel.

    9. Rebecca*

      I agree completely! In high school I worked in retail (haha, Contempo Casuals, anyone remember that store?) and at a restaurant. Once my sister and I were of legal working age (16), we no longer got an allowance so any fun money we wanted, we had to work for. We both also played sports and made good grades and definitely had time (and money!) for fun. I think I usually only worked 10 hours a week? A couple of evenings after school and a longer weekend shift.

      I would also argue (from a purely anecdotal perspective) that having a job taught me time management skills. I still had to get my homework/studying done around my work schedule, so I had to sit down and figure out when I could get that done around my work and sports schedule.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I babysat all I could and worked at a ballpark concession stand to earn enough money to spend it all at Contempo!

        1. Rebecca*

          And the “no time for fun” comment cracks me up because of my coworkers at Contempo! It was definitely a party crowd, we often went out after work! Oh, I miss those days of being able to survive on minimal sleep and no hangovers.

      2. Lucky*

        My sole retail job was a Christmas season at Contempo Casuals. I could never pass the color guide quizzes! Left on New Years for a restaurant job and never turned back to retail.
        And yes, having a job as a high-schooler and then working through college made me learn to manage my time and priorities, invaluable skills once I moved into white collar work.

      3. LawBee*

        oh, wow Contempo Casuals. BEST store ever.

        I really don’t understand this thing parents have these days where their teens don’t work. I mean, their kids are expert students, really great at going to school, and awesome at hanging out with other teenagers, but when are they going to learn budgeting and how not to overdraw your account because it’s YOUR hardearned money that’s paying the fees, working when you’re too tired/angry/busy/etc.?

      4. einahpets*

        My experience was similar – working in high school helped me to learn time management skills: I did sports / extra curriculars, got good grades, and still had time for friends. But yeah, working during the school year was 10-15 hours a week (and more like 30-40 hours in the summer). For me, my parents bought me an used car (an 80s Oldsmobile that I grew to love and mourned when it died after college) and asked that I try and save *most* of my earnings for college, which I did.

        My experience was different also in that my dad was going through cancer treatments my sophomore/junior years of high school and I was the eldest of three kids, so I knew the financial support in college wouldn’t be as big as it might have been for other college bound peers…

    10. BRR*

      Totally. All great reasons and you also learn how they work for when you use their services later. My mom never worked retail and sees certain things as the cashier’s fault. Also then once you know you can use that to brighten their days because retail workers have to deal with possibly the most shit of any job with the worst pay. One good customer goes really far.

    11. Jerzy*

      Absolutely! I waited tables, worked as a hostess, worked retail, and spent time going door-to-door for the Sierra Club. If you can learn to deal with people being rude to your face, while you’re literally sweating from working so hard, you can truly claim to have reached adulthood.

      I still refer to my “waitress smile” whenever dealing with a particularly difficult client or coworker, and I can always spot to people who never worked those kinds of jobs, because they have a MUCH harder time dealing with a**holes.

      1. Rebecca*

        LOL @ waitress smile! I’ve never heard it called that but I know exactly what you’re talking about!

        My husband and I always stack our plates when we’re done eating to make it easier for the wait person to clear. I can’t tell you how many times we get called out on that! “You’ve waited tables before, haven’t you?”

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Ha, that and the use of the line “when you have a moment, can you bring me…” is forever ingrained in me

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I know what you mean about “waitress smile” for dealing with difficult people. I’ve never waited tables, but I’ve worked in fast food and other retail, so I have my “customer service face” for when I’m dealing with asshats.

    12. Retail Lifer*

      And we can always identify someone who has worked retail before, as you tend to be more courteous and considerate than those customers who have never dealt with the public and just don’t get it.

    13. Since I have not heard from you on this, I have to assume your priorities have changed.*

      Yes, definitely!

      I’m extremely happy that my son (who is home for the summer after his freshman year of college) landed a job at a local [large electronics store]. He started out on the cash register and learned a lot about people. He’s now a stocker and he likes that much better. It surprises me (but I like it) that his management is good about backing him up. He’s had several customers become unhappy and call for management[1], but management takes his side and the customers go off muttering.

      And – I’d forgotten it, but those early jobs could be a pain but they were also a lot of fun. Work was where all of my friends were. And that’s where all of my son’s friends are.

      Aside from all of the lessons about work-ethic and time management and keeping a schedule and so forth, one Big Lesson he’s learning is: “I’m going to college so I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life.”

      I started working when I was about 15yo, but it was 30 years later, volunteering at a concessions stand, that I first encountered the “upward customer stare”[2]. Customers will approach the counter, but they aren’t looking at you. They’re looking behind / above you at all of the menu stuff, trying to figure out what they want to order. It took only a few minutes of this to make me sick, as I realized I’d been doing this to every fast-food counter person I’d ever known, and the experience is unsettling, annoying, and (logical or not) rather demeaning. I don’t know how I’d have taken it as a teenager, but as an adult I felt a strong urge to get up in people’s faces and say “hey! you wanna talk to me? I’m right here, man!”

      [1] it strikes me, based on the number of people who come into the store right at closing or some other inconvenient time who want to take advantage of a special price match deal or want to return an item without a receipt and get the money back in cash (or something), that there is like this ocean of people out there who are looking to pull off some kind of scam, large or small.

      [2] I have to wonder if there is a better name for it.

      1. Jake*

        I’m shocked this is seen as demeaning. I read off the board because I’m too incompetent to remember and talk at the same time without saying things like “I’d like a 10 piece chicken sandwich please.”

        I had no idea it could possibly come across in any offensive way.

      2. Saturn9*

        I don’t see the problem with [2] if they really are trying to decide what to order or if they’re ordering a lot of items and can do that more easily by looking at the menu than by trying to remember the list with no cues.

        If they’re doing it when there’s no menu on the wall (like in a retail situation) or if they continue to stare at the menu instead of making eye contact after ordering, that’s just weird/rude. Also some people are uncomfortable with eye contact; not everyone but some people.

    14. SanguineAspect*

      Absolutely. I’ve worked in retail, behind the counter at a gas station, and in restaurants between middle school and college. Having worked these jobs I feel has made me a better human when interacting with other people. When you’re in a service job, you can tell the difference between someone who’s worked in service and who hasn’t.

    15. LawLady*

      Agreed. And so we don’t end up with people who feel like they’re part of an elite class and totally distinct from the serving class.

      When I was waitressing a few years ago, I had a woman tell me that if I was going to make anything of my life, I needed to go to school and not get pregnant. I was like, “hey lady, I’m a college student, and I’m not talking about my reproductive choices, just trying to take your order.” She was well-meaning and honestly thought she was helping me, but didn’t realize she was actually being a condescending jerk.

      1. Anx*

        One of my best moments waiting tables was when a woman was asking why I wasn’t interested in going to school once the fall came (I was 23, probably looked younger). I told her I had already graduated. With a degree. The same degree her rising sophomore was pursuing.

    16. JC*

      Wow, I’ve never heard the “I don’t want my kids doing menial work” line. I come from a fairly privileged background, and as an adult I am really glad I had experience in service jobs as a teenager. Having that experience makes me more grounded in my interactions with service workers and in general about my opinions of the lives of people who work those kinds of jobs, because I can remember how tiring and sometimes demeaning working with the public could be (e.g., if a customer berates you).

      As a kid who grew up doing well in school, having a service job also was my first introduction to how different skills suit different kinds of work. I was always good at school but was never very great at being a fast food cashier/supermarket cashier/bank teller/camp counselor.

    17. marxamod*


      If you have an attitude that your kid is ” too smart to waste her time that way” you’re part of the problem.

      1. Oui*

        Actually that attitude sounds a lot more like someone who came from shitty circumstances. My grandmother grew up on a Deep South rural farm and was a hotel maid for most of her life and she never wanted me to have to do ‘menial labor.’ She was always saying I was much too smart to do ‘xyz’ and actually got angry with me for having a summer part time job one year instead of spending my time in summer school or traveling. My friends who grew up in immigrant families heard the same thing, unless working was strictly necessary or in the family business, then you should be studying. They didn’t see anything redeeming in shitty jobs for shitty jobs’ sake.

        1. Jake*

          My mom was that way too after 30 yeasts of waiting tables. Her attitude only applied to my “career” though, not my thoroughly menial (but still incredibly important) high school job.

    18. themmases*

      This was my initial reaction to this question too. I always worked retail, and it is hard! I had plenty of horrible customers that I could tell had never had to serve the public, or if they had they had clearly blocked it out. And I worked at places like Target and Kohl’s– these were not places where getting to act like an evil queen until you made your purchase was built into the price.

      Also, I will just put this out there because I haven’t read anyone say it yet. I started working in maybe 2003. My last retail job was in 2007 or 2008. The only time I had a significant pay raise in 4-5 years was when I switched from being a bagger at a grocery store to a cashier at a big box store, and I had a smaller raise when my state raised the minimum wage (because my “competitive” pay was under the new minimum). When I read news stories about low-wage workers protesting their working conditions or agitating for higher pay: a) the conditions have gotten worse than what I experienced even a few years ago; b) the pay has barely changed at all. This is the case even though fewer teens are working these jobs and the people who hold them are more likely to be adults who may have families to support. I often see people weigh in on this topic who have never held a minimum wage job, or who did so long ago when the buying power of the minimum wage was greater and it was mostly teenagers who earned it anyway. I think if more people worked service and low-wage jobs at some point, discussions of this serious social and economic issue would be much better informed.

      1. MaryMary*

        I was in college in the late 90s/early 00s, when the economy was roaring along, right before the tech bubble burst. I took an upper level economics course from a prof who was a big free market advocate. He was against having any minimum wage at all. He asked the class how many of us were working. About 3/4 of us raised our hands. He went around the room and asked everyone how much they made an hour. He was really upset when the only person who made more than 50 cents above the minimum was the guy who worked at a grocery store and was in a union.

        Keep in mind, very few of us were working full time and most of us were working university jobs specifically for students. Even of the people working full time, most of them were not trying to support a family. But that minimum wage example is pretty much the only thing I remember from that economics class.

    19. JenGray*

      I couldn’t agree more. Not only does is give you a better sense of patience but I think that you also run into some very interesting people in public places. And you learn how to deal with the interesting people.

  2. Allegra*

    Also, having to earn your own money teaches one the value of that money! Once I started working part-time (at 15), I had much more respect for how much things cost, treated my belongings better, etc.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      So.Much.This. It is one thing to ask for $125 sneakers but when you work a minimum wage job, pay taxes on it and see your take home pay vs the amount of time you were at work working and not having fun??? You most likely appreciate it way more than someone who gets cash in hand or swipes a card and has never seen the statement to it. I have now put said sneakers in the family’s “Smithsonian”.

      1. Alistair*

        Bingo. I was always able to save my allowance to buy that new Lego or Nintendo game. But! Buying a stereo a the Kmart I was working at, completely with money I earned at that Kmart (and with employee discount!) was a huge moment for me, enough so that I still remember it 18 years later.

        Even now, seeing the things I have bought (house, car, wall o’ board games) because of my salary, because of my hard work means an incredibly large amount to me.

        All that might sound greedy and capitalist, but somehow the tangible objects present a picture to me of “look what you have done! And think of what you can do in the future!” And it pushes me to keep on going.

      2. themmases*

        My very first “big” purchase from my very first real job (12 years ago!) was a pair of black Converse low-tops that I still have. I’ve done some crazy DIY repairs to them because I can’t let them go.

        I think the normal price for those was about $40 at the time. It was cool to see it go from a splurge I would have to save up for to something it was totally reasonable for me to buy.

    2. My Fake Name is Laura*

      One of the best things my mother ever did was keep most of my babysitting money over the summer, and then when it was time to go back to school shopping handed me her JC Penney card, told me what I could spend on school clothes and sent me on my way. Alone. Standing in that store calculating how many hours of babysitting a shirt I liked would cost really taught me a LOT about money.

      1. Elysian*

        Yes! The moment where I realized that I had work X hours to afford a thing I wanted was a really eye-opener. To this day I still think that way – “We would have to pay a housekeeper X, and that’s the equivalent of Y hours of work… is it worth it or should I just do the work myself?” A little different on a salary, but the cost-benefit analysis is definitely still there.

    3. Bekx*

      I know this is definitely not feasible for everyone…but for me I saved half of every paycheck from high school to college graduation. I didn’t have bills (lived on campus…had loans but I didn’t worry about them then).

      I graduated college with about $20,000 saved up and was able to buy a car, pay off some loans….and soon I’ll be using the remainder for a down payment on a condo!

    4. Chris*

      Right! That was part of this question that struck me – what teen/college student doesn’t need money? I felt very lucky that my family paid my living expenses, but at some point in high school they stopped paying for clothes/movies/going out. I didn’t need a full time job, but I definitely needed some money. It seemed reasonable to me.

  3. Marina*

    I’ve seen a really significant difference in the ability of new grads to get jobs depending on whether they have work and internship experience. I worked minimum wage jobs through high school and the first years of college, then was able to turn a volunteer gig into an internship during my last year of college. I got a great job in 6 weeks, while some of my peers are still struggling to get jobs in their fields 7 years after graduation. The head start it gives you is incredible.

    Volunteering and internships in college are, I think, especially important. Employers are more willing to go out of their way to create interesting positions for college students than new grads, and are more likely to provide mentoring. If students treat college as only classes, they’re missing half of what makes it useful. Network network network and use your college connections to get that work head start.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      So true, my boyfriends sister in law has been a career student and at 30 is wondering why she can’t land a job what with all her education…oy

      1. ElCee*

        Yup, same with my SIL. She shocked us all by getting a good job with benefits even with no work experience…only to quit within the month because it wasn’t “fulfilling enough.” Sigh

    2. pony tailed wonder*

      Yes to this. The person who hires for my library department always gives the student workers who have worked fast food or other minimum wage public facing jobs an extra edge versus the kids who have never held down a job before. She even asks in the interviews what would they do if they had a crazy customer and they had to handle the situation by themselves. You can tell the ones who have actually had this happen in real life apart from the ones where it is just a theoretical situation.

      1. Talvi*

        I got my library job as a student because I had worked as a stocker for a grocery store for two years – I was in the library mailroom, so a chunk of my job involved sorting books into bins that would then be transferred to other libraries in my university’s library system or hauling around the boxes full of books we got back from the cataloguer. I got my library job because my boss knew I had experience hauling around heavy stuff! Had that job 2.5 years, right up until I graduated.

    3. INTP*

      I agree that volunteering and internships are important. I have not personally seen a lot of career benefits for my peers that worked minimum wage or service industry jobs in college versus those that didn’t work – having a priority above career-relevant work like internships and school projects, if anything, seemed to be detrimental, and sometimes the sense of professionalism people learn from restaurants and retail jobs does not mesh with what is expected in office jobs. (I’m not trying to insult anyone’s chosen path or imply that people who have worked service industry jobs are not professional. I’m just sharing my personal anecdotal experience – which I’m sure is affected by differing family backgrounds in terms of finances and priorities.)

      Along those lines, I’ve also noticed in reading hundreds of resumes that people who got their master’s degree while continuing to work a not-in-their-field full time job do not seem to get as much career benefit from it, likely because they were not able to take on internships, volunteering, or other opportunities in their fields. I always recommend that people who are going to grad school go full time unless they’re already working in the field.

      1. Marina*

        You’re absolutely right. If you can afford to make a choice between a job not in your field and a volunteer or internship gig in your field, definitely take the volunteer/internship option. But on the other hand, if you’re choosing between taking an extra class vs volunteering in your field, I’d go for volunteering.

    4. Jen S. 2.0*

      This! If you’ve never worked, you graduate college and have to compete for jobs with…people who also just graduated AND have work experience. Who is the more attractive candidate?

    5. Jeanne*

      We had the internship post here recently. So many don’t know about showing up on time or not playing on their phones. A minimum wage job in high school or college summers can teach that. I think it’s worth at least a little something when searching for a job in your field or even an internship. A lot of managers would love to see you at least have very basic work skills.

  4. BetsyTacy*

    I am a better person for having worked hard from an early age. I developed skills and realized that things like reliability, accountability, and strong character were important no matter where you went.

    I will say, sometimes I think that my drive to work made me grow up too fast- I was working at a farm when I was 13 (legal age in my state) and full time from 14 on. I skipped a lot of fun things to get an extra minimum wage shift in and do wish that I’d gotten to be a kid just a little longer.

    I agree though- everyone should have to work in a (usually crummy) customer service job at some point.

    1. Dan*

      To me, “being a kid” isn’t so much about work as it is family responsibilities. My family was broke growing up, so “being a kid” wasn’t all that great. Now, as a single dude with a real professional job that pays well, no wife, no kids, and plenty of vacation? *This* is a lot of fun. I’m having way more fun now than I did in my teenage years.

  5. Formerly The Office Admin, Now Full Time Job Huntress*

    As someone who didn’t finish college because I was working a job that consistently had me working 45 to 60 hours per week while a full time college student…I believe college students should gain work experience, but I would also say that as a parent, do what you can to make them not dependent on being fully employed.
    I would have rather been able to work a couple evenings a week in a restaurant or bar, work a summer internship and graduate instead of working 3pm to 2am and then skipping my 8:30am class because I was exhausted.
    My goal for a future child is to save money for them so that they can pull student loans for their tuition only and the savings will provide for their housing/food/essentials. They can work for fun money and travel.

    1. Juli G.*

      Agreed. My husband couldn’t go to college because he worked to live (and he’s now skilled in a trade so it’s not an issue). I worked since I was 16 so I could have gas, go to the movies three times a week, and buy $80 jeans. That’s more what we want for our kids (with emphasis on saving).

    2. Dasha*

      Good point, Job Huntress- this is kind of where my mind went too as I have a friend in a similar situation. Work experience is important but if it can be helped it shouldn’t interfere with college because college probably costs way more than a student would be making. I think the summer jobs/volunteering that Alison mentioned are a great route or like you said a few nights a week.

    3. hermit crab*

      Yes, I think this is a good perspective. When I was a teenager, my parents’ policy was that they would provide the things that I needed, but it was my responsibility to get the things that I wanted. If you are in a financial place where you can do that, I think it’s a good approach.

    4. BRR*

      I worked at a bar that mostly needed me Friday and Saturday nights. It was perfect during college.

      1. Joline*

        I worked at a big arcade. During the summer I worked full-time. During school I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. It was great because as the cashier up front as long as I was aware enough to notice customers coming in I was allowed to read on the job. Did most of my textbook reading while being paid.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Oh wow yes that is tough and I never would have been able to work full time plus go to school full time

    6. Person of Interest*

      This is such an important perspective. My parents did not allow me or my brother to work during the school year in HS, because they wanted us to focus on schoolwork, and gave us a little spending money if we needed it. Then we worked multiple jobs in the summer (retail, camp counselor, house painting, medical tech, etc.) to earn spending money. At the time it seemed like a drag to have a limited budget for fun during the school year, but having worked full time while doing grad school as an adult, I appreciate the freedom I had then to focus on my studies.

    7. INTP*

      I agree with this. I’d also say that ideally, a student wouldn’t NEED their bar/retail/restaurant job – I say this because if the manager is not super accommodating of your school schedule, it is not good if you have to work a late night before an early morning final, or get called into work when you are finishing up a term paper. If it’s financially feasible, it’s better if students can afford to put their studies first and not worry about what they’ll eat next week if they’re fired for refusing to skip class or studying to take a shift.

      I am so glad that I quit my full-time job and relocated on-campus for grad school even though I could have done 1.5 years of my 2.5 year degree remotely. If I were trying to keep my full-time job, I would not have been able to prioritize school, and I think my 3.9 GPA and in-my-field part-time job were worth the reasonable amount of student loans. (I looked at thousands of resumes in my past life as a recruiter so I had already gleaned that grad school doesn’t do nearly as much for your career if you are working full-time in a different field rather than working in your field, even if it has to be internships, volunteering, and part-time gigs.)

    8. Connie-Lynne*

      This! I volunteered at the library starting at age 13. When I was in high school, I worked to get lunch money, and sometimes dinner money, too. In college, my parents handled my tuition but I worked to pay for all my meals, utilities, and rent.

      It’s probably why I dropped out of college the first time– I wanted more _right then_ than barely making the basics of survival, which meant full-time employment. I was also exhausted with always either working or doing homework. Although, of course, working full time for a year in some low-level jobs definitely helped spur me into returning to school, as well.

      If I’d had the choice to make, I’d want to make sure any of my kids had their living expenses covered through their second year of college and that any work was either for job experience or luxuries.

  6. AE*

    I am working at a professional level now in the same kind of organization I worked at in college. I had many temp jobs in grad school and college, some of them “menial” but all of them meaningful in one way or another.

    One of my cousins quit the profession he trained for in college after a few years’ experience to work in food service, the industry he worked during his summers in college. What he did in college was menial, but he became a well paid manager as an full-time professional.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I’ll admit that my dream is eventually to be in the financial position to go back to working retail or food service (I’d want to go to culinary school first). There was a lot I really enjoyed about those jobs – except the low pay…

  7. _ism_*

    The amount of responsibility and independence you feel when you have a job in high school is priceless. Even if it’s just a part time minimum wage job, suddenly you don’t have to ask your parents for gas money/etc so mcuh anymore. Very empowering for young people!

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I agree! Plus, I gained so much experience dealing with adults rather than just other kids and teens as co-workers and in transactions. It was invaluable.

  8. HM in Atlanta*

    Oddly enough, this is a conversation we’ve had at work. The entry level jobs at my company require two things – a college/trade school degree and any kind of previous work experience. There’s no descriptor around what kind of work it has to be, how long, etc. just work experience (not including internships, unless it was an internship with my company).

    The people who have worked before are more successful, are effective in the roles faster, and don’t require nearly as much coaching and basic supervision. Those that have never worked have usually had unrealistic expectations about employment.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I used to hire college graduates for what was their first professional job. I always looked for food service or retail.

      They had the soft skills that made it so easy to put them in front of clients right away.

    2. LawBee*

      “Who is FICA and why do they have all my money?!”

      (ancient Season 1 Friends quote)

    3. Chris*

      Agree. We usually get over 150 resumes for early career level positions, there is zero chance that someone who has never worked is going to get a job with that competition.

  9. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    I would actually place more emphasis on the volunteering then the working, though I am pro both. It was very frustrating to be the only friend with a job until the very, very end of high school and have other friend’s completely disrespect my schedule but I think holding down a job since I was 16 was a really good experience and I enjoyed the autonomy that came with earning my own money.

    However, when it came time for college applications it seemed that volunteering was given a higher preferences for admissions and scholarships then holding down steady employment. This was ten years ago though (eeep!) so my experience could no longer be relevant.

    As for having summer fun? It just meant that I needed to be more careful with my schedule and aware of my limits and sleep needs. And I’m proud to say that the only time I showed up to work hungover was when I got called in the morning of a day off!

    1. Rena*


      I worked through high school and gained a ton of really valuable work lessons, but didn’t have any time left for volunteering. Every scholarship I could find wanted to know about my volunteer experience, no one cared that I’d held a job for two years while still doing extracurriculars and excelling in school. I’m still glad for those work lessons, but having a significantly smaller student debt load would also be a huge benefit.

    2. matcha123*

      I don’t know about volunteer experience getting more admissions points. When I applied to university, I could show that I had worked part-time all through high school and I think that gave me a boost.
      It seemed that length of time volunteering or working was the deciding factor, if there was one.

      1. Melissa*

        I think it depends on where you’re applying. The vast majority of universities would welcome either, but it seems like very elite colleges and universities put a premium on volunteer experience.

        1. quick reply*

          I am the person you replied to. I attended the University of Michigan, which I think is pretty “elite” for a public school :)

    3. AVP*

      I had summer jobs and volunteer commitments since I was 16 and a round-the-year internship since I was a sophomore in college, and my friends gave me so much shit when I couldn’t go out late at night with them…but I always had cash, and a car, and gas, and eventually lucked into a job where a lot of experience in diverse settings and a good work ethic really paid off. Overall I am much happier for it and thankful that my parents pushed me into it, even though I’m sure I resented it at the time. All in all, I’m glad it happened that way, and I also got into much less trouble than I would have otherwise…although I got into plenty anyway.

    4. Kathlynn*

      Yes! I need to back to school (full time cashier atm), but I can’t afford to. And to get any scholarships, all the non-minority ones require volunteer work. And I’m just like “when would you like me to do this?” (I also don’t drive, have regular days off, and work 3:30-11:30pm. This all makes it hard to impossible to do)

      1. Marie*

        So I’m late on this discussion and don’t know if you’ll read this, but – Mornings. Once a week. Sacrifice sleep for that one night a week. It can be done. I had no idea how little sleep I needed to function until I had a baby. 5 unbroken hours? Plenty, if it’s getting you somewhere better in life.

  10. Kathryn T.*

    I have two kids in school right now (elementary school, mind you, but still) and one thing that’s important to consider before you suggest that high schoolers get jobs during the school year is that a lot of students have absolutely vast amounts of homework — three or four hours a day. In some cases, students may have to choose between jobs and extra-curricular activities like arts or sports, or even between jobs and sleep. Everything you say about getting work experience is true and valid, but I wouldn’t want it to stand in the way of academics, sports, arts, or health.

    College and summers are a different story, though!

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      Not an option for everyone, I know, but: Where I grew up a lot of high schoolers (myself included) got jobs at the local farm stands and landscaping companies which had a high demand for extra help during the summers and then cut staff or closed completely in the late fall when all the harvests were done. That way we got the work experience but it didn’t interfere with the gross amounts of homework and push to participate in extracurriculars.

      1. Natalie*

        Movers, too – summer is their busy season. The crew that moved me a few weeks ago were clearly all around 18-19, either off high school for the summer or home from college. They were good kids, too – one seemed very business motivated and I imagine he will be doing client facing work someday that’s a little less sweaty.

        1. MaryMary*

          My first job was at one of those ice cream stands that’s only open from May – September. I also worked at a day camp and sold souvenirs at a baseball stadium. My baseball managers liked me so much they kept me on during the off season to work 6-10 hours a week at our year-round store (almost entirely weekends). That was a perfect high school job.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Detasseling corn :)

        When I lived in the MidWest I swear everyone spent *at least* one summer walking the stalks!

    2. T3k*

      This. I took lots of AP classes during my last 2 years of high school and, I kid you not, I’d get home around 3 and still be doing homework around 11pm. There were times I even had to skip family events because I had so much stuff to do, and I ended up having to quit the only club I was in (art) because of the workload. But one thing about it, it sure prepared me for college to the point it was a breeze compared to my last 2 years in high school.

      1. Melissa*

        Same! I was in an honors program in HS and took a full AP schedule my senior year, I had 4-5 hours of homework to do every night in high school, starting my junior year (and frequently had 2-4 hours before that). But college was so easy comparatively!

      2. Ezri*

        Yeah, this was my experience. In addition to AP I was taking some classes for college credit with a nearby state university. My physics homework alone kept me up until midnight most days.

    3. Observer*

      That’s true, of course. But, that’s not really the question. The question is “work” vs “fun because you are only young once”, and secondarily “My kid is too good for that”. That’s icky all right, but a shocking number of parents really think that way.

      I would also say that I would describe the homework load that many high schoolers get as “ridiculous.” And, if a kid is dealing with that, then, NO they should not be shouldering another job.

      1. cv*

        In reality the question is more nuanced than “work” versus “fun.” Is being on a sports team “fun” that should be replaced by a job? What about if you play ultimate frisbee with the same group regularly but it’s not an organized team? What about being in the school play? Spending a lot of time on a hobby like drawing? Does it make a difference if you want to go to art school so you’re building a portfolio by drawing? My brother taught himself a lot of programming, totally independently, for fun. Being active in your church’s youth group isn’t work or volunteer experience and often includes a lot of fun, but many parents would hesitate to tell a teenager to get a job instead.

        It’s not as simple as “work” versus “fun”, I think. Parents and teenagers have to look at the whole picture of academics, activities and interests and come up with something that works for that particular kid. And it can change over time – working one summer and volunteering the next.

        1. Observer*

          I totally agree. For the record, I do NOT think that just because something is “fun” it’s not productive. I think that two key questions that a parent should think about when deciding in which direction to go is whether this is a productive activity, and is it something that will teach the child / adolescent / teen / YA something useful? (Time management, money management, “soft” life skills that are actually hard etc. qualify.) And two key attitudes that parents need to stay away from are “let’s protect them from reality as long as possible” and “My child is too good / special / smart to do “.

          Going from there, you get to all of the issues of juggling obligations, individual needs etc.

          1. cv*

            I agree. And I hope to avoid those attitudes when my kids are old enough for us to be thinking about these things.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          The church youth group is excellent experience too, I was secretary of mine and it sure helped me get into the Christian college I went to! (No I’m not all that religious but was dying to get away from my parents and that was an easy In)

      2. AMG*

        Yeah, I remember being in college and we got onto the topic of having jobs. One girl was so offended that she should work because she is already taking 4 classes and has a 4.0. Well, guess what? I’m taking 5 and have a 4.0 and a full-time job. And I still managed to have fun.

        I know someone else who regularly spends all of the family income–including the mortgage payments–on herself. Mostly clothes. They almost lost their house! Despite her husband making $300K a year. She wants her kids to never have to work a day in their lives. Not at the rate their mommy is burning through their inheritance! I feel for those kids.

        1. MaryMary*

          There was a mini-controversy my senior year because our salutatorian played two sports, was was on the school newspaper, worked, and was vice president of the senior class. The valedictorian had a higher GPA but didn’t work and was in one club. The valedictorian was a friend of mine so I know her mother severely limited what she could do outside of school, but there was a lot of muttering about GPA v. balancing work and other activities.

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah, but there’s a certain point at which…you’re in school for 7 hours a day, plus transportation, plus 3-4 hours of homework a night; for some kids, there is literally not the time to hold down a job unless you want to start cutting into your sleep schedule, which I really don’t recommend (most teenagers–and adults for that matter–already don’t get nearly enough sleep).

          I know there are people who work full-time and go to school full-time–I did it in grad school–but honestly, most of the time, that’s not a healthy way to live.

        2. Tara*

          I just finished my grade 12 year with a part-time job, a 97% average, 2 college classes, 2 AP classes, the role of 3rd parent to my brother, and a regular volunteer gig. If “skills I will use for the rest of my life” include how to hyperventilate quietly, getting out of public mid-panic attack, and how to cry in such a way that it doesn’t stain your homework, I agree.

          1. Meece*

            Managing your emotions (especially the overwhelming ones, like anxiety, dread, and panic) is absolutely an important life skill. I learned that one in high school, and in college I learned the next set: 1) How to know your limits, 2) how to enforce your limits, 3) how to love and value yourself enough not to feel bad about having limits.

        3. Ad Astra*

          Since I haven’t seen this anywhere else, I thought it might fit in here: Whether a teenager should work during high school will depend a lot on the individual kid. There are a lot of high achievers on AAM who earned a 4.0 taking AP classes and playing piano competitively and were also captain of the basketball team and president of Key Club and work 30 hours a week year-round, which is great for them.

          Not every kid can manage a schedule like that. Some will need a lot more time for homework simply because it’s hard for them. Others kids will burn out if they don’t have enough time to decompress and just do nothing. And some will find work to be way more stimulating than school ever was. To a certain degree, it’s important to trust parents to know what’s best for their specific kid.

          1. BeenThere*

            I was coming here exactly what you have phrase perfectly.

            I was one of those kids. I took all the high level classes, had a two part time jobs plus occasional baby sitting and tutoring, a long commute and active social life including unorganized sports. I never did my homework because I didn’t see the point in repeating a concept over and over that I’d already understood, my teachers stopped putting me on detention for it, eventually. Then I knew other students that struggled because the academic work did not come easy to them at all and their parents put a lot of pressure on them to get higher scores. I always felt bad for them. I had close friends who I had to battle hard with to convince them they would be good at something, they would be happy and excelling at high school mathematics is not the be all end all.

    4. neverjaunty*

      So much this. The fact that workload wasn’t even discussed makes me wonder if anybody involved in the conversation with the OP actually has children, or at least children old enough that part-time jobs are even on the horizon. That the conversation was ‘they should work a few hours a week’ vs. ‘kids should have fun/my kid is special’ makes this sound a lot more like a philosophical conversation.

      Few employers where I live want teenagers to work only “a few hours per week”, and even a part-time shift can be a nightmare given heavy homework and test workloads (let alone any extracurricular stuff). A lot of those traditional jobs for teenagers are being taken up now by adults; why would you hire a teenager whose only commitment to the job is pocket money, when for the same crappy wage you can get a more stable, experienced adult who needs to keep that job to feed her children?

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Now that you mention it, I’m forgetting that fast food places were only open till 10pm when I was in HS. Now they are all 24 hours. It was easy to get a 4pm-9pm shift 3 days a week, now it is probably too much of a hassle too keep someone on the schedule for just 15 hours a week.

        1. neverjaunty*

          15 hours a week is more than a ‘few hours’, too, and that’s a significant chunk of time for a kid buried under typical school workloads.

      2. Melissa*

        Yeah, that’s the other thing. This probably wasn’t even true when I was in school, but I felt like when I was in high school in the early 2000s most of the retail and fast food jobs in my suburban area were worked by high school and college kids who needed to make gas and movie money. I feel like it’s so much harder for HS students to get those jobs now because 1) there are many older, experienced people competing for them who need them to keep a roof over their heads and 2) employers are expecting ridiculous hours and near-24-hour availability from their workers.

        1. Anx*

          My favorite is when they want you to have an open schedule, but only give you a few hours per week.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Ah I will admit when my kids became job age, I was baffled how much harder it was, probably to do with what you say (it was during the recession) and they said hardly any place would hire under 18 yrs old because they didn’t want to deal with the while work permit thing, but they did eventually find something

      4. Mike C.*

        I have to agree here. I graduated high school in 2001, and I could see how I narrowly missed the onslaught of required volunteer hours, multiple standardized tests, senior projects on top of all the other crap you have to be busy with and studying for and so on.

        1. AJS*

          You’ve touched a nerve with me. Required volunteer hours are not truly volunteer–they’re actually forced labor. If schools want students to perform good works, they should be more honest about the process.

      5. OP*

        This was not a philosophical conversation. My children are now adults and were “required” to work to have spending money. They complained at the time but now feel that it has been a real benefit to them in their jobs for general “life skills”. Several of the parents that were anti-work have college age children who have never worked, volunteered, or done anything other than glorified classwork internships ( I am not bashing all internships-some are better than others). I agree with some of the writers that believe that sports, drama, music and other school clubs and activities can be as valuable as work. The “no work until after graduation” parents felt that the only thing of value is grades. They are members of the “go to school, work hard, get good grades and the money will follow” club. They seem to believe that the perfect, well paying, fulfilling job is just waiting out there for their child to apply. I am a member of the “go to school, work hard, get good grades, don’t expect your parents to give you everything and earn it yourself then if you work hard and are lucky the money might follow club.” I call it reality.

        1. AJS*

          In some cases the perfect well-paying, fulfilling job actually is out there just waiting. A different reality from most, perhaps, but still reality.

        2. PhyllisB*

          OP, I can’t agree more. I have a son who was planning to get a degree in Chemical Enginerring While he was at local community college we made him work, but when he went off to state university (on scholarship) we felt like if he worked hard in class and kept his grades up that was his “job.” Well, he ended up getting involved in drugs, had to drop out and go to rehab. Now he works in a liquor store. (Yes, I see the irony.) I’m not saying that all kids who don’t work will end up this way, but if we had insisted he work, then he wouldn’t have had as much time to get into this kind of thing.

          1. AnonForThis*

            This hit a nerve, I studied Chemical Engineering and became heavily involved in drugs after moving away from home when I first went to study. I can tell you, with hindsight it, drug use has less to do with free time and more to do with isolation and feeling alone. The studies coming about addiction are vindicating this. So I don’t think you should pin blame on not insisting he worked. The thing a job could have possibly done is given your son a different pool of friends, however my personal experience has been there were more users at my part time jobs than at university and the additional cash income means more opportunity to score.

            I’m happy to say I came back, finished my degree, with honors and am very successful.

    5. BRR*

      This is completely true. Students have way more HW than when I was in school and I’m only 27. But the job is also sort of the point in teaching them to balance and preparing them for the future. I’m not saying job over anything else (I was in band which made a job impossible during marching season) but part of having the job is to teach time management.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Isn’t that the equivalent of the manager who scolds employees doing the job of two people to “work smarter, not harder”?

        Yes, being overloaded teaches time management, generally by teaching that you have to prioritize work over school, because you can get fired from a job but you won’t get fired from school unless you really botch everything.

        1. BRR*

          No it’s not. I specifically said it’s not essential to have a job over everything else and never hinted at telling overloaded kids to suck it up. I even acknowledged how busy students are today and how some activities do not allow the time in a schedule for a job. The point was that having a job that required you to be someplace at a specif time helps teach time management and some students have the capacity to take one on.

      2. Melissa*

        I was in marching band too, and school + homework + band + other activities were pretty good at teaching me time management. I don’t feel like I needed an additional job to learn that.

    6. Jenna Maroney*

      True! I was lucky that I didn’t need to work in high school, as if I had needed to do work, I wouldn’t have been able to do theater, which was the most valuable experience I had in high school aside from academics. Theater also built a lot of skills for me, some of which I’ll likely never use again (table saw!), but some of which have been really valuable – I am very shy but comfortable in public speaking because I can draw on that experience of having to learn to be comfortable in my body and voice in front of a crowd.

      1. Ezri*

        Are you me? Theater also helped me develop crucial social skills in high school. And it was honestly the only positive part of my year since I spent so much time doing homework and studying for an AP-heavy workload. I definitely have more free time now with a full time job.

      2. Soharaz*

        I took loads of APs, worked part time (2-3x per week) and did theatre. I am telling you, hell week takes on a whole new meaning when you throw a retail job into the mix!

    7. Lunar*

      I so agree with this! My high school had classes 6 days per week and required after-school activities, so I normally got a ride home with my mom from work at 6 PM or later. There is no way that I would have been able to have a job during the school year.
      However, once I got to college I had so much more free time compared to what I was used to (two day weekends!) that I was able to balance school, internships/jobs, and extracurricular activities without a problem.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Your high school had classes six days per week? Was this in the U.S.? Was it a special magnet school or prep school or something?

    8. Stephanie*

      Ugh, I had so much homework in high school and was your garden-variety overachiever. I never really worked in HS because of that.

      I spent one summer in middle school helping my dad at his gas station, though. Technically…I was too young to be working, but working there did help me learn about time cards and running a register and needing to be somewhere on time.

    9. Sigrid*

      This was my experience. I was in an International Baccalaureate program in high school, and had zero period class (6:30 am), lab for two hours after school four days a week, then about four hours of homework after. Weekends were for catching up on sleep and more homework. Summers were for fulfilling the volunteer requirements of IB.

      Those of my classmates who needed to get jobs to help their families — and there were many — ended up dropping out of IB. It resulted in a pretty sharp class divide, which was especially unfortunate because the entire point of IB is that having an IB diploma guarantees you admission at a number of universities, including the Cal State system (we were in California).

      1. Stephanie*

        My school didn’t have an IB program, but I observed the same phenomenon in the AP classes. Almost everyone in there was middle class or higher, since that’s who had the ability to spend four hours one night on a Hamlet assignment for AP English. I remember one girl who worked at Sonic to help out her family. She was the exception.

        1. Sigrid*

          One girl in my class made it through the first two years of IB while working (probably under the table, but then I’m pretty sure her family was undocumented so they all worked under the table) to help support her family, and then had to drop out of the program junior year. Why? Because junior year was when we started our zero period class, meaning we had to be at school by 6:30 am. She took public transportation — as in the family didn’t own a car and certainly couldn’t afford one — and lived almost an hour away and neither school buses nor city buses ran that early in the morning. I would have driven her myself, but she lived 40 minutes away from me, in the opposite direction from school. It broke my heart.

          She was one of the ones who was fluent in Spanish but took IB French instead of Spanish so she could learn a third language. She was amazing. But no zero period meant no full-diploma candidate meant no diploma meant no guaranteed admission and no IB scholarships.

    10. matcha123*

      When I was in high school, I took seven hours for all four years (most people took six except for a year or semester or two). I also worked part-time through high school and relied on public transportation. I finished classes at 3:15, dropped my book bag off at home, went to work, got home around 7:30 or 8, made my dinner/watched TV and did homework until about 1am.

      It would have been easier if my family had a car, but, I needed that income. Plus the kids in sports in my high school were shelling out hundreds of dollars on uniforms and trips. I was able to participate in orchestra for four years, so I certainly didn’t miss out on any arts.
      I understand your sentiment, however.

    11. Lucy Honeychurch*

      Eh, I think it’s still possible. I graduated from HS 4 years ago and my brother graduated this year…we both did the AP, 5 hours of homework a night thing, and still had time to work on the weekends. Our HS also hired students to work there before classes started each day, so we both did that as well.

    12. INTP*

      This is very true. During the school year, my brother, an athlete and in many AP classes, “worked” more hours than most adults with full-time jobs. He had literally no downtime except for a few hours on weekends. And he got a nearly-full-ride for college thanks to his GPA and sports ability, so it would have been a financially horrible decision for him to work in high school and quit sports or take easier classes. (There aren’t really jobs for people under 18 here anyways because there are plenty of college students and recent grads who need them.) It’s important to keep the role of teenage jobs in perspective – they shouldn’t interfere with things that are more important to a kid’s future like grades and any hobbies that could earn them scholarships.

  11. Scotty_Smalls*

    I worked in the cafeteria during high school. It was pretty great. I learned pretty quickly to be on time, and the stakes were not high if I was late. I was never made fun of for working in the cafeteria thank goodness. And it gave me some extra pocket money and taught me to save. I only worked 6 hours a week so plenty of time to have fun. When I knew that my parents were looking to move I resigned so I’d have more time to spend with my friends. So it was a valuable lesson all around.

    I don’t think it gave me any head start on my job searches though. I seem to always be searching in tough times.

  12. Prismatic Professional*

    My experience working summers came from a pirate museum. I learned how many people ask the exact. same. question. every day and have the exact same jokes for every occasion. It did teach me more patience, respect for money, and that making someone’s day better frequently makes my day better.

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      That sounds like an awesome job, and one I wouldn’t even mind as an adult!

      1. Prismatic Professional*

        Right? My boss was awesome and I got to help set up the exhibits! (Real artifacts – including gold! I still get super happy thinking about it.) I have completely memorized all the videos in the museum though. I bet I can still quote them in their entirety!

    2. hermit crab*

      I worked at a touristy museum too, though not as cool as one about pirates! Oh man … tourist dads and their jokes.

      One summer our boss made us all workbooks that were essentially a giant game of Tourist Bingo. If you wanted to play, you could keep track of the worst jokes, the most frequently asked questions, the “most creative” parenting techniques, the strangest t-shirts, etc. and if you filled out all the sections you’d get a small prize at the end of the summer. It was a lot of fun!

      1. Prismatic Professional*

        This is a fantastic idea! In my particular summer town, shirts were incredibly rare. I was very happy when people actually wore clothing to the museum…

    3. Stephanie*

      Ah yes. Like in retail, I heard a variation of “Ah, since it can’t scan, does that mean it’s free?” so many times.

      1. That One Girl*

        That and, “Did you want a bag for your item?” “No thanks, save a plastic tree!”

      2. catsAreCool*

        At fast food, the joke is to say, when you ask “Can I help you”, is “I’m beyond help.”

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Out of all the kids in my family, I was the only one with a job in high school.  Many years later, it showed.

    I’m truly embarrassed about a lot of the stunts I pulled at that job, BUT it was a restaurant so the stakes were super low.  I learned a lot.  Not only that, management was accustomed to having high school students work there so they were predisposed to having patience and giving extra guidance in a way I’d never expect from myself today.

    I completely disagree with those who say that teenagers have the rest of their lives to work.  Make them work when they’re teenagers and when they don’t -have- to.  That obligation is what we adults feel and children shouldn’t feel that but it shouldn’t exempt them from work either.  Low wage, PT jobs start them out small instead of thrusting them in the work world after college and expecting them to know everything.

    You can’t shield them from the work world and expect them to know how to behave professionally as soon as they walk across the stage at graduation.  It’s not an overnight process.

    Both of my brothers didn’t get jobs until they were in their 30s.  They pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees that left them in academia until their early 30s and they never worked before.  It took them a long time to understand that they didn’t dictate their schedules anymore, your boss isn’t “advising” you on issues because she’d TELLING you to do stuff, yes paperwork sucks, and oh the pay isn’t that much after taxes.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      We should remember that teenagers worked through most of time. The concept of teenagers having time off only came about from the 1950’s and later. Before that most teenagers had to work in the fields, or sew, or help out in the store, or help with babies, etc. That’s still true in many societies today.
      The teenage years should be about taking on more responsibility. It should be about giving them freedom with a safety net.
      This is the time when we teach them about work. We teach them about volunteering. We teach them about time management. We teach them about money management.
      And since they are still partially children, they will still find time for fun.

    2. Someone Else*

      This exactly, my younger sibling didn’t work at all during High School because they had school activities and stuff to do. To this day, they are now 30, and has returned to college several times to finish their degree, and barely managed to hold a long term job. I worked throughout high school, maintained a 4.0, and have steadily worked my way up the corporate ladder without a degree. Although I did attend college for almost two years. My parent’s were much more lenient with my sibling, hence while my sibling lived with them until their 30th b-day, and only recently moved out, and does not have a car of their own…. My kids will definitely be working, and learning how the real world works.

      1. Ezri*

        I think it’s one of those things that can help teach teenagers responsibility, but it doesn’t necessarily set them up for success. All of my younger sisters worked in high school, but I didn’t due to homework and activities. But I’m the only one who got through college in one try and got a job and is living on my own now. There is anecdotal evidence on both sides, and individuals can have more work experience and less personal responsibility than others.

        I still think it’s a good experience, but not working in high school doesn’t necessarily doom teenagers to immaturity. They can pick responsibility up through other means.

  14. Michelle*

    I can see both arguments for this story, as my son graduated this year. He did not work in high school because he was so busy with school assignments, sometimes he would be up until 11 or 11:30 finishing homework. He also struggled with one particular subject since elementary school, so he also had tutoring 3 days a week after school. Most employers want the student workers there by 4:30 or 5 and there was just no way he could have done all his schoolwork, gone to tutoring and worked.

    I think for *some* students, transportation could also be issue for them. Not all teenagers get cars when they turn 16 and I’m pretty sure the bus is not going to drop them at work. As a matter of fact, most teenagers don’t even try for their licenses the day they turn 16 ( as least in my area. I think there was news article about this, too). Their parents drop them at school or they get a ride with their friend. Parents may not be able to pick them up and take them to work and a friend may drop you a work once in awhile, but they are not going to want to do it all the time.

    My place of employment has a volunteer program where you only have to work 4 hours a month to maintain active status and get volunteer benefits (discounts, free admission for you and your family, etc.). I think that might be a compromise to get a little experience for some high schools. My oldest volunteered and did so well he was offered a job. My recent grad has applied to be a volunteer and I think it will be good experience for him.

    1. Ad Astra*

      When I was growing up, you could get a restricted license to drive to school and work at 15, but that only helps if your parents can provide a car. I had a very tough time trying to find jobs in high school when I had no transportation.

      1. S*

        My parents refused to let me get my license until I was in college because they had zero plans to get me a car or let me drive theirs anyway. I live in an area where the bus comes once an hour. So all this talk about getting a summer job in high school is great and all, but when transportation is a real issue, then it becomes a question of who was lucky enough to have access to consistent transportation in the first place.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I didn’t really think about that I was lucky enough that there were lots of places within walking distance

          1. blu*

            Indeed, I never thought about that until in 9th grade when my parents moved me to the rural part of the state where the only thing in walking distance was the cornfield at the end of my street. It was only 15-20 miles north of our old house and yet it felt like we moved to another state.

            1. Tau*

              I did it the other way around – when I was eleven, we moved from a town in the US where hardly anywhere was in walking distance to a city in Germany where I could cycle anywhere I wanted to go. I still remember how weird and amazing it felt to suddenly be so independent!

        2. WannabeManager*

          Honestly, I would have worked more in high school and had a better overall experience had I had access to public transportation. But we lived in an outlying county of Richmond, VA where any suggestion of a public transit system is met with pearl clutching and cries about “criminal elements” using it to leave the city and enter our pristine county. *sarcasm*

      2. NacSacJack*

        +1 It was difficult to hold down a job when we lived 7 miles outside of town via one road and 10 miles by the other road, the one we were allowed to bike on. I think work at a young age is good, but not too young. I started when I was 14 and I would have liked one more year of summer school orat least a work-free summer. I think I started too young, cause one I started, my parents were like you’re going to work this summer right? And I was like, ummm, how do I get to and from work??? Now, kids that lived in town definitely had the advantage. Especially when my parents told me, you must be able to get off work by 530 to catch a ride home. What employer would employ some kid that can only work 3-530 Mon-Fri?

        One more item – teach your kids money mgmt – take the money away from them. I blew through my summer savings before November every year. I have money!! I want a soccer ball!!! Ka-ching rang the cash register. I want comics! Ka-Ching! And so on.

        1. Joline*

          Money management is a really overlooked thing for kids (and something I think they should actually address in school since in some households kids won’t learn it from parents). Starting in middle school my brother and I both got clothing allowances (including sporting equipment – his was higher as his sports had more expensive equipment). There was an amount every month that we could use to buy the clothing we needed. If you wanted fancy jeans you saved up for a few months. If you were okay with cheaper ones you could buy greater volume of stuff. At the end of high school when the system ended it any surplus got rolled into the college fund.

          It was a low stakes and simple budget to practice on.

        2. Observer*

          One more item – teach your kids money mgmt – take the money away from them. I blew through my summer savings before November every year. I have money!! I want a soccer ball!!! Ka-ching rang the cash register. I want comics! Ka-Ching! And so on.

          I’d be willing to bet that you understood more about money management by the time you had to support yourself than kids whose parents took their money away from them. Because you didn’t just hear from you parents “hey, if you don’t save your money, you won’t have it for something you want.” Instead, you LIVED it.

          1. Saturn9*

            This. Having someone else manage your money isn’t learning money management. It needs to be taught or else learned by object lesson. I’ve seen some real life horror stories result from the “take their money away” method when those kids (my peers) hit college and didn’t have the necessary financial skills because someone else had been doing their budgeting for them up until then.

    2. BethRA*

      I didn’t get a car at 16, either. I rode my bike to work instead. I realize that’s not an option for everyone, but there are other options besides having their own car or having Mom or Dad play chauffeur (public transportation, carpooling…). It may not be as convenient, and it may require planning, or heaven forbid, walking, but lack of car does not need to be a barrier for everyone and I think it winds up being an easy excuse in a lot of cases..

      I agree with you that academics should come first, and for some kids that’s more of an issue than others.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It may also require finding a job that doesn’t insist employees have a car or access to one. Many jobs are unwilling to leave their employees to rely on public transportation – and believe me, how safe and reliable walking, biking or taking the bus may be depends rather a lot on where you live, rather than on whether you have gumption.

        1. T3k*

          When I had interviewed for one job at the mall near home, they asked if I could drive and I went “Yes, I can drive” then they realized they phrased that wrong and went “Do you have access to reliable transportation/car?” “Well technically I do…”

        2. WannabeManager*

          I ran into this….I technically had a car in that my senile grandmother “gave me” her beat up Buick Regal (at this point she was so out of it that my parents and I just went along with it–the car sat under a tarp in the driveway).

          So, for my first job, when they asked if I had a car, I said “yes.” I would get picked up and dropped off by my dad and when I quit the owner of the store said he didn’t realize I didn’t have a car. I don’t think he was happy when I pointed out that I was the only employee who still wasn’t late all the time….

          1. Soharaz*

            My first car was a Buick Regal :) I bought it with the proceeds from my first job (before that, my mother and I worked at the same place so I got rides with her or my boyfriend with a car…also sometimes after I got the car because then I didn’t have to buy gas)

        3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My highschool BFF worked about a quarter of a mile from her house, and it was a heck of a time for her to convince them to hire her because she didn’t have her own car.

          If I remember the story correctly the manager had her amend her application to say she did have a car, as saying no was an automatic disqualification.

        4. I'm a Little Teapot*

          +millions. Access to transportation is a privilege not everyone has. I grew up where the nearest public transit was 3 miles down a hilly road with no sidewalk, no shoulder, no streetlights, poor visibility, and drivers who sped constantly and never expected a pedestrian because *nobody* walked there. (Cycling there was terrifying too.) My parents were so overprotective that I wasn’t allowed to learn to drive until after college. (Yes, after.) And lots of people live in much more out of the way places than that.

      2. Ad Astra*

        When I got a job at the local movie theater, working 4-11, my parents insisted I could take public transportation to work after school. So we picked up a bus schedule, looked at the routes, and sure enough: If I left school at 3:05, I wouldn’t get to the movie theater (5 miles away) until about 4:40, I think. And the buses stopped running at 9, so I’d have no way home.

        That’s when they agreed to lend me their car. :)

      3. Melissa*

        Not every place has public transportation good enough to take you to work – when I had a retail job (for a week) in high school, the bus stop nearest my house was actually at my destination – the mall, four miles from my house down a highway with no sidewalks where cars drove 65 mph. And in order to carpool that means you have to know someone else with a car.

        Sometimes it isn’t just convenience – some places really just are impossible to navigate without access to a car.

        1. Retail Lifer*

          Very true. We have three major malls in my city, one of which is completely ignored by the bus system, another has one bus that runs regularly but not early or late enough during extended holiday hours, and one that has four different bus routes that go there and still no bus service late enough for holiday hours. I currently take public transit and it makes finding a job pretty difficult.

      4. Retail Lifer*

        I didn’t have a car either, so my mom insisted I get a job that I could walk to or take a different school bus to (no public transit where I grew up). She or my dad would pick me up when I got done at night (between 9 and 10) since they were off work by then. Not an option for everyone, but it worked for me and could probably work for some other people.

      5. Observer*

        Way dismissive, I think. Biking and walking are really not an option for lots of people.

        When I was in High School my parents, who were NOT helicopters by any stretch of the imagination, would never have allowed us to take public transportation alone to get to or from a job in the late evenings. It really was not safe. All of us knew that if we were going to be out in the evening, we needed to think about transportation home – at minimum, walking in groups. I remember Friday nights (orthodox groups, who don’t drive on Shabbos, which starts at night), my father walking the whole group of my friends who lived on the blocks around our house home. And we waited for each girl to get into the house. He didn’t do it for the exercise. He did it because the crime rate was sky high, police presence was nill, and often enough even if the police were around, they didn’t do anything. On the other hand, the thugs were a lot less likely to mess with a group or a guy who looked like he knew how to handle himself, which my father. (A guy who looked fit and / or tall was also a decent deterrent.)

        I didn’t have access to a car growing up, and my parents taught us to use public transportation as soon as we could reasonably learn. So, I get the idea of telling people to use public transportation. But, it needs to be reasonably safe. That’s not always the case.

        And, even in cities with overall good public transportation, there can be bad areas. I’m in NYC which actually has a pretty good public transportation system. Except for some “blind spots” – like the neighborhood I work in. It’s crazy – public transportation in the neighborhood is terrible, and it’s an area with one of the highest poverty levels in the city. Telling the kids in this neighborhood to “just use public transportation” is like telling them “just use the local atm” when they don’t have a bank account.

    3. Moss*

      I’m in the same boat with my daughter. It takes forever for her to finish her work. (We’re talking 2-3 hours to finish one math assignment.) I want her to have a job or volunteer, but it’s going to have to be something that is under 10 hours per week and can be done on weekends.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        She sounds like me. Even if I’d had transportation, there’s no way I could have worked as a teenager. I have a learning disability that screws with my ability to do math, and it would take me 3-4 hours to do my math homework alone – and even then I’d usually be far from finished. I’m convinced the only reason I passed high school math is that my teachers thought “She’s doing so well in everything else, we should just pass her out of pity.”

    4. Loose Seal*

      My bus dropped me off at work back in the day. I would imagine that they still would if the parent would talk to the bus administrator. Of course, one of the busses would have to have a route that goes by the place of employment; I don’t think the busses would go out of their way to drop off for work.

      After work, my boss drove me home which I still think of as a very kind gesture.

      1. Melissa*

        Possibly, but I would say probably not. An aunt worked as a manager in the school bus division of our school district, and buses can’t just drop you off anywhere, even if the bus is on your route. You had to even get special permission to get off the bus one day at a different stop – say, with a friend who rode the same bus as you – written permission signed by a parent. There are liability issues because the school district is legally responsible for you when you ride the school bus. I suppose there’s a possibility that IF your school bus drove by your place of employment that your parent might be able to go to the headquarters and submit written proof that you’re allowed to get off there every day, but that also sounds like it would create a logistical nightmare for school buses if they allowed that on a large scale so I can imagine them not doing it.

        1. Melissa*

          Second sentence should say “…and buses can’t just drop you off anywhere, even if the stop is on your route.”

    5. T3k*

      Whoops, just saw this (I mentioned transportation briefly elsewhere). And yeah, that was my biggest issue: I had my permit and later license, but no car (the car I was supposed to get had died just before I turned 15). And public transportation sucks here, and let’s just say our roads are not biker/walker friendly (though stupidly courageous people still try to bike on them). And don’t get me started on trying to get a parent to give me a ride (I knew it’d end up falling on my mom to take time off work to get me to an afternoon job as my dad thought his job was more important).

    6. Dynamic Beige*

      When I was a teen, there was no public transit were I lived. My mother had control issues and commuted to work, so even if I had been able to get a ride from her, I would have been sitting outside at 7am or earlier. Trust me when I say that if I said I needed to get picked up at midnight/closing that would not have been a request that was seen as “normal, my daughter has to work, I want her to have this job” but a big huge imposition (because don’t you know my job is more important than whatever it is you want?) And I had chores. Lots of chores.

      Before I went to college, Mother got me a job with a friend of hers who had a company (that’s right, I didn’t ask for one or search for one, it was just “I got you a job at X, you start on Monday” uh… OK). In those days, public recycling wasn’t a thing, it was all done privately and that’s what they did, picked up recyclables which were then sorted/shredded. They hired a lot of special needs people from various group homes. My first day there, I was eating lunch with this woman and she asked me what home I was from — there went any and all ideas that I looked smart. I shredded paper like it was going out of style, cut the spines off of books so they could be recycled and a few times unloaded the trucks when they came back from pickup (the smell of unwashed cans and bottles left out in the hot summer sun is unreal).

      So, as someone who has never waited tables or flipped burgers or worked retail, let me say this: even if your kid does one shift a week at a job they have to search for, apply and get themselves, they will be further ahead than I was. I had no idea how to conduct a job search, or real encouragement/support to try. Even if I had no choice right now but to take a job flipping burgers, no one would give me one because I don’t have any experience doing it. If you can waitress or tend bar, those are skills that can be used just about anywhere in the world. It doesn’t have to be forever, but a few years isn’t going to kill anyone. Same thing with short order cook and retail experience. For those who are socially awkward, getting a retail job where you are forced to make conversation with people you don’t know and deal with the public may help more than avoiding something like that.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        “For those who are socially awkward, getting a retail job where you are forced to make conversation with people you don’t know and deal with the public may help more than avoiding something like that.”

        I only have one positive takeaway from working retail all these years, and it’s that. I was completely incapable of starting a conversation with anyone before I was forced into it at work, and now it’s really easy for me. I’m still an introvert, but I can fake it really well.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I used to post on a dating advice site and the amount of times some guy asked “how do I talk to girls?” was staggering. Mainly because, it would come out, that these same people had some degree of social anxiety about talking to anyone. And how can you expect to talk to girls — who are just people — and be all smooth when you can’t even ask someone in a store if they carry a certain item?

    7. Natalie*

      I suppose it depends on where you live. I grew up in the city so we took the bus everywhere (the first ring suburbs are fairly well covered here, too), but some of my friends who grew up in the more distant suburbs often had to manage family ride-sharing systems. Or drive their younger siblings around once they had their license.

      Our public high school system switched away from school buses to public transit passes last year, partially to make life easier for kids without jobs or extracurricular activities. It seems to be working pretty well.

    8. Marie*

      In my province it costs a minimum of $1000 to get your license since you need to take theory and practical driving lessons before you’re allowed try for your license (luckily I got mine 2 years before this passed). So teenagers from low-income families are no longer getting their licenses, and their only way to get to school and/or work is with public transportation, which is really unreliable in most areas that aren’t the downtown core. I lived right near a busy bus line and I had a hard time getting to work on time, I couldn’t imagine people in more remote areas.

      1. Kathlynn*

        And where I live, you can’t drive by yourself for the first part of the graduated license plan. And are encouraged to get driving lessons to be able to pass the first driving test.

    9. JC*

      I can definitely see how transportation could be a problem for some (or many) kids.

      I can also see how other school commitments could get in the way of working during the school year, but many kids could have flexibility with working weekends or at least working over the summer. When I was in high school I was busy after school with school plays. I would typically start a job at the end of the school year, work full-time over the summer, and then scale back to weekends (or just Sundays if I had rehearsal on Saturdays) and one weeknight a week for a ~6-10 shift during play season. I also took schoolwork and studying seriously and managed to get that done outside of that time frame. Obviously that’s not practical for every kid, but for some kids it is possible to devote time to school and extracurriculars and still work.

    10. Bwmn*

      I grew up in a similar suburb issue where if I didn’t have a car, my job options were incredibly limited. My first genuine job experience was when a new upscale restaurant was opening and my mom basically dragged me there to apply as a hostess. I was entirely overwhelmed by the experience and barely trained (the manager assigned to train me was later fired for drinking too much on the job). No shock I was fired pretty quickly, but the whole experience was still hugely helpful. Not just knowing what it felt like to be fired, but also being able to identify when I wasn’t doing well and to advocate for myself.

      When I was a senior in undergrad, I had a student job in the university hospital. The job had two parts, data entry and various admin duties. Part #2 was oddly managed, tasks came strangely, and I knew I was spending too much time looking for work and appearing lost. After the first semester I talked to my supervisor about how I felt I was better suited to data entry and if there was a way for me to just focus on that even if it meant a cut in my hours. The suggestion made the data entry team very happy to get more support, none of my hours were cut and my supervisor was reassigned to someone who liked what I was doing (and gave good references later) as opposed to someone irritated by how lost I looked.

      So count me in the chorus that advocates for some kind of job experience during high school, because much better to be fired at 16 than 26 or 36.

  15. Lillie Lane*

    “she didn’t want her daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way”
    Wow. Has her daughter ever used a public toilet? Someone has to clean those. One never knows what is coming down the pike. Better to learn to do menial tasks. I’m grateful that at this point in my life, I don’t have to flip burgers or clean toilets, but I will do it if that means putting food on the table.

    1. Loose Seal*

      My husband’s nephew graduated high school this past May. He has never worked because his dad didn’t want him flipping burgers. Nephew still does not have a job and does not go out to look for one. He doesn’t want to go to college or trade school. All he wants to do is see his girlfriend and go hunting and/or fishing. His dad is now at his wit’s end trying to get his son to work. Sadly, I think that dad passed along a mentality that menial work was too menial for his son and he’s regretting it now.

      1. NacSacJack*

        Ummm, how do parents pay for this? What does the kid get for an allowance? $200 a month?

        1. someone*

          probably a lot of more than $200 a month, unfortunately. that mentality plus plenty of money = no incentive to work or make something of themselves.

          1. Loose Seal*

            I don’t know the dollar figure but I’m sure it’s not that much. The family is a working class family with three kids so I doubt there’s that much to just give out. However, they do pay for the insurance for oldest nephew’s vehicle and the maintenance so it probably does work out to quite a bit that’s not going to him directly. Plus providing him with room and board, of course.

            I have a feeling that when school starts back up in a couple of weeks and his girlfriend (who has two years left in school) is not around most of the day for that and her extracurriculars and homework, he’ll get bored and start looking for something to do. I hope.

    2. Marcela*

      Well, I bet that the mother taught the daughter that the bathroom at home is cleaned by the “bathroom fairy”, as my mother did with my brother (not with me: I’m supposedly responsible for all the mess the men in my life make, so they can continue believing in the fairies).

      1. the gold digger*

        A friend told me about her sister in law, who was raised with servants. The SIL had married a medical student and moved into an apartment.

        After about a month or two (not sure how long this would take as I have never experienced this personally), the SIL called the apartment manager in a panic.

        He ran upstairs, very worried that something horrible had happened.

        She led him into the bathroom and pointed at the bathtub.

        “Look at it!” she shrieked. “What IS that? Fix it!”

        It was the bathtub ring. From the tub not being cleaned.

    3. Michelle*

      I can’t understand why some people think certain type of jobs are beneath them. If they want that hamburger, somebody has to flip it. If they want their garbage picked up, someone has to put the can on the truck. If they want groceries, someone has to ring them up and bag them, etc. (Doubt someone with that much entitlement would go through the self checkout line) When you think that certain jobs are beneath you or your child, your problem is way worse than no experience. EVERYONE deserves to be treated with respect, whether you are Warren Buffet or you clean toilets for a living.

      1. Observer*

        EVERYONE deserves to be treated with respect, whether you are Warren Buffet or you clean toilets for a living.


        The world would be a much better place if more people realized this!

        1. OP*

          My father always told me that I am no better or worse than anyone else. Even the president puts his pants on one leg at a time.

    4. JC*

      Serious question: what do high school aged kids DO all summer if they don’t work? My husband didn’t work as a teen and I’ve asked him what he did all day over the summer, and he can’t really answer. Do their friends also all not work and they bum around together all day, or something? Sleep til noon and then play video games? Uh oh, maybe I’ve answered my own question…

      1. Ad Astra*

        The “sleep til noon and then play video games” crowd still exists, but more and more I notice high schoolers who aren’t working are crazy busy with a thousand different travelling sports teams, academic camps, church missions, Eagle Scout projects, and stuff like that.

    5. Blue Shell*

      This attitude is infuriating. I work with college students and once had to straight-up tell a freshman, “You are not too good to file papers.” He was convinced that any summer internship without significant responsibility and glamour would be beneath him, even though he had no work experience. And because he had a terrible attitude/zero people skills, he either could not recognize or did not care how rude and arrogant this would appear to others. Baffling.

    6. Oui*

      Most people I know who have cleaned toilets or flipped burgers do not want their children to ever have to do that.

      1. Jackson*

        That is true. But when you start saying things like “she didn’t want her daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way”, it is basically insulting everyone who has to do that type of work. Burgers have to get flipped and toilets have to get cleaned. If the economy gets worse and her “too smart” daughter gets laid off/terminated/downsized, she might have to clean a toilet or flip burger to put food on the table or pay bills. She could have said she didn’t want her daughter to work without insulting half the nation.

      2. Observer*

        That is 100% true. But, it is NOT because the kids are “too good for that.” It’s because they want their children to have better lives – in that their jobs are less taxing, more rewarding and offer them the ability to make more and better choices.

      3. OP*

        I worked 3 summers in high school as a hotel maid and it provided lots of motivation to get a college degree. It was hard work but not beneath me. My son is a sous chef, he flips burgers when they are ordered :)

      4. the gold digger*

        Most people I know who have cleaned toilets … do not want their children to ever have to do that.

        To me, that is one of the main reasons to have children: so you can delegate the housecleaning and yardwork to them.

  16. Elkay*

    I got a paper round at 13, then did some babysitting before getting a Saturday job at 16. I worked Saturdays in my first year of university and it was a huge mistake, I never really socialised because I had to get up in the morning to go to work and I feel like that cut me out of the loop slightly. There were definitely other aspects of my personality that caused that but work was definitely a contributor. After that I only worked in the holidays (pubs in short breaks, offices during the summer) which I think was much better.

  17. Erin*

    What an interesting topic you bring up. A couple thoughts from my own experience:

    I’m an only child of a couple who almost couldn’t have a baby – they were very, very overprotective. My parents were very much of the “let her be a kid while she’s a kid” mentality – and I do think there is something to that. But, they later admitted to me they wish they’d better prepared me for the real world stuff they didn’t want me to have to deal with yet. Not even just with jobs and working, but with things like doing chores around the house, and bill-paying. I did struggle with adulting when I left college. I did not know how to do things like write a check. Which brings me to…

    I went to an expensive college with rich kids (I was on the lower end of this scale). Many of my friends did not work through college because their parents wanted them to “concentrate on their studies.” Some did. Some dropped out after freshman year, after they’d blown nearly $40,000 of their parents money on tuition. As Alison said, job or no job they *will* have fun. Studying or not studying, fun will be had at college. Oh yes it will.

    As for the “don’t need the money argument” – great! Volunteer! Many of the same skills to be learned and connections to be made.

    To sum up – I do think high school and college kids should work, but it should be a balance, along with everything else in life. School activities and studying *does* take up a lot of time. One semester in college I both had an internship and was writing my senior thesis – that was a lot, and I did not have a part time job during that time. Other times during college and high school, I did.

    Look at the individual situations and see what makes sense. If the money isn’t needed and they’re seriously working hard at school, squeeze in a couple hours of volunteering a week to start out and see how that goes.

  18. Chocolate lover*

    Wholeheartedly agree with Alison. Students should be encouraged to work. I’ve worked with college students for over a decade, and seen entry-level, post-grad positions become more and more competitive. Even an internship or two isn’t always enough, when you’re competing against a person who’s done two internships, AND worked part-time during school. GPA alone isn’t always enough for employers, and many of the employers I’ve worked with would sooner go with someone with more experience and a slightly lower GPA than with someone with no experience.

    Internships themselves can be extremely competitive, and those supposedly “menial” jobs can help demonstrate work ethic, discipline, reliability, etc. It gives employers at least something to work with when it comes to students applying to their first/early professional internships or jobs.

  19. Ad Astra*

    I didn’t learn much at Dairy Queen that helped me understand professional environments, but I learned about I-9’s and W-2’s, and eventually learned about bank accounts, debit cards, and managing my own money. There’s definitely value in that.

    As for set schedules, limited lunch times, and not taking off whenever I want, I learned all that in high school.

    Working in high school is a great idea if your kid needs or wants the money, and if it fits in with commitments like school, sports, church, and other extracurriculars. But I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity.

    1. K.*

      I remember working with someone the summer after I graduated from high school. She was the same age; we were working on a university campus (not the one either of us was attending in the fall). And she had the classic “Wait, I was supposed to make a lot more than this!” reaction to her first paycheck because she didn’t know about taxes.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, I’ve found that people who worked as teens tend to be more up on labor laws (since they tend to vary based on age – in my home state the labor laws were different for 14-15YOs, 16-17YOs, and 18+). But I would strongly recommend that if someone has a teen with a job, they look into their state’s labor laws, which can affect how many and which hours can be worked during the school year, as well as whether they can perform certain tasks. (I always looked young, and occasionally someone would threaten to report my employer for making me work past the set time on a school night – I was in college at the time…)

        1. Chinook*

          “But I would strongly recommend that if someone has a teen with a job, they look into their state’s labor laws, which can affect how many and which hours can be worked during the school year, as well as whether they can perform certain tasks. ”

          I agree but would add that everyone who works for the lower pay scales should know their local labour law (and which ones apply to them). In Canada, it often surprises us which holidays are stats in different provinces and the rules around being paid for them (not as many as you would think). It is one of the things I recommend the summer students look up when they have free time, especially because they fall under Alberta labour law even though company staff fall under federal regulations (the difference being whether or not you are a temp or on staff).

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Good point! Everyone should know labor laws for their area! I was very lucky in my first job – it was in local gov’t, and they definitely made sure the teen workers knew their rights and that the laws were followed. Also, it was very important to them that we get our homework done and keep our grades up, so we never had too many hours scheduled during the school year.

        2. BRR*

          I would recommend they brush up on the laws because from being a long time reader, it seems like a lot of managers either don’t know themselves or take advantage of teens assuming ignorance.

        1. NacSacJack*

          Every paycheck is a surprise. Even in life today. How can I be paid this much yet only get this little? Some days I’d like to be a Libertarian.

        2. BRR*

          I was always ok with paychecks where I worked a few hours. It was when I worked more hours where I was like WTF happened to my money?!? My dad would joke far more than I thought was funny about money being taken out. I’m like yeah I get how taxes work.

        3. K.*

          My dad is a practical guy, particularly where money is concerned, so he did tell me about taxes before I got my first “real” check at 15. (I’d been babysitting before then – all cash, no taxes). I remember him saying “You make $X an hour but you won’t take home $X.” I knew that there would be money “missing” from it, but I didn’t know how much and where it was allocated. At least I was prepared for the blow though! It does sting.

      2. Chinook*

        “And she had the classic “Wait, I was supposed to make a lot more than this!”

        Summer student I am currently working with had that reaction this week. She is paid through the same temp agency I originally used and I let the summer students know they could ask me if they had questions about the process. I then told them to make sure to check their paystubs because mistakes happen (and then I had to explain what a pay stub was). She then came to me and asked why her take home didn’t match what she had been told she was making. It was an eye opening experience for her to learn about payroll taxes (and then to learn that she wouldn’t make anymore if she billed through my company instead of the agency because those taxes would still have to be paid). She just finished her 3rd year of university (yet when I was in my 3rd year, I had been working for 10 years and able to do up my own income tax forms).

        1. Juli G.*

          I still remember the 22 year old new grad who asked for the first three pay periods, “And when is the rest of my my money going to be paid?” We finally had a little come-to-Jesus sit down (myself as HR, Payroll, his manager) with him and after calling his dad to confirm we weren’t scamming him, he believed us.

        2. BRR*

          This reminds me of a former manager’s brother who didn’t know what the stock market was (this was in 2013). I was like, “He must have been very happy the past 5 years then.”

    2. some1*

      “As for set schedules, limited lunch times, and not taking off whenever I want, I learned all that in high school.”

      I would disagree with this point. I think one of the better things about working in high school is learning that the consequences at work are different than at school. In school, students are (supposed to be) treated the same. At work, what is acceptable for me to wear or do not do might be different than my coworker who is meeting with clients. At work, if I miss a deadline, I can’t make it up with an extra credit project. If I am always finishing projects at the 11th hour, I’m not getting evaluated the same way as if I always finish early. If I perform “well enough” at work that’s no guarantee that I will advance.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Those are all great points, though none of them are lessons I learned until I had office jobs and internships. I was just responding to the idea that low-wage work is the best way to learn about short lunch periods and having to show up on time. Don’t most schools expect students to show up on time and provide 30 minutes or less for lunch?

        1. Observer*

          Yes, to both. But, in most schools the consequences for coming late and / or cutting class after lunch are very different than in most jobs, especially things like retail service.

          1. some1*

            This. Granted, I was in high school 20 years ago, but I never heard of someone getting kicked out of school for being late to school a few times or taking too long at lunch. I know of people getting fired for both things – the consequences are generally going to be much more severe at any job than in high school.

        2. Doreen*

          Yes and no. Sure, in high school I was expected to be at school on time , but for both me and my kids , after that we didn’t have to worry about being on time for the rest of the day. Not because it was OK to be late for second period or to take an extra long lunch but because it couldn’t happen accidentally with all those bells ringing and extracurricular activities happening immediately after classes are over. It’s very different to get out of school at two and manage your own time to get to work ( or really any non-school activity ) by four or to be conscious enough of the time to be back at work when your lunch break is over.

      2. MaryMary*

        Totally agree. A school has a duty to provide you with an education. There are consequences if you are late, skip class, or don’t do your work, but they are not the same as the consequences for coming in late or skipping work. Your boss is not going to call your mom or put you in detention.

    3. K (without the period :P)*

      I’ve been filling out W2’s for 10 years and I still don’t understand them…

  20. K.*

    I started mother’s helping at 11, babysitting at 12 (did that through college), and working summers at 15 – but my parents had the same “you have to volunteer” attitude yours did, Alison, so I volunteered at a day care my 13th and 14th summers. (I did a lot of work with kids as a kid and young adult, but that didn’t carry over into my professional life.) I built a strong work ethic this way and I basically supported myself, inasmuch as a teenager living with her parents can. I also learned that I love making my own money. I remember a pair of shoes I had that that my mother loathed, but I had bought them myself with money I earned, so she couldn’t say anything about them. (Well, she told me she hated them a lot, but she couldn’t forbid me to wear them.)

    I don’t have kids but if I did, I’d require them to work. I think it’s important.

    1. K.*

      I should add that I didn’t have a part-time job during the school year. I had a host of babysitting clients and did that regularly, but I didn’t work fast food or retail or anything like that from September to June. My high school was very competitive (sports were required and there was a ton of homework on top of that, plus extracurriculars) so my free time was very limited. I always worked summers though and I had part-time jobs (plural!) in college.

  21. Apollo Warbucks*

    Some of the best times I had working was from 16 – 20 working fast food, retail, bars. There was plenty of time to mess around and have a laugh and it meant I had some spare cash as well.

    My sister never bother working at school or college so she might a PHD but she’s no real life practical experience of working which I think would have been very good for her.

  22. BRR*

    I agree with all of the positives Alison mentioned and I agree with her that internships provide some of these positives. My internships were at offices vs. my jobs which were at a bar and a video store. They both taught me valuable and different things.

    In addition, I think students should have a jobs to at least have something to put on their resume. One or two internships will not stretch that far and employers are usually far more interested in work experience than an extensive education section.

    If they don’t need the money then I say volunteer. Don’t take a job away from somebody who might need it more and I agree with Allegra that it’s a good opportunity to learn about the value of money.

    To the parent who says her kid is too smart for some jobs. You’re doing her a HUGE disservice. Hopefully she’s smart enough to not develop an ego. The truth is some jobs are menial but need to be done. Even if it’s not difficult to do the tasks, you still learn a lot about working in general. Many entry-level jobs are even menial. Don’t build expectations that your daughter can start anywhere but the bottom.

    1. SystemsLady*

      As somebody who was in the gifted program and knew some extremely intelligent people who ended up dropping out of college, I think it is absolutely essential, particularly for “smart” kids, to learn how to get through doing menial tasks. You’ll have a lot of trouble in life if you start avoiding things because they’re too boring and you never learned how to push yourself through it.

        1. NacSacJack*

          -1 Never did learn anything about doing menial work. People treated me differently and I didnt like that at all.

          1. NacSacJack*

            I worked hard and still had people promoted over me, in a union shop!!! Still angry about that.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        As a former gifted teacher, +1000. “Smart” will only take you so far…hard work and determination will take you much, much farther (as research studies show.)

      2. BRR*

        Yeah, raise your hand if you have had a job with 0 menial tasks.

        Keep it up if it was your first job.

      3. Ad Astra*

        I was in the gifted program and had undiagnosed ADHD, so my ability to complete boring tasks (or anything I wasn’t initially good at) was staggeringly low for a long time. The biggest lessons I learned in my late teens and early 20’s all revolved around just showing up consistently and doing the damn work.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I think what bugs me most about that parents statement isn’t with the affect on her daughter, but rather that she’s implying people who work those jobs are all stupid?!

  23. Sunflower*

    I worked 30-40 hours a week all throughout high school and college summer/holiday breaks. Also like Allison I had plenty of time to have fun and get into trouble. I don’t remember missing anything incredibly monumental due to work.

    One of the biggest things I learned was ‘sometimes you have to go to work even if you don’t want to’. It was actually kind of alarming in HS the number of people who would tell me to just call out of work if I couldn’t get the time off. We’ve all been in some jobs where we weren’t our best self and goofed off, not realizing how unprofessional it is. Thankfully I had that job my senior year of HS. It’s really better to learn all of those things and get that stuff out of the way early on as opposed to your first full-time job when you’re supporting yourself and trying to build a career.

    Not saying this will happen to everyone but I had best friend in HS who’s parent didn’t want her to work throughout school so she could focus on her studies. Fast forward- she’s 26, changes jobs/careers every time any little thing she doesn’t like comes along and can not become independent from her parents. I really think if she had worked, she would realize that 95% of people are not working their dream job (bc it probably doesn’t exist) and sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t wanna do to get by.

  24. SystemsLady*

    I think there is an argument to be made for not working during the school week. I made the mistake of working weeknights consistently during high school when I was also in clubs, taking college composition after school, and even involved in the pit for an orchestra! There wasn’t a night of the week where I was done with obligations before 7 or 8 (more commonly 9 or 10), and I really regret that. While the money was nice, I should’ve pushed much harder to work only weekends, or perhaps avoided working during the school year entirely.

    But during the summer – especially part time – there’s not too much of an argument against that, I say.

    1. Kassy*


      Working and time management are important things for teens/young adults to experience, but not burnout. There’s plenty of time for that later. And they’re establishing norms now that may be hard to shake later. If they think going nonstop 16-18 hours a day is the norm, they won’t take care of themselves later.

  25. Charlotte Collins*

    Regarding “I don’t want my daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way.” First of all, almost all my high school friends had jobs, and they started at the bottom, like everyone else. It wasn’t a waste of time, it was just what you did. If someone thought they were “too smart” to work like everyone else, they’d get an earful. (And I’m GenX – getting a job was part of paying for college to get a better job.)

    In addition, this is how I think of it when people look down on “menial work”: If all the VPs in most companies didn’t come in to work for a few days or a week, things would pretty much go on as usual, maybe some stuff would be delayed. If the entire janitorial staff didn’t show up for a few days, there would be a huge uproar. The people who do “menial work” have a vital role, and I wish more people were able to recognize that.

  26. SystemsLady*

    I should say it was only when I had the composition class and orchestra obligation that it was this bad – normally I had some nights “off”. But that was still a couple months, and by far the busiest stretch of my life, including my adult life.

  27. AnonEMoose*

    I didn’t work in high school, except the very occasional babysitting thing. This was partly because my parents wanted me to focus on activities, and partly for practical/transportation reasons. I did work part time through most of college, and it did teach me a lot about managing time and money, and reinforced lessons about being dependable and so on that my parents had tried to teach me.

    The down side, in a way, was that some of the workplace norms I absorbed didn’t, at first, serve me well in an office environment. My part time gig in college was security, so I got used to being largely on my own and having a pretty large degree of control over when I took breaks, etc. (unless something happened and I needed to call someone else in for whatever reason, and depending a bit on what duties I had on any given night).

    And my bosses largely trusted me to do what I said I was doing/was supposed to do, plus the environment helped keep the politics to a dull roar. So getting into an office environment with people hanging over my shoulder, backbiting, etc., was kind of a shock, and it took me awhile to adjust. Although, one thing I did learn from my security experience – gossip is the only thing I am aware of that exceeds the speed of light…that lesson was particularly handy when I started doing office work after graduation.

    So I think it depends a bit on the kind of job, and the kind of work the student is interested in. It took me awhile to realize that different workplaces and jobs have different norms, and start learning to adapt.

  28. Katie the Fed*

    I think it’s so important! I got a job in high school against my parents wishes (they wanted me to focus on school – I actually did better at school with less free time to screw around).

    In addition to the reasons listed, I see so many other benefits –

    – Learning the value of a dollar. When I started thinking of money in terms of “those jeans are 6 hours of exhausting work” I learned to prioritize and budget really well. Unless you’ve been the one folding shirts or cleaning up baby vomit or flipping burgers, I don’t think you really get that.

    – Time management. In my case, working meant better grades because I was forced to manage my time better.

    – Being a responsible member of society and not the kind of asshole who thinks menial jobs are beneath you or your precious spawn. Learn a sense of appreciation for the opportunities and lifestyle you have.

    1. Erin*

      You bring up an excellent point with time management, and the fact that you had to budget your schoolwork time more when you had a job. It’s like that saying, “If you need something done, give it to a busy person.”

      1. neverjaunty*

        As a busy person who is often on the receiving end of that saying I disagree strongly. ;)

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      My parents didn’t want me to work either, but we all agreed quickly that I wasted much less time when I had to budget it well.

  29. The IT Manager*

    I agree with everything Alison said. Kids should have jobs during school. Possibly not during the high school year if the child is heavily engaged in a extracurriculars. One of my brothers worked during high school because he wanted money to spend on hanging out with his friends. My other brother was in band, and I played a sport which was a full time commitment everyday after school for two to three hours, then homework.

    I didn’t work in high school or college. I did do a bit of work study my freshmen year (in the work placement office ironically) where the stakes were low, and got a job my senior year as computer lab monitor where the stakes were probably even lower (sit at computer and wait for someone to ask you a question).

    I didn’t want to work because of the obvious reason less time to do exactly what I wanted to do. Also I would have been incredibly nervous about working and the act of getting a job would present the possibility of being rejected (I definitely have some asocial tendencies/fear of social rejection which impact my life). I think it would have been better to be forced to deal with those issues earlier than later. If it wasn’t for the fact that I joined the military out of college, I dread to think how I might have gotten my first real job. Looking back I can’t believe how lucky everything turned out for me, but it could have been so much worse because I was unprepared for finding a job out of college.

    It’s actually doing a kid a disservice to allow them not work at something, not to experience the hiring process, not to experience being held accountable, not to experience the work environment. My parents let me get away with something, but I don’t think it helped me in the end. I college I did interview for a summer job which I didn’t get. I now recognized I interviewed terribly and was totally unprepared. If I had needed a job and had more interviews I would have eventually had to get better at it. Heck, I did a terrible interview in my early 30s because I had little experience interviewing. Given all that, I feel incredibly lucky to be employed now. And thanks to this website I know how to interview well if I need it again. I’ll defiantly need some practice though. Working in school gives kids that experience and practice at an early age which will help them succeed in the future.

  30. SJP*

    I’m a very firm believer in work experience while in school. My first job was working as a server in a bakery when I was (in the later part of secondary school -basically what we call High School in the UK) and all throughout my sixth form (a sort of school before university) which I worked at weekends and over the holidays working doing reception and admin jobs. As the OP wrote, it helped me get used to a schedule, being depended upon, learning actual work skills and when it came to leaving university I got a pretty good paying entry level that i beat off others of a similar age due to having more experience.
    It’s standed me in such good stead for my career now as I still use a lot of the skills I learnt while at my school jobs.
    It really is a stepping stone and when I have children and they get to school I am going to thoroughly encourage them to get a job and learn some skills!
    Yes when I think back I’d have loved all summer holidays with my friends (and all the other stuff you wanna do) but i’m glad I worked and gained skills back then!

  31. Katie the Fed*

    I wanted to add:

    My husband and I have discussed this a fair bit in terms of how we want to raise our future children. My husband didn’t have a job until after he graduated college, and he’s never seemed any worse for it, or entitled, or anything like that.

    For me having a job was a great thing – gave me some independence and all the things I mentioned above.

    I think how we handle it with our kids will depend a lot on whether or not our kids are showing signs of being entitled brats. We both agree that the first sign of entitled brattiness will result in them getting jobs.

    1. Melissa*

      Yeah, I think this is a big point, too. I didn’t have my first part-time job until college, but my parents raised me not to be entitled and spoiled. They talked to me very candidly about money, work, and professionalism – so things like “how many hours did my dad have to work to pay for these jeans?” and “ugh mom got like 2 hours of sleep today but she’s still going to work tonight even though she really doesn’t want to” were modeled to me early on. The idea that I’d have to go to work and slog through even if I didn’t want to, or if I was feeling under the weather, never came as a shock to me.

      And when you grow up poor/working-class money is kind of an inescapable issue, so budgeting kind of was not a problem for me. I knew what happened when you didn’t pay your rent because I’d seen family get evicted; I knew what happened when you didn’t pay the heat bill in winter. I was terrified of that happening, so bills always came out first.

    2. Moss*

      That’s a good idea. My husband and I had the entitled brat talk when the kids were younger and I think we managed to do okay with them, but now that they are teens attending affluent public high schools with lots of rich friends, the entitled brattiness and “poor me’s” are creeping back into our lives.

      Their rich friends aren’t even spoiled–they come from very hardworking families where the parents are usually out working until 8 or 9 at night. The kids have little free time because they are either working in the family businesses or studying. Unfortunately, my own kids seem to ignore that part and just focus on the fact that their friends have all this wonderful expensive stuff and they don’t. Hopefully getting a job will cure some of that attitude.

  32. cv*

    I think it depends a little bit on what the alternative to working is. If it’s a choice between working during the summer and hanging out at the pool, then working is definitely better, but there are a lot of other options that are kind of in the middle. One of my friends found an academic summer camp-program that let him take classes he was really interested in and connect with kids from other places with shared interests, which wasn’t always easy for smart nerdy kids in my school, and that was really valuable for him. I spent my high school summers involved with a community youth theater program – being a stage manager or technical director was a great experience for me as teenager and I learned a ton, but I never got more than a $500 stipend for the summer (and I was putting in hundreds of hours).

    I also tutored after school in high school, worked an office job the summer after my freshman year in college, and had a work-study job in college. I do think there’s a lot of value in having some paid work experience on a resume, not just volunteer and student group type experience. But there’s a big world out there, and exactly what type of academic, paid, or volunteer experience will add the most to a resume or be most educational will vary based on a kid’s interests, financial situation, and goals.

    1. NacSacJack*

      I think kids today have way more opportunities than we did 35-40 years ago (Am I really that old?).

      1. cv*

        To be fair, *some* kids have more opportunities. I grew up middle to upper-middle class, so my jobs were about pocket money and saving for the future, not about having to pay for my own clothes or helping my parents make rent. I went to a fancy college, and lots of my classmates had done programs that cost money during their summers, like the academic one I mentioned, and lots more who didn’t have to work if they didn’t want to. There are plenty of kids who get a job the moment they can because their families need the money. It’s particularly frustrating that colleges sometimes look for volunteer work and academic extracurriculars more than work experience, because it just entrenches class divides even more.

    2. Kassy*

      +1 Love this! If my daughter found a program like the ones you describe, I would want her to participate in that. As long as she is being productive and still learning those skills, it doesn’t much matter to me how she is doing about it.

    3. Observer*

      It sounds like you got some really good and healthy experience.

      I think the key here is that you and your friend did stuff that was actually productive and / or educational in some form or fashion. It seems to me that money is far from the only, or even major in many cases, issue to think about.

  33. MK*

    I never had a job until after I finished law school and I never had any problem adjusting to the expectations of a work environment. However, my parents actively taught me about work ethic and how things worked in the “real” world; my mother, who was a housewife, explained to me how she managed the household as if it was paid work and my father took me with him to his bussiness and showed me the workings of it. So, while I wouldn’t say that it is absolutely necessary for a kid to work in highschool and university, it is certainly necessary for them to be prepared for the work environment somehow. I am doubtfull that someone who thinks their child is too smart to waste her time doing menial work or who thinks of any work as menial or a waste of time would prepare their kid adequately.

    Also, I get really annoyed with the idea that “youth is the time to have FUN!!!”; it’s just pack and parcel with the whole idealization of childhood and youth in our society. I did have fun when I was at school, but I have a lot more now that I have the money and the independence to do what I really like, instead of choosing from a handfull of age-appropriate activities that happened to be in vogue when I was a teenager.

    1. Melissa*

      The idealization of youth and childhood is a really good point, because the flip side is that as a teenager I thought I was pretty much going to have a boring life after I was 25, and shrivel up and die after 30 or something. I would say that life at 29 is way more fun than it was in high school – I do meaningful work, I make my own money, I’m way more confident in my own skin and I’m better at doing friendships without all the petty adolescent worries and competitions getting in the way.

  34. T3k*

    I worked, sort of, during high school. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a car where I live, it’s next to impossible to get anywhere (public transportation sucks). So I worked only on the weekends, when a parent could drive me to my work place. Summers were a bit better, but only because the farm let me arrive around 7:30am (my mom worked really early so she was able to drop me off and then pick me up after she got off work around 5). But if it had been any other summer job, I couldn’t have done it because I had no car or ride for the different shift times and so I’d either be stuck at the work place for an additional 4-5 hours or spending what little money I had earned from walking around the mall area. In hindsight, maybe I could have tried to find 2 part time summer jobs at the mall, but teenager me wasn’t thinking that.

  35. Working during school*

    I think it has both positives and negatives. For me, yes, absolutely, I was able to identify the cluelessness of my peers. But I was also busy all the time and grabbing naps in between classes whenever I could. Yes, I used money for school and bills, but I also burned through a lot of it on consumables. Eventually, I got really burnt out from all of that working, which definitely affected my stamina in the long run. I think it’s one of those things where yes, working yield rewards, but it may be important to modulate the level of responsibility on top of the academics.

  36. MaryMary*

    My high school vice principal said the most valuable thing his students learned from their summer job was what they did NOT want to do for the rest of their lives.

    I’m one of those students. I thought about working with special needs children, and learned after six weeks as a camp counselor for developmentally disabled kids that it would ruin me emotionally to do that full time. I thought about being a doctor, but after a stressful day as a cashier reduced me to tears I decided to find a career where the stress level was somewhere under “responsible for life or death.”

    Especially when education costs so much, it’s really important for young people to get some experience under their belt before choosing a career. It’s as important to know if a customer/client facing job would be a good fit, or if sitting at a desk all day is something they could handle, or if they like the kind of detail work that goes into a lot of STEM jobs as it is to consider if you’re good with numbers or good with words.

  37. Little Old Lady Who?*

    I agree – my parents did not instill in me any sense of urgency to go out and get a job, so I didn’t get even a part-time job until my last semester of college, and THAT was hard to get with no work experience. I definitely felt less equipped to join the work force after college than most of my peers.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      My parents both came from a working-class background and were pretty insistent that we get jobs and keep up our grades. (We also got help paying for school but were expected to contribute our share.) I think getting jobs was more important for them, because they had both been working since their teens. (Earlier in my father’s case, as he did errands for my grandfather’s business.)

    2. SH*

      Same situation. I got a desk worker position in college because a Residence Hall Coordinator I knew happened to be walking by during my interview. When I moved to New York and started really working I had a rude awakening.

  38. Juli G.*

    The owner of the business in my first job was a terrible cheapskate. I was often scheduled for shifts by myself. In an ice cream franchise. In a tourist town. In July.

    I learned how to find and pay a plumber on weekends. How to make tough decisions (we ran out of milk, whipped cream, and bananas with a line 15 long. I quietly locked the cash register and announced I would get some from the back. Then I slipped out and went to the mini-mart to restock and returned apologizing that the whipped cream had been buried in the back of the cooler.) I received a key and opened the store myself. I did inventory. All at 16!

    And I never missed out on any fun. I usually worked Friday night so Saturday was available (or a late movie even on Fridays). My manager was actually cool with working around my game schedules and school events.

  39. A*

    I definitely expect our kids to work during the summers, at minimum. I grew up in a summer resort town and it was pretty easy to find a job there. I waited tables at a breakfast place, nannied, scooped ice cream, and worked retail over various summers–all really good experiences. If teens work with other teens, they will definitely still find time to make friends at work. Working will put them into contact with other teens as well.

    We still had plenty of time for bonfires on the beach, boating, swimming, and other leisures too. Just took a bit of coordination and communication–always good skills for teens.

  40. Caryatis*

    Not to mention the value to a young adult of having money that they can spend without asking a parent’s permission. Work = money = freedom.

  41. matcha123*

    I got my first job at eight delivering newspapers from the time I was in third grade. I continued until the ninth grade, stopping once for a few months. Then I worked at a public library for about eight years after that from the tenth grade until graduating university and moving overseas to work.

    I am biased in my reply that I truly believe people should work. However, when I was in high school, the well-off students all got part-time jobs the summers of 11th and 12th grades to pad their university applications. A number of others worked for six months or so during the school year to again, pad their college applications. These were smart kids, but so entitled. They quit their jobs because they didn’t feel like going, and since their families were well-off, it didn’t matter.

    That doesn’t change my opinion that people should work. Work at a fast food place. Work retail. It doesn’t matter, but it should be for at least a full year. People need to learn that you can’t just quit when things don’t go your way/you don’t feel like going to work/ etc.

    1. matcha123*

      Hmm…and before someone accuses me of lying about starting work at eight, the company would “give” a younger kid a paper route with a parent’s permission. I delivered papers after school and on weekend mornings. I am definitely not a morning person, but waking up at 6 or 7 to roll papers and have them delivered by 8 was just something that had to be done. Getting tips on Xmas/New Year’s along with other treats was a huge perk for elementary school me. And a lot of the customers bought Girl Scout cookies from me.

      1. My Fake Name is Laura*

        I worked at a newspaper and my dad managed carriers for awhile. You’re definitely not lying. We sometimes had entire families delivering several routes!

  42. Student*

    I think you and your friends should push your kids to get jobs purely for the exposure to other ways of life.

    The fact that this is even a question tells me that you and your friends are in a vastly different socioeconomic situation than I grew up in. Good for you! However, this isn’t a choice for many families. Getting a job as soon as you’re able is a requirement, and students might be lucky to use your money to spend on yourself- more likely, you needed the money to help pay the family rent, buy groceries, or support your younger siblings. Many kids will take their first legitimate job at ~16, but will have been working under the table since they were ~13.

    I think it’s good for wealthy kids to get some perspective on what benefits their parents’ wealth affords them. I think it’s good for them to see that not everyone lives at the same standard they do. It teaches compassion, it teaches some humility, it teaches some respect for others. It teaches them WHY they ought to get an education and strive to make the most of their parents’ advantages – so they don’t end up stocking diapers and toilet paper at 11:30 PM every day for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, it also teaches them to be kind to the waiter and the store clerk.

    1. Ad Astra*

      This is a great point. These kids need to spend some time learning about how other people live.

    2. Loose Seal*

      I will never forget being at a restaurant for a family dinner and my brother-in-law’s sister took a roll from the bread basket and threw it at the waiter to get his attention. You could see from the open mouths at the table which ones of us had worked in food service. His sister was not at all embarrassed or apologetic for doing that. I’d like to think that even if I hadn’t gone to work early in life, I’d still have the manners not to throw bread but I do know for certain that having jobs working with the public has made me much more kind to everyone who is working.

      1. Kassy*

        I have never worked in a restaurant in my life, and I would never. Ever. EVER throw bread at a server. My mouth would have been hanging open too! I probably would have felt the need to tip extra to make up for that! But you make a good point that being there brings a new level of empathy to a situation like that.

      2. Observer*

        I never worked in food service either. But O.M.G.

        I think my parents would have disowned me for something like that. For one thing, you NEVER EVER EVER threw food. (My parents lived through starvation, so that probably colored their views…) And, throwing things at people!? That would have gotten a 3 year old sent to her room, in our house! I can’t imagine how our parents would have reacted to that kind of thing in anyone coming close to adulthood.

        No, you don’t have to work in food service, or anything like that to learn basic decency!

        On the other hand, jobs like that can be useful to teach people a little empathy.

      3. K.*

        This was an ADULT that did this?? (Even doing it as a child would be unacceptable, but at least a kid has the excuse not to know better.)

    3. Chinook*

      “I think you and your friends should push your kids to get jobs purely for the exposure to other ways of life”

      I agree with this due to DH’s observations of his coworkers. Some of his fellow cops went from high school to university to training to their first posting and never knew what it meant to not be successful (and assumed a lack of university meant a lack of intelligence on the part of you and the rest of your family. They actually asked DH how he learned to spell so well and how he knew so much history for a college drop out and assumed my education level matched his). They had very little empathy for the public they were dealing with and the stress that comes with crappy jobs, bad bosses and uncertain incomes. The cops who had life experience in the form of families, previous careers and/or had been in the military (which was taken in lieu of a university education) all approached situations differently and with more empathy in the first few years (though this leveled out with experience on the job).

    4. matcha123*

      I wish I could say that were true, but as someone who grew up poor but was in classes with the rich kids, high schoolers don’t give two ishes about the poverty of others. All they care about when it comes to poverty is having something good to write on their university apps…usually along the lines of how much they learned about poverty by working in a soup kitchen / tutoring poor kids or whatever else is hot at that time.
      Once they get into university and are around their other upper-middle class friends they start cracking the jokes about the poor, etc. Parents have to be the ones that teach that compassion.

      I care about the retail workers, custodians, waiters, etc. and treat them as humans because that’s the behavior my mom modeled to me.

      1. Student*

        I had a lot of good experiences with the couple of rich kids in my high school. It isn’t always going to work out perfectly – kids are self-centered no matter what their income level – but I’d like to think that the rich kids learned something from being exposed to people like me. If nothing else, a few of them learned that if the people like me see them slacking off, we’ll happily try to claw away scholarships / good grades / opportunities that the rich kids assumed they were guaranteed.

      2. themmases*

        It’s pretty clear that this isn’t true. Some kids can be horrible, yes, and privilege and entitlement don’t help with that. But young people can also be extremely idealistic and it’s insulting to suggest that they all do things just to put them on college applications. Your comment makes it sound like only wealthy kids who are sneering at poor people behind their hands even apply to college.

        Maybe it was an artifact of that specific time (the first election I remember really paying attention to was Bush/Gore, and 9/11 happened within my first couple of weeks of high school), but my peers were a very engaged and conscientious bunch despite being really privileged for the most part. I’m not sure if I would have been so active on behalf of a lot of great causes from a young age if my classmates hadn’t also been doing a lot of work to get others involved. Most of them still hold the same opinions long after they’ve filled out their last college or even grad school application, and I’ve noticed that many classmates who weren’t that strident have also joined helping professions as adults. I became even more focused on anti-racist and public health work as an adult as a direct result of classes I took and jobs I held.

        I’m willing to believe that maybe my peer group and I have just always been really weird, but not that most young people choose all their commitments cynically while being cruel to others. Most adolescents are not wealthy, and actually more of them are poor now than 8 years ago.

        1. matcha123*

          I don’t think that my high school peers are horrible people. They just are not interested in poverty and I was in highly competitive classes. Everyone knew what you had to do to game the system. Including something about volunteering with poor people in your college essays was one of the boxes people tried to check. Having a part-time job was another.
          “Oh, it’s the summer between 10th and 11th grade, better get a job/volunteer over the summer so I can put it on my application!” For most of them, if someone was poor, they probably deserved it. It’s nice your peers were better, but I don’t think that working with poor people is going to change the perception of the average well-off kid who is only working because their mom heard from her friend that universities prefer kids with volunteer / work hours.

      3. Observer*

        If they were actually working at a job ALONGSIDE people from those backgrounds, there is a good chance that their outlook would change, though. Of course some people are just not open to learning. But, there really is a difference between working with people and “serving” them, especially if the set up insulates them from the full reality that the recipients of their volunteer efforts live with.

        The one exception is tutoring. Any kid with the kind of attitude you describe is NOT going to do well tutoring kids with a difficult background. And, any well run program is going to keep an eye on that, and pull a tutor with that kind of attitude, ASAP. (Of course, some programs are NOT well run, but overall, it’s not likely that kid with that level of lack of empathy is going to last a full term tutoring.)

        1. Alma*

          My first babysitting job was the first people I asked to write me a letter of reference (for an award in 9th grade). My second babysitting job recommend me to the restaurant they frequented once I was in college and could serve drinks (ummmm in the late 1970’s). We had the best educated staff (including the dish room) in town. If we were home for four weeks in Dec/Jan and wanted to work, we would just show up.

          All these years later we are still in touch with some of those people. We learned a lot about ourselves, the perception of customers, what goes on in kitchens, and how to break our butts hustling when it is an especially busy night.

          Two things stand out in my mind (besides my first $100+ night for tips – it was 1979 I think): as I counted back change to a customer for a large bill, his smile kept getting wider. “What University do you attend?” he asked. Another was an early table, in the corner, an older couple. The wife was having difficulty speaking. I didn’t know what was her challenge, but I addressed her, and made eye contact with her, as her husband helped her order. I continued my “patter” with both of them as their dinner progressed. When they were preparing to leave, the husband took me aside and thanked me for providing such excellent service. His wife had Parkinson’s Disease, and most people would ignore her, speaking only with him. They both had enjoyed “normalcy” – as much as was possible at that time.

          Yes. Everyone should spend time working a “service” job.

    5. MaryMary*

      So true, in so many ways! When I was 20 and working extended holiday hours at the mall, I wondered why these morons were doing their Christmas shopping at 11pm on a Tuesday. Five years later, working a professional full time plus job and balancing family and holiday travel, I was doing my last minute shopping at 11pm on a Tuesday. It all comes full circle.

    6. aebhel*

      Yeah, that was my thought as well. We weren’t flat broke when I was a kid, but we didn’t have much money, and I worked through college–not for ‘experience’ or fun money but because I liked living inside and being able to keep the lights on.

  43. Laufey*

    My parents’ view was that while my siblings and I were in school, we were professional students – and were expected to maintain grades and school activities (sports, clubs, etc.) accordingly. Volunteering for short term events (Toys for Tots, weekends at the library, food drive labor, etc) was encouraged as were babysitting/yard work jobs throughout the community. During summers, we were expected to work, intern, or otherwise contribute usefully to society. (I think there was one summer I was not required to work, and it was the summer we moved across the country (so I would have worked for a month each two different states due to changes in school schedules)- and in exchange, I was my parents’ lackey – I did all the grocery shopping, errand running, lawn mowing, and a significant portion of the packing/unpacking.) All of us had a least one job where we said “Like hell if I’m ever going to do that again” and each of us had a crazy/bad boss/coworker to deal with. Plus money to move out with at the end of college.

  44. Laufey*

    I am firmly convinced that everyone should work for tips at least once in their life. It would add so much compassion/understanding to society.

    1. PEBCAK*

      This came up recently when my friends decided to have a TGIFriday’s endless appetizers competition. There were people who actually didn’t know that you have to tip on the undiscounted amount. This waitress brought you eight plates of food and three sodas, and you are gonna tip her 20% of $13???

      1. Laufey*

        Don’t get me started. Right up there with people who don’t tip on the extra entree because they used a two-fer coupon, or who don’t tip at all because they used a Groupon/similar thing.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Right?! People have no clue food servers have to pay taxes on 10% of their sales since restaurants became computerized so if you get stuffed you’re essentially paying taxes on income you never got , And, you have to tip out yourself upwards of 35% to the busboy , the bartender and sometimes the kitchen or food runner

          1. PEBCAK*

            But I think the worst part is that it just doesn’t occur to them…once it’s pointed out, they fix it, and it makes me realize how many servers get screwed just out of stupidity.

            1. Anonymousse*

              Hee hee, our busboys would go out to the back of the restaurant, near the parking area, and make ice bombs from the crushed ice for the bar, and under cover of the dumpster, would throw said ice bombs at the cars of tables that stiffed us. Yes, they were losing out, too.

    2. Loose Seal*

      I’d rather we got rid of the U.S.’s tipping culture and pay people what their jobs are worth. But in the meantime, I absolutely agree with you.

      1. Marcela*

        Absolutely. It is a complete disgrace we live in a society where it is acceptable that some job does not paid a decent salary, using the trick that customers have to pay an extra part. I’m not opposed to the “extra”, in the sense that I always tip because my opposition to the system does not have anything to do to the necessities of the people actually serving me, so if the stip system disappear I would be paying the same money. It’s the notion that you can have a job where you are not paid what that job is worth using a cheap excuse what angers me.

    3. literateliz*

      Ooooh, the other day I was jammed into an express bus next to a woman who was monologuing to her friend about how she didn’t think she should have to tip because “They’re doing their job, why should I have to pay them extra?” We are in a state where servers get paid full minimum wage (not $2.65 or whatever obscene amount it is in some states), and I think she probably didn’t know that that’s not the case in every state, but man, it was hard to keep my mouth shut and even now I kinda wish I had said something to her. (I agree with Loose Seal that our ridiculous tipping culture should be done away with, but this woman didn’t make that leap; she just didn’t want to tip.)

      1. Ad Astra*

        I was taught it was rude not to tip long before I understood the economics of the situation. People who make the “Why should I have to pay someone extra for doing his job?” argument come off as so, so rude to me.

  45. Amber Rose*

    Mom got me a ton of volunteering jobs at her work and with the MSSC when I was a kid, and I actually got my first job in junior high when I was 12, through my school’s work study program. Like the fast food version of an unpaid internship, I guess. They did hire me for real after the program ended.

    All of those things were tons of fun. I loved meeting people outside the tiny world of school, and I loved having my own money and not needing to beg my parents for new games and stuff. I chose to continue working in high school.

    I don’t feel I lost any part of my childhood. I spent a lot of time playing. I learned right off that work can be fun, which is a better attitude for kids than the idea of work being awful.

    1. some1*

      “I loved meeting people outside the tiny world of school”

      This is another good point. Not every high school student is popular or has a lot of friends or the wherewithall to go out and meet new people besides school and maybe a place of worship until they go to college or get out on their own.

  46. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

    I spent my high school years in a rural community and it was the culture that everyone had some sort of after school job (babysitting, lawn mowing, grocery bagging) or at least worked in the summers. I learned how to budget, how to manage money (including savings) and how to balance work, play, school, sports, travel, family time and church. My employer (McDonald’s locally owned franchise) even gave me a very generous college scholarship. (And I can do math in my head faster than I can use a calculator because I worked drive-thru.)

    And now that I hire many of your kids as my interns, I find that the kids who have some work experience are the ones who show up on time, communicate with me if they are running late/need help with an assignment and generally “get shit done”. The ones who flake? Are the ones who have never had a job and have never been held accountable.

    We are lucky enough to have two AmeriCorps members serving at our office and Member #1 is the classic overprotected child of a family that wanted her to focus only on studies and didn’t work in high school or college – even in the summers. While she’s great on paper (high GPA, lots of extracurriculars), she’s (even after 9 months) working at barely 40% of capacity because the concept of showing up on time, taking small amounts of initiative and completing projects is beyond her ability because no one has ever held her accountable for anything. Member #2? Worked all the way through high school and college part time, shows up early, gets everything done and then creates new projects (with work plans, schedules and resource lists) and checks in to make sure she’s on track. She’s responsible, reliable and on paper, looks like less than great. She’s got a mediocre GPA, one or two extracurriculars but .. she interned several places, has been working reliably since she was 16 and I trust this 22 year old with projects that I can’t give to 50 year olds.

    Yes, it’s just one example but I have dozens. If you have kids, PLEASE have them work outside of academics even if it’s babysitting or lawn care or shoveling snow. Volunteering is great but it needs to be consistent (a weekly shift at the animal shelter, monthly food drives).

  47. TotesMaGoats*

    My sister and I both worked PT and summers during high school and then during college. High school was retail and college was in a hospital for my sister and at my college for me. Our parents saw the value in having to meet someone else’s requirements, manage money, form working relationships and in general have experience in “the grind.” During HS, we did that while in marching band, taking honors and/or AP courses and being very active in our church. We learned stuff, got good grades and had our own money to spend. Plus is helped to push each of us into our respective careers. I’m in higher ed and my sister is a nurse.

    My son will definitely have some sort of job through HS and college. You can have a job, be active in school and other activities and still have “fun”. It just takes time management and commitment to a goal….something that is important to know how to do as an adult.

  48. Ad Astra*

    I grew up in the town where our state’s largest university is located, so finding a retail job in high school was next to impossible. I was so jealous of all the college kids working at The Gap while I was ruining all my shoes at Dairy Queen. I’m even more jealous now that I hear these stories of high schoolers working retail. (Not that retail is easy work, just that it involves less mopping, and I hated mopping.)

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Trust me – there is mopping in retail. How do you think that the tile in the front of some of the retail stores gets clean. :) On the other hand, you don’t have to buy new work pants as often, due to chocolate syrup and chocolate dip stains…

      1. Ad Astra*

        I guess it would depend on the store. There was no mopping when I worked at Old Navy, but that was my only retail experience.

    2. ancolie*

      I worked part time at a garage and one of my jobs was cleaning the garage floors. You had to hose it down (making it super slippery mixing with all the oil and grease), scatter-throw the weird powdered cleaner that was pale peach as dry powder, but turned neon green when wet, scrub the whole floor with a stiff-bristled push broom towards the sewer drain tunnel/pipe* at the garage’s center, rinse the whole floor and squeegee it (again to the sewer). The manhole cover had to be off and the pipe alllllways

      1. ancolie*

        Wtf, my tablet submitted my post mid-typing! Anyway:

        The pipe was alllllways filled about waist deep with the … floor scunge. Water, cleaner, dirt, oil, grease, all mixed into a pale green-brown color. A thick layer of goo settled at the bottom. How do I know the depth and texture of it? Because several people (thank GOD not me) had slipped into it while cleaning the floors. ::barrrrrf:: did I mention there were no shower/cleaning facilities there?

        * not LITERALLY to the actual city sewers but to some underground tank. Had the same manholes, though.

  49. Today's Satan*

    I started babysitting at age 9, then got my first full-time job (in fast-food) at age 12 (I lied about my age), and except for a few months off here and there for broken bones and surgeries (and recouping after a layoff), I have been working ever since. Yes, working during my teens helped me land full-time, professional office jobs while still in college, but at age 48 I am Worn Out. I am so tired of working.

    I think there’s a happy medium to be had between “Fun, all the time, for fun’s sake!” and “Work, all the time, because Responsibility and Money!”

    1. matcha123*

      I am following in your footsteps. I have been working most of my life with two or three “breaks” that have been about six months each between jobs. I have to work to live and I have no illusions that I’ll ever be able to retire. I am so worn out and I know that I can’t talk about it because people my age aren’t supposed to be tired.
      I’m especially tired of the sentiment that since I’m younger, I obviously have only been working for a few years and I need to start from the bottom and prove myself. I feel like I proved myself long ago…

      1. Plus-ing the crap outta this one*

        My ex used to give me that “proving yourself” nonsense. I was like, there’s a whole career that preceded you.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Babysitting at 9? In many states, it’s illegal to leave a child under 12 unattended. I don’t blame you one bit for being worn out.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        It was legal back then. Of course we were also expected to walk 1 mile to school by ourselves. And we had guns in the house. Chemistry sets had real chemicals. You could still buy ingredients for gun powder from the pharmacist.
        I started feeling worn out when I was in my 50’s too. I realized that my employer was demanding more time and it just wasn’t my age.

    3. Plus-ing the crap outta this one*

      A thousand times yes. Thank you for posting this. I’m also in that “you’re too young to talk about tired” age bracket. My peers who did not work during school have whizzed by me professionally, and I feel pretty loser-y for not being where they are. I almost wish I hadn’t had the character-building work experience early on. I’m not sure it was worth it for me, personally.

  50. Anonymous Ninja*

    I think students should work and if at all possible, in something somewhat related to what they think they want to study. For example, when I was in high school I worked at a veterinarian’s office. Sure, I cleaned cages and mopped the floors, but it really helped me have a better understanding of what working as a veterinarian was like than what I could learn by reading online.

  51. Ali*

    I worked part time during high school and college, as my parents didn’t want us kids (I have three siblings) not doing anything while in school or doing the summers, though they didn’t charge for contributions to the house or anything until after college. I learned a lot in my food service job at college and while working in collections for my dad’s company (talk about something I NEVER want to do again!), but I don’t think I did “working in college” correctly. Looking back, I should have looked for jobs in my field more, but my adviser said I couldn’t work in the school communications office for credit, and I didn’t even think to get a job at the newspaper in town, though I was on my college paper staff and did an internship at a weekly publication. When I came out in 2008, it really wasn’t enough in a downward economy. If I had it back, I’d definitely have done more than one internship or educated myself better on what I’d need to do while in school.

  52. Stranger than fiction*

    Yes yes and yes. I can’t say yes enough that kids should get some work experience while still in school.

    My dad did very well yet we lived modestly and as soon as my sisters and I turned 15 , he suggested we look for a part time job. He could have bought us all a brand new car but instead made us save and then matched what we saved upon graduating high school so we could by a used car. He didn’t want us dependent and taught us to make it on our own as much as possible. I’m glad he did it.

    That’s just my story, but my other thought is that in this ever changing world , not all kids are cut out for traditional post secondary education and by working and being amongst other working successful adults, they may find they want to learn code online or aomething like that and go straight to work after high school.

  53. Chickaletta*

    As someone whose parents didn’t want them working during high school or college in order to “focus on my studies”, I have pretty strong opinions about this. And that is that I WISH I had a job throughout college. It is one of my only regrets.

    But my reasons are a little different from the LWs and Allison’s, because I was never the type of person to show up at work late or not understand how to dress at work. My problems were that 1) I didn’t have any concept how what I was learning related to a job and 2) I didn’t know what I wanted to be, and job titles like “engineer,” “bank manager”, or “computer programer” meant nothing to me. I literally had no idea what people in those jobs did all day. So how was I sopposed to know that was what I wanted to do????

    Going in green to the working world at 22 meant I just didn’t have a leg up in the professional world. I spent years, YEARS, throughout my 20s frustrated at the menial work I was given in the office. I spent a lot of time questioning my self-worth because all I did was update spreadsheets with information other people gave to me. As a teenager who was told that I was really smart and could do anything I wanted with my life, who studied abroad, who spent hours debating international finance and economic mechanisms with professors and classmates, the reality of work was a slap in the face. If I had just had some real-life experience, I might have not wasted quite so much time jumping from job to job, career to career, wondering what the hell it was all about.

    1. Manders*

      I agree! My college encouraged the belief that a diploma would allow us to skip “menial” work–I even remember the career center bringing students in to talk to us about how they “held out” for higher level jobs in the middle of the recession. I really had no idea how an office ran until I was in the middle of one, and I realized that the skills I had spent so much time cultivating were not the ones employers wanted at all.

  54. april ludgate*

    I volunteered at a summer camp and babysat from the time I was thirteen. That experience helped me find a retail job when I turned sixteen, which in turn helped me get one of the coveted work study positions in my college’s library. I was studying to be an English teacher, but when I interned my senior year I realized that I didn’t like teaching. Fortunately my library experience helped me find a full time library job. I don’t know what I would be doing right now if I hadn’t worked in high school. Plus, I made some awesome friends at my retail job, and it helped me be less shy interacting with adults and authority figures.

    It also taught me financial responsibility and I wish I could go back in time and hug my past self for putting so much money in savings, it’s saved my butt several times. On the other hand, my sister spent every penny she made when she was in high school and now has nothing in savings, so I guess it depends on the kid.

  55. Melissa*

    I think high school and college are different questions, and it kind of depends on the circumstances.

    I wanted to work a retail job in high school, but was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. One of them is that I had very little time during the school year. It took me two hours to get to school in the morning, so I rose at 5 am to catch a 6 am bus. I was in school all day from 8:30 to 3:30. If I had no extracurricular activities on a given day, I got home around 5:30 and I usually had about 4 hours’ worth of homework because I was in an honors program. Add in an hour for dinner at some point and hey, it’s about 11 pm and I have to wake up at 5 am to go to school. My life was a revolving door of bus, school, homework, and sleep. If I did have extracurricular activities (which I often did), they replaced the bus time, but it was the same thing.

    I tried to get summer jobs but never got one. I don’t know whether I was applying too late or what.

    Anyway, probably based partially on my own experiences, I don’t think working in high school is necessary. There are other ways to learn good habits – I mean, being somewhere for 8 hours, limited lunch time, and not taking off whenever you want is pretty much what high school is about. I do think that most college students should work, though, because they have much more flexible time to fit in a job and often that flexible time can get one into trouble – either real trouble or simply forgetting what it’s like to be somewhere all day. And I spent 4 years in undergrad and 6 years in grad school, so I’ve really forgotten what it’s like to be somewhere all day on a strict schedule.

  56. Manders*

    Something I *really* regret is not going for the work-study jobs in college. Yes, they would have taken a significant chunk of time out of my schedule, but they also gave students training in areas we wouldn’t cover in class, like IT skills. My parents had always discouraged me from anything that would “distract” me from studying, even though what I was studying was far less relevant to future jobs than what I would have learned at work. I probably would have learned time management earlier too (I got there eventually, but it was a struggle).

    I was in late high school/early college during the recession, which hit my city especially hard, and my parents didn’t give me very good advice about applying for jobs. I spent a lot of time pounding the pavement and ended up with a dread of job searching that was hard to shake. So if you do encourage your kid to get a job, make sure the advice you’re giving them is up to date.

  57. Not Today Satan*

    I have fond memories of my high school jobs! Tbh, I was a bit of a hermit in high school so socializing with my coworkers (while at work) was fun!

  58. Case of the Mondays*

    I just quickly scrolled through the replies so I don’t know if this was already covered. I think it is really important for privileged kids to work alongside the less privileged. It is very eye opening to realize that the money you spend at the movies, your coworker is using to feed her kids. It made me realize that I had to go to college and get a better paying job because I didn’t want to spend my life struggling for money. I hadn’t seen someone really struggle before so I had no idea how hard it could really be. Also, it made me realize waitressing was tough and that the solution to school and work problems shouldn’t be “I’ll just quit and waitress.” It made me realize I wanted more.

  59. OriginalYup*

    I think starting work while in high school is really valuable. I had an after-school/weekend job starting at age 15 that taught me a lot about being on time, following instructions, doing good work even when the work is boring/repetitious/menial/gross, and how to work with bosses and colleagues. And that was building on the responsibility I learnt before from baby-sitting, mowing lawns, and whatnot.

    And I was on scholarship in high school, and carrying a heavy academic load. Having the after-school job especially helped me learn time management — which became critical when I had to work three jobs in college just to pay my tuition.

    So I’m in favor of students working if possible and it makes sense for their personal situation. I mean, it may not be a great fit if someone needs to practice a sport or musical instrument or whatever for extensive amounts of time because they’re trying to get a scholarship to college. Or if they’re struggling with learning challenges in school and need to focus on that, or they’re committed to volunteer work, etc.

    And assuming there are safe, legal part-time jobs to be had for young workers. (This wasn’t the case during the recession.)

  60. Lunar*

    I agree with pretty much everything Alison said and definitely the letter writer’s point about having an understanding of what it is like to be at work for 8 hours or more. I was busy in college – going to classes, working on assignments, having meetings with professors, for extracurricular activities, or group projects that could go late into the night. But it is a different kind of feeling to have to be at work all day and not be able to stop by my dorm room for half an hour of relaxing with a snack between classes.
    Having full time (or full-day) internships really helped me with that, so I definitely think it should be a priority for students to work full days either over the summer or on days without classes (if they can arrange their schedules like that). Working retail or different internships that I would fit in after the school day didn’t prepare me like 8 hour days at my last few internships did.

  61. Meredith*

    I worked at a vet clinic as a kennel attendant the summer I had turned 16 (my birthday was in April), and worked there through the rest of my high school years and into college. I didn’t play sports or do a ton of extra-curriculars, and it did help that my vet job was within walking distance, since I didn’t have access to a car all the time. I had a lot of janitorial duties, and I learned a lot about veterinary work (I wanted to be a vet a the time – now I’m a librarian!). That job taught me a lot about time management, money management, and how to talk to working professionals. I had to be reliable, as I was often the sole person caring for boarded animals on weekends. I had to work holidays, because dogs still have to poop on Christmas. I asked for – and got – my first raise at that job. That job was an insanely valuable experience, and I still think of it fondly, even though being paid to clean up animal waste is the least glamorous job of all. And hey, now it’s really, really hard to gross me out!

  62. literateliz*

    I haven’t read all the comments and it looks like lots of people have already said this, but thank you for calling out the “too smart for a menial job” comment. There are plenty of smart people who lack empathy.

  63. Shell*

    Eh, I’m torn on this. I think working through high school helps in instilling a work ethic if there was none, and a greater appreciation for those less privileged than us, but it doesn’t always help the high school worker much more than that.

    I worked in high school, but it was a really cushy job (desk job, little work, mostly manned the desk). Also worked briefly in university as a cashier at a grocery store (now that gave me a heavy appreciation for the crap customer service go through). And then there were co-op placements in my then-field-of-choice to get relevant work experience.

    Even then I was still a complete idiot when I went out into the working world, and I’m not sure more work while I was in school would’ve helped. I knew the basics of going to work on time, not calling out over hangovers, etc. because my parents instilled in me a high work ethic. It wasn’t until I got into a desk job and an office environment that I really started understanding professional work norms (friendly but not friends, drawing boundaries, being assertive without being arrogant, etc. etc.) and that’s not something another year or two at my grocery store would’ve taught me.

  64. CollegeStudent*

    “She didn’t want her daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way”

    I almost gagged at that. Any parent who says that their kid is too smart or too good for a part time job is doing a SERIOUS disservice for them. Even if a 16 year old’s first job is flipping burgers at McDonalds, it’s still good real life experience for them.

  65. Lore*

    I sort of split the difference–did lots of babysitting from the age of about 12, and the occasional catering event at the country club across the street (disaster), but didn’t have regular jobs during the school year out of a combination of schoolwork and extracurriculars (dance and theater). But I had my first office job the summer between my junior and senior year of high school and went back the following summer–it was at my father’s office but working on specific projects that only needed high-school level skills (they had another high-school student during the school year and saved some big administrative projects for the summers). It was an amazing experience–I learned so much about computer skills, as well as office etiquette, and worked for some extraordinary, kickass women who did more to forge my confidence and feminism than they will ever know. (This was a small brokerage firm/mutual fund company in the 80s, and their entire–admittedly small–trading desk, as well as three of the top four management positions, were women.) College, I traveled some summers but temped whenever I was in one place for more than two weeks. One temp job carried over into part-time during the school year, but it was my senior year and I was applying to grad school as well as running a theater group so I was grateful when the job ended!

  66. Marissa*

    I think there are alternatives to working when you are young that are equally beneficial. I considered (and still consider) high-level softball as my full-time job throughout high school. I was training 6 days a week (year-round), traveling cross-country for tournaments, and attempting to get recruited by universities while balancing school work (earning top grades to boot). Through this, I learned time management skills , as well as a lot of the valuable lessons Alison mentioned (just not in a “work” setting): learning how to get along with coaches and teammates (managers and coworkers), how to advocate for myself as a player, and what professional behaviour is on and off the field. There are a lot of difficult life lessons you are exposed to in this setting, so I think young people can benefit from organized activity without them having to get jobs per se.

    That being said, I worked part/full-time during the summers I was attending university. I was lucky that my parents paid for my tuition in full, but they expected me to make use of my down time.

    1. Kassy*

      That’s a great point! You were still productive and still learning all those necessary skills. I think for someone performing at the level that it sounds like you were, to force them to do another activity arbitrarily is doing them a disservice.

    2. The IT Manager*

      While I agree that playing sports at a high enough level to be recruited by colleges is not compatible with a job even a summer one for those year round sports, I would hesitate to consider it a job or equivalent experience as a job. Yes, there is some skills that cross over especially time management, but coaches and teammates are not the same as bosses and co-workers and the dynamic of trying to win the game and select the starters is very different.

      1. Marissa*

        It’s certainly not the exact same dynamic as working in an office, but playing team sports can be very comparable. The time commitment certainly is. All I did was eat, sleep, go to school, and play softball. There was no time for a job; but it was OK because I was learning a lot of valuable skills that could be applied to the workplace anyway.

        There are a lot of different personalities you encounter when on a sports team, just as you would encounter on a work team. There is team politics and drama and mistakes to own up to and individual accomplishments to celebrate that you would similarly see in an office setting (just look at all of Alison’s blog posts :P). At the very least, I would encourage parents to enrol their school-aged children in team sports to introduce them to the “work” environment. After all, work is collaborating with others to achieve common goals, and so is the definition of team sports (or theatre groups, or orchestras, or for that matter).

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Agree that team sports are valuable and studies have shown they keep kids out of trouble. Sadly my parents werent athletic and did not encourage this and to this day I’m pretty uncoordinated

  67. Ad Astra*

    I want to push back on the idea that experience with menial work could or should “inspire” someone to stay in school in order to avoid the unthinkable fate of working a low-wage job as an adult.

    1. It’s demeaning to the millions of people who bust their humps full-time at McDonalds or Target or wherever and very much consider it a “real” job.

    2. It reinforces the idea that a college education guarantees financial security, when the last five years have shown us that plenty of educated people wind up working as baristas, waiters, telemarketers, etc.

    1. literateliz*

      Yeah, I almost see this the opposite way–I would hope that the experience would open their eyes to the fact that the work is both “real” and very hard, and that it would bring them some empathy and understanding.

        1. Ad Astra*

          That’s true. I think the parents’ framing can have a big impact on how a teen looks at this. It’s ok to decide you don’t want to work fast food forever, but I hear too many upper-middle class parents speaking of low-wage work like it’s a horrible warning rather than just a learning experience.

          For me, it was never “Do well in school or you’ll work at McDonald’s forever.” It was “Do well in school and you won’t be poor anymore.” Because so many of my classmates’ parents did work in food service or retail, the adults in my schools always focused the message on increasing our earning potential, not about avoiding menial labor. I think once in middle school, a McDonald’s manager came to talk to classes about longterm career paths in fast food.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t agree that it’s demeaning to people. The reality is that unskilled labor is difficult, low paying and constrains people’s lives in a lot of ways. Understanding that BEFORE you make choices that limit you to those roles is a huge blessing. By and large, the people who are in those low wage lobs for the long term are people who either never got a chance to make other choices, or people who made choices whose long term ramifications they didn’t really understand.

      Of course a college degree doesn’t guarantee anything. But, failure to take steps to obtain marketable skills (via college, trade school, OJT or whatever) is pretty much a guarantee that you will remain stuck.

    3. themmases*

      I agree that that is not a very helpful way to frame it. My mom used to say that about my sister’s job in an absolutely terrible grocery store (while she did community college and worked sloooowly towards moving out on her own), so maybe this comes with some baggage for me. But to me it implies that people who work these jobs just couldn’t commit to schooling, dropped out, weren’t interested, or don’t want something “better” for themselves– like they’re just drifting along, taking the default option in life.

      The reality is it’s not retail or food service that’s easy– my job (epidemiologist in training/research assistant) is easy. People are really nice to me here! Today I got thanked sincerely by the head of my whole program for taking notes at a meeting. I make more per hour right now as a grad student than fast food workers are striking to try to get. I’m sitting in a super comfy chair, getting paid to do stuff that is interesting to me, helps others, and benefits my personal career on my schedule, and if I get way ahead on my work I’m sitting at a computer with internet access. I’m not saying that I never work hard, but compared to many people I’m being rewarded a lot for doing an activity I chose in the first place. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say I “earned” all this by having the traditional fun 4-year college experience.

  68. Kassy*

    The main thing I want to point out here is that you don’t necessarily know which experiences will be the ones that come in handy later on. I graduated college two years ago with a chemistry degree and have had zero luck finding a job with that. However, throughout college I worked part-time (and full-time during summers and breaks) at the university bookstore. I am now employed at a “cushy” office job that I never would have gotten without that experience.

    I don’t necessarily think all kids need to work during the school year (although I think many of them can handle it just fine), but at the very least, I want my child to have a summer job. Working during high school was a privilege in my household. As the firstborn, I was flat-out not allowed. By the time my sister came along, she could work only if her grades and chores did not suffer. It was definitely viewed as a privilege to have your own source of income and the responsibility of holding a job.

  69. Brett*

    Does not look like this was mentioned yet, but a relatively recent UCLA study found that working full-time during college was a highly significant _negative_ predictor on graduation rate. The odds ratio (change in rate on an incremental scale from 1-5 of expectation of working full-time) was -6% on 4 year graduation rate and -9% on 6 year graduation rate. In other words, between the student who definitely will not work full-time and definitely will work full-time, you have a 22% lower chance of graduating in 4 years than normal for your school, and a 31% less of graduating in 6 years than normal. Working full-time was the only negative factor that actually had lower (more negative) odds ratios on 6 year rates than 4 year rates.

    (Although, by far the worst negative predictor was first year housing situation. Living with family or relatives your first year drops you down as far as 74% lower chance in 4 years and 60% lower chance in 6 year. Living in private housing with other than family or relatives your first year was a whopping 82% lower 4 year chance and 78% lower 6 year chance.)

    1. Ad Astra*

      I knew living at home the first year was a bad idea! I grew up next to a major university, so tons of parents tried to argue “You could save so much money by living at home your first year and driving to campus every day!” Many of my high school friends chose colleges a couple of hours away specifically so they wouldn’t have to live with their parents freshman year.

    2. Brett*

      Digging deeper into the stats, working part-time had a slight positive effect, but volunteering had one of the most significant positive effects. Interestingly, living in a frat or sorority house, participating in clubs, and changing your career choice (not major) were the three strongest factors in terms of plans while at college.

      1. Natalie*

        That doesn’t surprise me at all. I returned to school recently and even taking one class while working full time is a lot harder than it was when I had a part time work-study job. And I have a nice, flexible office job where I can sometimes do my reading at work as it’s relevant to my job. I can’t imagine schooling and working full time.

      2. Limes*

        My guess is that the kids who could volunteer INSTEAD of work were going to graduate on time at a greater rate anyway because they probably aren’t under the same financial constraints as kids who HAVE to work.

      3. themmases*

        Volunteering was a senior year of high school experience, though. I don’t think it can be framed in this study as an alternative to working. Expectation of performing volunteer work in college was also a positive predictor of graduation, but that isn’t the same thing as actually doing it.

        Interestingly, the negative effect size of expecting to work full-time in college gets larger as the models try to predict more remote graduation times. So after adjusting for students’ personal and financial backgrounds, those who plan to work full-time have 6% reduced odds of graduating in 4 years but 9% reduced odds of graduating within 6 years compared to those who don’t plan to work full-time. I wonder if that reflects students’ plans not to attend school full-time all four years. While the models were built using students enrolling full-time for the first time, they apparently weren’t asked about (or the model didn’t assess the effect of) expectations to always attend full-time. I’d predict that students who were expecting to work full-time while in school were less likely than others to even be aiming to graduate in four years, which could be why the graduation advantage for the less-working students grew with time.

        Incidentally, the only reference to non full-time work I saw was a small negative effect of having worked for pay in the last year/senior year of HS, which was only significant at predicting graduation within 5 or 6 years. While this study is really interesting, it’s based on a survey of incoming freshman that asks about their background, their activities in high school, and their expectations for college– not what actually happens to them in college.

        1. themmases*

          One correction– the comparison in the study isn’t between those who do and don’t plan to work full-time, but among students who are increasingly certain that they will work full-time. For each ‘step’ more certain a student is that she will have to work full-time at some point, she has 6% lesser odds of graduating in 4 years and 9% lesser odds of graduating in 6 years.

          IMO that supports my point that some of these students may come in expecting to drop down to part time or take time off. While students were asked whether they had concerns about being able to finish their degree, they weren’t asked about whether they expected to always attend full-time or to finish within a certain time frame.

    3. literateliz*

      I don’t have time to read the study right now (and thus perhaps shouldn’t be commenting), but I wonder if correlation equals causation in this case? All of those things (living at home vs on campus, working full time, volunteering, frats) also have a strong class component, which may have affected the students’ chances of graduation before they ever set foot on campus.

      1. Ad Astra*

        That’s a good point. I thought of that when he mentioned Greek Life affiliation and volunteer work, but didn’t make the connection with living at home. Working full-time has got to have some kind of causal relationship, I would think, but that has a class component too.

      2. Brett*

        I thought that too, but the study was to build a component model. The odds ratios are after accounting for income, SAT scores, education level of parents, etc

    4. Student*

      Assuming the student has a choice, I’d absolutely only recommend part-time work in college (and high school). Full-time hours can happen in the summer.

      The most important college classes for graduation are only offered on limited schedules. Working a full-time job is likely to interfere with optimal class scheduling for quick degree completion and interfere with time needed for homework. Full-time jobs for people who are both young and without a college degree (while attending college) are likely to be inflexible and likely to have lousy shift scheduling that isn’t complimentary to school schedules. Full-time jobs are likely to cause a student to spend more total time at school to try to complete a degree – and there is a lot of cost-saving available in tuition if you can cram as many classes as possible into each semester, which you miss out on if you can’t take a class you need due to your job schedule.

      Part-time jobs in a college town are much more likely to cater to college students.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes but that’s working full time, presumably a day job and then dragging your butt to class and studying at night it would be extremely hard and I’ve always admired people who could do that

    6. Observer*

      Working full time, and working part time / summers are two different things, as you noticed later.

      Also, in terms of the issue of living quarters – did they control for choice of school and parenting style and attitude to education? I ask, because of personal experience and a quick look at the study results. For instance, they note that those who are the first in their family to go to college are more likely to flunk out. I would expect that living at home would magnify that effect. On the other hand, I’ve seen students who were on the verge of failing college get it together when they moved back home. In at least one case, it clearly was a mix of having a parent around to remind the student that class exists, changing schools and getting a part time job.

    7. Laufey*

      I think self-selection bias might be having a bit of an effect there. If you’re going to drop out of school because you’re having money problems, you’re probably already trying to save as much money as possible, and ergo, you won’t be living on campus freshman year or joining a frat. By the same token, you’re probably only working full time if you need the money (combined with now you have less time for class, making you more likely to drop out due to grades).

  70. aebhel*

    The only point where I have a problem with the ‘you must work during high school/college’ is what happened all too frequently in my low income community, which was kids working two or three jobs to put themselves through school. I was working 50 hours a week (two part-time jobs) plus going to school full-time, and that was pretty destructive to both my grades and my sleep schedule–so I do think that we need more social support for students so they don’t have to literally spend all their time either at work or in school.

    But in the general sense that people should get some job experience while the stakes are lower? Definitely.

  71. Retail Lifer*

    I hire near-entry-level people who have to be at least 18, and I’d have concerns about hiring someone who was of college age and who had never had a job before. What we do here isn’t rockest science, but I need someone who can show up on time and handle problems calmly as they arise, as they often work alone and help might not be immediately available. I wouldn’t want anyone who hasn’t demonstrated that they can do this. I can’t imagine even CONSIDERING someone for a higher position (than what I hire for) that had NO work experience.

  72. UK Nerd*

    I did summer jobs when I was a student. Trying to work at the same time as doing my degree would have been a nightmare. Those summer jobs definitely did me good, both in learning professional work behaviour and in developing empathy for people working in food service. That said, make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for before encouraging any particular job…

    My mum pushed me into taking a temp job delivering the Yellow Pages. She entirely failed to take into account the size or quantity of the books. Apparently she’d intended for them to be stored in the garage, but she hadn’t told me that. So after I received my consignment, she came home to find I’d built a fort in the dining room.

    She was also pushing very hard for me to apply for a job as a lifeguard, and was reluctant to accept my insistance that my lifesaver medallion was not the same thing as the lifeguard qualification the job required.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      This made me laugh. “she came home to find I’d built a fort in the dining room”. I bet that was quite a sight to see! :)

  73. anonanonanon*

    These types of questions always make me a little uncomfortable because they’re so clearly about middle or upper class individuals. The option of whether or not to work as a teenager is not something everyone has and the fact that some people look at the option of working as menial or a temporary, valuable experience gives me such a knee-jerk reaction.

    It makes me think of a former coworker who used to complain that adults were taking up all the summer/part-time jobs her kids could have used for work experience, when really, those jobs should go to someone who needs that income to survive versus someone who just wants it for pocket money or to fill up a resume. I think teenagers and young adults can learn a lot of good experiences by getting a part-time job, but I wish people would stop insinuating that it’s “real life experience” for when they move on to something better. It’s meant well, but it still smacks of condescension towards people working those jobs as adults who consider them “real” jobs and not learning experiences.

    1. Observer*

      You make a good point. Someone up-thread pointed out something similar and made the additional point that if someone actually has a choice, then being in an environment where they have to work with people who didn’t get that choice could be enlightening – and hopefully teach them a bit a respect for people who are stuck in those jobs.

      I say stuck, because really most people in those jobs would like nothing better than to be in work that is better paid and less demanding.

    2. Anx*

      Yeah, I feel like I’m sort of stuck in the middle of this not-enough-jobs sandwich.

      As an adult with rent and real bills, the idea that minimum wage jobs in the service sector are a great stepping stone job for high school kids really irks me (both the idea that it’s more important for kids to learn skills than adults to pay rent and the condescending not-meant-to-be-a-real-job rhetoric that gets brought into the minimum wage discussion).

      On the other hand, I haven’t yet started a professional career, and I’m chomping at the bit for an entry level opportunity (one that pays). So I do think it’s important not to sideline young people during economic downturns. I feel like I was waiting in the wings after the recession (volunteering, short term work, classes) and now that things are picking up, there’s a new batch of young people for entry level professional jobs and service sector jobs alike, but I still don’t have the experience and skills of longer term employees.

      1. Anx*

        But I’d also like to add that just because you need a job, doesn’t mean you can get a job. Reframing the discussion about the pros and cons of working may be a lower middle class family’s way of dealing with underemployment (though I don’t think that’s the case here).

        It can be incredibly awkward to compete with your teenage children for jobs and find they end being more employable.

    3. Former Cable Rep*

      Thank you for saying this. I was thinking “where are these jobs coming from?” When a fast food restaurant opens and gets 200 applications for every position, that’s a clear sign that things have changed drastically from when we were all kids.
      I want young people to get work experience, but I would much prefer the ones that don’t need the income commit themselves seriously to volunteer work. My household lives and dies by the availability of minimum wage jobs, it’s real life and real work for us, with real consequences if we don’t get enough work and earn enough money. What is “a little spending money” for a middle class high school kid, for us is the difference between whether or not we use the food bank this month.

  74. Jwal*

    I might be a bit late with commenting, but I know that with the uni system in the UK if you don’t do volunteering or paid work then that really puts you at a disadvantage with uni applications. It gives you less to put on your personal statements/UCAS application (two very tedious bits of admin that you and your school submit to your uni choices), and if you want to get into something competitive like medicine or vet without relevant work experience then that’s pretty much impossible.

  75. Darcy*

    I’m definitely in the camp of let kids be kids because they’ll get smacked with the adult world soon enough. However, I think they can be kids and still work a part-time job and/or volunteer. My oldest is 14 and we told her she had to do something this summer, so she chose volunteering at the library. She did ask to get out of it one day because her former boyfriend was going to be manning the children’s summer reading program desk right after her and she didn’t want to see him. It was a great opportunity for me to teach her about commitments and professionalism (and she did *not* get out of it!) She’s still had plenty of time to see friends and be lazy this summer so I don’t think it’s hindered her ability to enjoy her summer at all.

    I know she won’t work this fall when she starts high school because she is starting in an advanced academic program in addition to starting marching band (which has already required lots of time this summer) and she’ll need to get her bearing. But starting next summer and then carrying through the school year I expect her to have a job. I know that once she gets the rhythm of high school figured out she’ll still have plenty of time to be “a kid”, go to school, and work. It will be part-time of course, but we will be teaching her to contribute financially to maintain the car we’re going to loan her once she starts driving; and we need her to start driving as soon as she turns 16 because she won’t be bused to the high school she chose for it’s academic program.

    I’m not sure how we’ll handle all of this with our youngest though, because he has pretty severe ADHD and I don’t know if he’ll be able to focus on school and work successfully at the same time. But he will be doing something, whether it’s work or volunteering in the summers once he hits 14 also.

    1. purlgurly*

      Hi Darcy! I have a thought for your youngest – lifeguarding. I’ve been a certified guard and swim instructor for almost 20 years. There are a super disproportionate number of guards and instructors I know who have ADHD. The job rewards periods of hyperfocus, is highly physically active, and gives the opportunity for regular shots of adrenaline in the form of rescues.

  76. MaryMary*

    Reading all of these comments reminded me that my essay for my college’s business honors program was written about my part time high school job. Basically, I said that I wanted to major in business because I wanted to know where all of the crazy decisions that were implemented at my retail job came from. I got into the honors program. ;-)

    1. literateliz*

      HA! I always wondered about that stuff too (who decided that these awful highlighter-yellow khakis were the cornerstone of our brand this season? Why open at 9am instead of 10am during the holiday season if we average one customer during that extra hour? What is the reasoning behind the on-call shift?). Good for you for parlaying it into something awesome.

      1. Kathlynn*

        Well, if I had the scheduling decisions, I would either have my store open an hour later, or have me there an hour with the store closed. Just to make it easier to get things done while I don’t have as many customers interrupting the cleaning/counting/etc that I have to get done.

  77. E.R*

    I remember being upset with my parents because at 16, they insisted I get a job during the summer (which I wanted to do!) but then insisted I quit once the school year started back up so I could focus on school. I was a good student, but I found high school incredibly boring. Work was a whole new world with new people and experiences and money to be made (however little – it felt like a lot back then). When I got a job again the summer I turned 17, I refused to quit for any school-related reason. I liked working. It was also hard to find a job so I didnt want to give up the ones I was actually able to get. My friends from that job became my closest friends – closer to me than most of my school friends during that time- and my social life revolved quite a bit around them and informed a lot of my early life choices. We were all from different walks of life, where most of my peers in university were quite similiar to me.
    When I interviewed for my first professional job at 23, the VP was really curious about my work experience and made comments like “wow, I dont think I could do that kind of work” (it was rough, menial work for sure). Working during high school and college gave me a much-needed self-esteem boost, some skills, references, friends, information about the “real world” I used to broaden my worldview and make some big decisions in my life (my parents grew up in a different time, so they had some outdated ideas about work and life), and money to pay for fun. Oh, we had so much fun.

  78. Ann Furthermore*

    I think that this is so important, for all the reasons listed. I also think that kids can start learning about this stuff, in a very basic way, when they’re much younger.

    My 6 year old daughter told me that she wanted to have her own “real dollars” at the beginning of the year. The daycare lady’s kids, who are a little older, do chores for money, which is where she got the idea. My husband and I came up with a system where if she does a chore, she gets 50 cents for her piggy bank. She still has things she has to do as a member of the household (pick up her toys, clean her room, etc) but for extra things, she’ll get 50 cents. We thought that was easier than saying she’d get like $5 per week for doing x number of chores, then having to figure out how much to knock off if everything doesn’t get done and so on. So it’s 50 cents a task. Maybe when she’s 7 or 8 it will still be 50 cents a chore, but I’ll give her 35 cents to demonstrate how taxes work. LOL. Last weekend, she counted out $10 from her piggy bank and came with me to Target, and she got to pick out something to buy with her own money. She wanted to bring all of it, but I encouraged her to just stick to $10 so she could buy something, but not spend every penny she’s earned and then have to start saving all over again.

    My older daughter who will be 18 in September got a job at Safeway last year. She wanted to take a school trip to Ecuador, which was going to be about $4000. We gave her $25 for every $75 she saved, so she paid for almost all of it herself. She has done a great job there. She has learned how to manage money, save money, prioritize responsibilities, and manage her time — we told her if her grades dropped, she’d have to quit her job. She was able to handle her advanced placement class, along with everything else, and did well enough in it to get college credit fot it. It’s been a fantastic experience for her.

    Last week, her store manager told her to apply for an open manager position, and she had to remind him that she’s not 18 yet so can’t be a manager. Instead, he’s going to start training her for head clerk duties so she can move into that role after her birthday. She likes having her own money, and she’s gotten good exposure to what it means to have a job. Everyone seems to love her there, and at least half the reason for that is because she shows up on time when she’s scheduled to work, and works hard while she’s there. Compared to other peoples’ work ethic, just by doing that she looks like a rock star. She’ll be able to transfer to another store when she goes to college.

    1. Dang*

      Good for her! I did the same as a teen- transferred to the store near college during the school year and back “home” for breaks and summers. Ended up working there for 5 years part time, and it was great to be able to have work experience when I graduated college. It taught me a lot and I met some great people who I’m still in touch with 10-15 years later.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        I also think that she enjoyed her trip much more because it was something she worked for herself. I was out of town the morning she left, but I texted her and told her to have a great time, and that I was really proud of her for working so hard to earn the money to pay for it. I think it’s great for someone that age to learn how to set a long-term goal, and then put the work in to achieve it.

    2. MaryMary*

      “Everyone seems to love her there, and at least half the reason for that is because she shows up on time when she’s scheduled to work, and works hard while she’s there. Compared to other peoples’ work ethic, just by doing that she looks like a rock star”

      I liked school and did well in school, but being able to work while attending school can be life changing for the kids who are not enjoying high school. I had a couple of friends who were mediocre to bad students, but rock star employees who were moved to management as soon as possible. These were kids who had never been rock stars at anything before, but suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel and a way towards life after high school.

    3. matcha123*

      This is so alien to me. I started working by delivering newspapers when I was eight. I’ve never been given an allowance. I started first grade at five and it was around that time that my mom explained what checks were and how to write them. I was helping my mom do the laundry at the laundromat when I was four. I was selected to participate in an international exchange in middle school, but withdrew because we couldn’t afford the $6,000. Nor could I go on my senior class trip to Europe.

      I don’t know if this sounds like an attack, I hope it doesn’t, but your daughters lives are so far out and different from what I had at that age, I can barely believe it.
      Heck, even at four I thought $10 was a pittance! I’m just…awestruck, to say the least!

  79. literateliz*

    Also, this is timely: A personal finance blog I read (God knows why, I used to really like it but lately I think their articles just give me something to be mad about) ran a post yesterday arguing that teenagers should put the money from their summer jobs toward a retirement fund–a nice idea in theory, but the tone was just maddening. The writer was totally snide about the teenagers he interviewed and shocked, SHOCKED that none of them knew what an IRA was (umm… it’s not like anyone teaches them this stuff) and suggested putting $250/month into a Roth IRA ($250was a full paycheck or more on the hours they gave me when I worked at Gap in college, so…) so that it could grow to $150,000 by retirement age with the power of compound interest. None of this is a bad idea and it could have been a good article with a few tweaks, but as written it just sounded like the writer lived on a different planet. So, thank you, Alison, for a much more down-to-earth take on summer jobs.

    (I’m usually much more of a lurker here, but I find I have much more to say about retail jobs…)

    1. BRR*

      Ugh, the author sounds like an ass. There’s no financial education provided in schools (while I think that would be great to do I have always wondered how they would develop a curriculum). But teenagers typically need the money from the job or are saving it for something.

      *Acknowledging the privilege of the following statement* I worked in HS and college and my dad put his money in a Roth IRA for me since I was elgible and now in my late 20s it’s awesome. It has put me where I should be/possibly a little ahead of where I should be for retirement as I now have to put a lot of money towards student loans that I would have otherwise invested.

      1. literateliz*

        See, that’s awesome. And some commenters raised the idea of parents matching whatever the teen put into an IRA, which is also awesome and I think much more of an incentive than just being like “Put your whole paycheck into this account so that you can live comfortably when you’re 65” (an age that I’m sure no teenager can picture themselves ever reaching). I think there was a germ of a good idea there, but the way it was written was a total turnoff.

        1. E.R*

          Also, presumably many of these teenagers need to put the money into college or other investments in themselves before the can make real contributions to retirement. $250 a paycheck may not be a huge sum when you are 30 if you have a well-paying job, but $250 a paycheck when you are a teenager is just a massive amount of money to direct away from more immediate needs.

        2. BRR*

          When I was in high school I had no idea that most people don’t save enough for retirement. But money is a secret in America instead of being open about it so people can learn.

    2. OriginalYup*

      Totally get what you’re saying. I’ve stopped reading a lot of personal finance sites I used to enjoy because their tones got smug. A there was this subtle shift from an educational mentality of “here’s how things work, and how you can make smart financial decisions for your life” to “the goal of everything is to have a big pile of assets.”

      And honestly, contributing to an IRA as a teen? Way to lock a whole lotta eggs into one basket. Geez. Maybe worry about how you’re going to afford a place to live in a few years first?

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Most personal finance advice is smug and really dismissive toward lower-income people (if it acknowledges anyone who makes less than 70k a year exists at all). And frankly of limited use compared to the systemic solutions we actually need, which it tends to discourage. Not to mention often outright scammy. Helaine Olen’s Pound Foolish is a really eye-opening book about this.

    3. Dynamic Beige*

      Years ago when Oprah was still on, they had a segment about the 27 year old who had managed to save a million dollars through compound interest and didn’t have to work any more if she didn’t want to (I think she still had a job waitressing). I forget where she came from (Calgary?) but pretty much every dollar she ever got as a birthday present or earned went into savings. Now, on the one hand, good for her to have such a nice nest egg at that age — that’s something I would love to have and probably just about every other person on the planet. On the other, did she pay her parents rent? Did she buy her clothes or groceries or personal items? I can’t remember if that was covered.

      So yeah, it’s a good idea to start saving for your retirement as soon as possible if you can afford to do so. But like you said, unless someone teaches you about this stuff, you don’t learn or know it.

      1. Tammy*

        Since my niece and nephew were tiny, any “gift” $ was treated so: half into savings, 10% to charity of choice or to help someone in need, 40% to spend as they wanted. They never felt poor and always had enough to get things they wanted. My niece had enough saved for a nice used car (CRV) before she even turned 16. (She had added baby- & pet- sitting $ to the savings). I was so proud of her.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I was always so jealous of my upper-middle class friends who worked all summer just to put it in savings because their parents paid for all their gas, clothes, and food. I spent every dime I made in high school.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Yeah. I used to envy friends who got money for birthdays, chores, grades, and allowances, or who were able to work without having to spend that money on necessities.

        1. Anx*

          I was lucky enough to be able to save and invest my birthday money.

          Thank goodness. While I feel like I’ve always been middle class, my financial situation has changed drastically. I used to go to the movies, out to eat, buy clothes when I needed them etc. Fortunately I didn’t spend all my money doing that, because after the post college recession (after the initial crash when stocks climbed again) I started drawing on that money for rent, health insurance, etc.

          1. anonanonanon*

            I think the most I ever got for “birthday money” growing up was $5. I was a child of the ’90s, so it’s not like $5 was a lot in the grand scheme of things (though, it was for me at the time, and it was for the person who gave it to me, so). The whole concept of giving money for birthdays or grades just sort of baffles me (but I don’t particularly like receiving birthday gifts anyway and….well, I don’t think kids should be paid in order to inspire them to achieve good grades).

            1. Anx*

              This was in the 90s as well. I was fortunate in that while I mostly got $5 or maybe $10, I had multiple people giving me a gift each year. S0 I could end up with 50 total.

      2. matcha123*

        Same here. And some of them had the gall to come to me to borrow money. Because I had a job, so, that meant I was like, swimming in cash. Nope. My paychecks went to groceries and bills and whatever was leftover I’d spend on something for me.

    5. Brett*

      Meanwhile… I had my first bank account at 24 (my parents took out bad debt in my name) and my first car at 34. I had several stretches of 7+ days without food and went several years without a phone, much less internet. I still have my tax returns from back then and broke $15k (and $7/hr) for the first time in 2002.
      So, the idea of putting $250 a month into an IRA back then…. only if I didn’t want to eat.

      Oddly enough, I did have a 401(k) briefly while working for McDonald’s before I opened my first bank account, but lost it when my next employer, Burget King, did not offer a 401(k) (Roth IRAs did not exist yet and Traditional IRAs, even rollovers, without fairly hefty minimum contributions were hard to come by then).

  80. Marie*

    I started working at 15 in customer service, and while these positions helped me develop a good work ethic, it also poisoned me in other ways. Retail and fast food are some of the most hostile work environments out there and what I learned from these jobs was to treat any supervisor/manager as the enemy (which I still struggle with), that all corporations and businesses will break as many laws as possible in order to save a buck (true of every company I’ve worked at, even non-profits), that the average person is inherently bad-mannered and selfish (I had more bad customers than I did good customers), and that bad employees get continuously rewarded or have their bad behaviour overlooked. Working 30 hours a week while in school really broke my spirit and motivation, I went from being moderately social to a complete recluse because of how I started to view people through my customer service jobs. Someone in school should not be working more than 10 hours a week (not counting summers), IMO, and you should not force a kid to stick it out at a bad job because it could have negative consequences for their well-being in the long run (as my parents did). /end rant

    1. neverjaunty*

      This last, especially, is an excellent point, and doubly so given the high rate of workplace harassment of teenage girls.

      1. Student*

        To heck with that. Would you put all women in a bubble so no one hurts us? Bad news for you: teenage girls who don’t work are also harassed. First time I was harassed was long before I was able to work.

        1. literateliz*

          True, but it’s not about preventing harassment, it’s about empowering girls to walk away from harassment instead of forcing them to put up with it – a valuable lesson IMO.

    2. Tammy*

      That is a shame that you had should bad experiences in fast food. Mine were pretty good – other than 2 places closing down when I really needed the $. Of course, I was in a small town. Managers might be “more accountable” to the community if they are local.

    3. Kathlynn*

      I second this. This is all I’ve learned as a cashier since I started working at 17.

  81. SanguineAspect*

    I worked on weekends, holiday breaks, and summer breaks in middle school and high school (my parents owned a restaurant and I started working at 13). In high school I had summer jobs working at a pizza restaurant, working at a gas station, working retail at an outlet mall, and I worked behind the counter at a pharmacy for a year after graduating from high school, and then worked with kids with autism after school and some weekends while I went to community college part-time for a couple of years. When I transferred to a 4-year school, I spent my time focusing on school during the school year and worked at my family restaurant on holidays. All of these experiences were VERY valuable for me, and I feel like I’m a better coworker and also customer as a result.

  82. Anon the Great and Powerful*

    It’s so weird to me that this is even optional for some kids. I started working during the summer when I was eight because my family needed me to work. Oh, to be rich!

  83. Europa*

    Even when the kid’s in college some parents still hover. A woman I know posted on NextDoor on behalf of her 19-year-old daughter, saying she was available for part-time work. Someone posted a response, asking for more details, and the mother responded with this long screed about what hours her daughter could work (very weird and limited hours) and what tasks she would condescend to do (no cleaning, etc.). I’d think that at 19, this supposedly brilliant girl could post her own ad and negotiate the terms herself.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I bet this woman’s daughter would be mortified if she knew her mom was posting ads like this. I mean, I can’t imagine she’d actually request that her mother do this, but I’ve been wrong before.

  84. Helka*

    I didn’t have a job during high school — not because I was too busy “having fun” but because I was one of those kids who got pushed into Every. Single. Extracurricular. Ever. I was getting up at 5:00 so I could be at school by 6:30 am for jazz band, then after school depending on the season I would have marching band practice (exhausting!), concert band practice, community choir, private voice lessons, fencing club, Spanish club, orchestra for the big school system musical production (and orchestra doesn’t get downtime the way the kids actually onstage do!), rehearsals onstage when I was actually in the musical itself, tutoring other students for extra credit in my classes, et cetera et cetera…

    And then in college I crashed and burned hard and basically didn’t do anything I didn’t 100% have to do because high school had drained all my energy and I couldn’t keep that up while also being responsible for feeding myself and taking care of even minor household responsibilities. I held down a job for a little while, but even small workweeks were as much as I could handle.

    It’s something I really regret, looking back. I profoundly wish my parents had lightened up on the extracurriculars in favor of letting me get a job and also have downtime. At least I still had the college job to teach me the basics of professionalism before I had to really hack it on my own, but I would have liked to get started much earlier.

  85. Tammy*

    Disclaimer – I have zero kids. However, my friend had 5. Like most, they were eager to be teenagers! When each turned 13, part of the rite of passage into teenager-hood was getting a paid part time job or to volunteer. Some mowed yards, some babysat. One volunteered at the local nature center – pulling weeds and such. His buddy came with him. He learned so much about the place, he was offered a part-time job when he turned 16. Could work full time during school breaks if he wanted.

    Granted, these kids had always had a part in family chores and were pretty good kids in general. I think they were so much better prepared for the real world due to their early entry into the work world.

    I started working when I was 11 – not for spending $, for rent $. No worse for the wear. Learned that no one was responsible for me other than myself.

    People can disparage fast food jobs till the cows come home. Those jobs develop valuable skills – teamwork, responsibility for choice/actions, customer service. Accomplishing tasks (singularly and via teams) and seeing end-products of effort builds confidence in young people.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Learned that no one was responsible for me other than myself.

      When you’re 11, your parents are supposed to be responsible for you. I’m really sorry they couldn’t protect you a little more from the harder parts of life, but I’m glad you can find so many positives from that situation.

      1. Tammy*

        My mother was mentally ill (untreated) and my father left when I was 6 months old. Mom tried, but was in no position to raise 2 kids. Either because of or in spite of our situation, my sister and I turned out to be well adjusted, productive, law-abiding members of society. There were teachers and others looking out for us. I have come to look at my childhood as a gift, tho not wrapped quite as one would expect.

  86. Susan*

    On a purely practical level (meaning if you’re thinking about “how do I get a job after college”), it seems really dangerous to me to dismiss internships like the letter reader has. I’m from a working class family, so I totally understand that for some students taking the job at the local grocery store during school is essential, but if you can swing an internship, it is so important for certain fields. For instance, I studied journalism, and I discovered really quickly that getting through the first barrier of most publications (HR) doesn’t involve them sipping tea and reading your portfolio and being awestruck at your writing chops. No, they look at (probably skim) your resume. So your resume has to have related jobs on it! This is perhaps unfair, and totally shows a bias toward students who can take unpaid internships, but I also found the more prestigious internships (these are often the ones that actually pay minimum wage, too, btw) are so competitive that students who didn’t already do internships during their freshman/sophomore years can’t possibly compete with the students who did. A lot of my peers who didn’t do internships during college actually ended up having to do them after the graduated because they found the lack of related experience a barrier for entry.

    I think increasingly the stereotypical internship of just getting coffee is going away because companies very much need you and will probably (if anything, unfairly) give you more work than ever before. I worked at a radio station and was the person writing the scripts for the newscast. We were an NPR affiliate station, and one of the spots I wrote was picked up to be aired nationally. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t happen in your classroom, even if you write a killer news story–and that sure makes one hell of a resume bullet.

    Downsizing is making people lean hard on their interns. The other implication of this is a lot of entry-level positions are disappearing in budget cuts because the interns are covering that workload, so if you didn’t do these internships, you’re going to have a hard time finding something you’re eligible to apply for because the “entry-level jobs” already want you to have experience with x, y, z.

    I could talk forever on this topic, but yes, unpaid internships are probably evil. But I think in a lot of industries, you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t get experience in your field before you graduate.

    So I don’t even think it’s an issue of whether or not you can build character and work ethic earlier. I don’t see how you’d even break into certain fields without working in college.

    1. S*

      At my post-grad internship, I moved from doing basic qualitative research to leading our regional volunteer cohort, same as the other entry-level employees there. Was the experience totally worth it despite the minimal stipend? Yes, because I had amazing references and a track record of success when I started job-hunting again and I was getting multiple job offers. But I also know that not everyone is as lucky as I was–my parents were able to support me while I did this fellowship and didn’t live at home. I was so, so, so lucky, I can’t emphasize that enough. But to dismiss the value of an internship… that’s just out of touch with reality in this economy.

  87. ThursdaysGeek*

    I worked two summers for the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) during my high school years. It was an incredible experience, where we worked very hard and had a lot of fun. I learned that hard physical work is enjoyable, especially when I can look back and see the fence we built, the trail we cleared out, the grass cut. I learned how to work on a team, and how to do a job that I didn’t really know how to do. It was menial and I was a smart straight-A student headed for college. Those two summers helped define me, and it was the type of job that I would recommend to all high school students.

    So in addition to Alison’s comment of ‘ick’, may I add that parents that think this are doing a great disservice to their kids. There is a huge boost in confidence when you successfully learn how to do something that you had no idea you could do. When I learned as a teen that I could build fence, I lost fear for other tasks that I had to approach in ignorance. I can figure it out, I can ask questions and learn, and my mind and body can work together to achieve what I want to do. I am a better office worker today because of what I learned at that menial job.

    1. Tammy*

      This +1000. The confidence gained from seeing a job completed is a good base for the working world.

  88. BananaPants*

    From around 5th-8th grade in the summers I was a volunteer in the recreation department of the skilled nursing facility where my mother worked. For the first few years my parents felt I was too young to be home by myself all day, every day, but didn’t have the money for me to go to day camp all summer. Then I enjoyed it and was too young to have a job so I kept going. It may sound like a boring time for a tween but I enjoyed it. I transported patients for activities, helped prep for and run events, and ran a daily bookmobile. The recreation director genuinely appreciated having the help since she was running a one-woman show. So many of the residents had no family or rarely saw their grandchildren and were very lonely, and I was a huge history buff who liked to sit and listen to stories – it was a win-win.
    In high school I got a job as a swim instructor and then a lifeguard. I worked around 35 hours a week during the summer and 3-10 hours a week during the school year depending on my high school sports schedule. The summer before starting college I was selected for an intensive on-campus program for women and minorities in engineering, so I basically got paid to go to school for two months. The following three summers I had good full time engineering internships and during the academic year I worked on-campus as a tutor for the athletic department and then for the residential life IT department (maybe 15 hours a week). It was enough to let me buy a used car and pay for my own gas, insurance, and maintenance – and to buy textbooks, pizza, and beer. ;-)

    In general I see a different attitude towards work from peers and younger colleagues/interns who come from affluent backgrounds where they didn’t have to work and weren’t expected to, versus those from middle and working class families where working a summer job was expected once a kid turned 16. Taking one three hour lifeguard shift per week during high school was not earning me more than pocket money but it taught me the value of hard work and

    My husband and I plan to have our kids find summer jobs when they’re old enough. During high school as long as their grades don’t suffer they can work very part time during the school year if they want to, but during the academic year we want academics and sports/music/other activities to be their focus. Assuming the higher ed bubble doesn’t pop in the next decade, they’re going to NEED to get merit-based financial aid in order to go to college so doing well in school and being competitive for whatever scholarships they can get will be critical.

  89. Katie M.*

    Recent grad here! Working in college helped me out so much- with references, skills, everything. However, I would counsel that the student limits themselves in terms of what they’re doing. At one time I was a resident advisor (this is ABSOLUTELY a job, and an important one that take up a lot of time), a student office worker, and interning in my field. I was absolutely drained and it was a pretty terrible semester.

  90. INFJ*

    All this talk about nasty customers…. I worked at a (very famous) coffee chain for 3 years when I was in HS/college, and I honestly had more problems with unreasonable/difficult coworkers and managers than I did with customers… maybe I got lucky?

  91. LawBee*

    Also! Having your teen apply for jobs AND THEN NOT GET THEM no matter how awesome the teen is – well, that’s a great experience in the art of accepting rejection and moving on. It’s HARD, and it’s something that’s easier learned when one’s rent isn’t on the line.

  92. the_scientist*

    Lots of good points raised in the comments here, I’m going to add my two cents!

    When I was 11 or 12, my mom, who had previously been a SAHM went back to work full-time. When my parents looked at what full-day childcare for my two younger siblings would cost them during the summer, they promptly flipped their lids and decided that I would be providing them childcare from then on. So from the age of 12, I think, I looked after my two younger siblings all summer, completely unpaid. I think one summer I guilted my mom into paying me like, $200 for the whole summer but my dad was mad about that because it was my “job” as oldest child to shoulder this burden and “contribute to the family”. I don’t recommend doing this to your kids; all my friends were enjoying their last few summers of camp and being kids and I think I missed out on a *lot* of social development there.

    When I turned 16 and was able to work, my dad wanted me to forego working in order to continue to provide childcare, but my mom convinced him to let me get a job. I was lucky in that I was able to turn a lot of my hobbies into part-time jobs. I excelled in swimming lessons, so I became a lifeguard and swim instructor. That was a great job for students; everyone was a high school or uni student and there were a million shifts a week available, from only 2 hours to as many as 5 at one stretch, so perfect for fitting around school and extra-curriculars. So I did that year-round, and then worked as a camp counselor during the summer months, which was another fantastic student job. Did either of these jobs help prepare me for the “real world”? Both were highly customer-facing, so I learned a lot about conflict resolution, customer service, negotiating with coworkers for shift coverage, etc. plus the usual “being on time”, “not calling out sick” basics.

    Many other commenters have raised the important point of schoolwork and extra-curriculars. I was a typical over-achiever and in multiple clubs, volunteer groups, sports teams and music groups. During the school year, I worked one 2-hour lifeguarding shift and then one weekend day, and that was basically all I could manage. I would get home at 5 or 5:30 after sports practice (or at 10:00 on band nights) and then have 3,4 or even 5 hours of homework to do. I routinely got less than 6 hours of sleep a night, and regularly fell asleep in class- while I loved all my extracurriculars, I don’t think this was the healthiest thing for me to be doing and I wouldn’t recommend parents pushing this level of involvement, necessarily. But from those extra-curriculars I developed an excellent work ethic and very good time-management skills, which served me well in uni and beyond.

    1. Steve*

      I’m sorry to say, but your parents sucked by making you watch your siblings all summer and not get to be a kid.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I spent a lot of summers babysitting my brother, who’s about 7 years younger than me, full time without pay. I know my parents did the best they could, and there were probably no better options, but it was a rotten way to run a household and I’ve always resented it.

      1. the_scientist*

        I still (in my late twenties!) have a lot of resentment towards my parents for this, and some other things, and then I feel guilty about the resentment because, like you said…they were probably doing the best they knew how, and I was not totally deprived of all fun, but I certainly had far more responsibilities than my friends at that age. With the benefit of hindsight, my mom agrees that they made me shoulder a burden that was too big for a young adolescent, but my dad has a very militarized approach to family life- he believes that everything should be done in the best interest of the family unit as a whole, and that each individual member of the family unit should be working towards the interests of the entire unit, even if that goes against their individual best interests, if that makes sense? So he saw and sees nothing wrong with their approach, because it made sense using that logic. So, yeah….definitely have some lingering resentment over that.

  93. JC*

    I most definitely agree with the (widely-shared in the comments section) sentiment that it’s a good thing for teens and college-age kids to have jobs. However, I don’t agree that new college grads without experience in service-type jobs are necessarily at a disadvantage for unrelated professional work. I worked at several no-college-required jobs in high school and through my first two years of college (fast food, supermarket, cam counselor, bank teller). Later in college, I got an on-campus job and a summer position that were more closely related to what I wanted to do afterwards, and I never put the unrelated jobs on a resume. I see the value in working but I also don’t care about seeing unrelated part-time jobs mixed in with related jobs on an entry-level person’s resume (e.g., for a job as a research assistant, listing your college research assistant position and also your college waitressing position). I know that opinions on this vary and that people will argue that they do like seeing those kinds of unrelated positions on a resume because they show responsibility, but not everyone is going to.

    1. Erynne*

      But what if that’s all you have, because that’s been all you can get? Is it better to walk in with nothing, because that’s all unrelated?

      1. JC*

        If it’s for a professional job, I would want to see related things you did in college, even if it’s not a job. If you had no related experience whatsoever, I’m not going to hire you. I usually hire for research assistant jobs, which are jobs where we are hiring college grads who could have gotten experience assisting a professor in college. Or at least could have experience in an office. Your experience waitressing or whatever isn’t going to cut it because for these jobs, I am always going to have applicants with school-based relevant experience.

        If I were hiring for a more general entry-level office admin role, or a role where you’d be interacting with the public in some way, then I’d be much more open to seeing unrelated work experience. Especially if you could tell me how your experience relates to the job (I’m thinking about people with customer service experience applying for a receptionist job, for example). But if you tell me you were a waitress with no context and I’m hiring for an entry-level research assistant, then no, it is not going to help at all.

        I think my problem is more with applicants with some relevant experience that might be more school-based than work-based (people who worked as a research assistant for credit, for example) who bury that experience on their resume between unrelated part-time work they did for pay. I see that all the time.

  94. Steve*

    My parents didn’t want me to work during the school years, but i did have summer jobs. There is value in doing menial hardwork for minimum wage to push you to work harder in school. Also, you learn things about yourself. I personally learned I need variety in my work to thrive. That remains true now in my late 20s.

  95. Macedon*

    By the time I got out of college, my CV numbered more jobs than my parents had held in their entire careers, combined. I worked through college, course overloaded, did the internship dance, volunteered and filled up my breaks.

    I played the game – but I wish I didn’t have to, and I hope that my children get the time and freedom to enjoy themselves and their youth without feeling obligated to do the same.

  96. HRG*

    I think having a part time job that ideally is a limited number of hours per week is a positive thing for high school and college students.

    I personally was in Honors/AP classes throughout high school. I worked odd jobs/babysitting until I was 16, and then I started working about 25-30 hours a week, which was very difficult for me to maintain. I often went to school, stayed for an extracurricular, worked for a few hours, and then did homework for several hours, often not getting into bed until 1, 2, 3am. It was tough on me. I worked a job and a half throughout my first two years of community college and once again struggled to work the hours (about 60) plus do school full time. My last two years of undergrad were easier, with only a (higher paying!) full time job to worry about, plus school. I struggled significantly from 16-22 to maintain balance between work, school and other things. If I become a parent, I wouldn’t put my child in a situation that required them to have to work those kinds of hours while attending school in order to survive. My parents felt strongly that once I turned 18 I was on my own, so I didn’t have a choice really, but I would treat my children differently if I had them.

    In a month I’ll be starting part time grad school + full time work – the lightest load yet! Hopefully it will be manageable. This program is geared towards individuals who work full time so I’m hoping it won’t be as much of a drain on my time.

  97. Limes*

    Wow, No Menial Labor Girl is headed for a HUGE quarter-life crisis (or maybe a delayed crisis in middle age when she realizes that she actually hates the high paying, high profile career track she’s on and that her true passion is carpentry).

    And I already feel very bad for her coworkers and managers. Imagine what else her parents have decided are “beneath” her?

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      A very very very rough start for sure. I never thought anything was beneath me, but it was still extremely difficult to get adjusted to the work world…I still struggle, and I don’t have the “that’s beneath me” problem (maybe the opposite)….

    2. JenGray*

      My thoughts exactly. I think that most of us in the working world can say that we have had to do some menial tasks but that is part of being in the workforce. No matter the job there are menial tasks associated with it. I once worked with a girl who was a senior in high school that didn’t know how to balance her check book. Her mom did it & then one time she was on the phone at work fighting with her mom because she had overdrawn her account. She only had the job because her parents were friends with the owners of the company. It was a huge mess- she never worked even when she was at “work”. I don’t think the situation helped her at all in life.

  98. Nervous Accountant*

    I really wish I’d been allowed to work when I was younger. I grew up very materially comfortable and, well, pretty spoiled and very very sheltered. I always wish I”d worked in school, I wasn’t allowed to, and they wanted me to focus on my schoolwork. I wasn’t much of a great student either for other reasons as well, so whjen I graduated I had very little solid work experience and I struggled A LOT, maybe more so than omst people would have. I like to think I’m nice to retail/food service most of the time, but I see how much better everyone is at every job I’ve had and its kind of hard to swallow to know that I’m in my 30s and still struggling because I had a very late start on everything.

    I would totally make my kids work…..the thought of an asshole customer throwing a sandwich at my kid boils my blood but I would hope that they stood up for themselves and realized they deserved better….had it been me (and it has been, not to that extent but less, like yelling or cursing) I’d just sit there and take it.

  99. Tara*

    Probably too late, but as a recent high school grad I’m going to throw in my two cents.

    Whether or not working through school is practical depends 100% on the student. I know people for whom it was a totally formative experience that taught them all sorts of valuable lessons. I know people who didn’t graduate on time because of work commitments. I know people who became fumbling, neurotic messes (such as myself) trying to balance everything they had to do.

    But whatever the kid’s capability is, parents have zero ability to “force” their kid to get a job. You can cut off their pocket money if you give them any, but besides that? You can’t make your kid go out and work. Where I live, getting a job is HARD. Part-time work is scarce, the busses run rarely and not late enough for closing shifts, and adult workers are plentiful and preferred. No one hires under 16 because of labour issues they can’t be bothered to deal with. Did my parents want me to get a job? Yes. Did I want a job? YES. But it took me almost a year to get one, and I was one of the lucky ones.

    Finally, summers. Everyone seems to think that summer is the ideal time for a kid to work, but once again, finding a job isn’t that easy. No one really hires “summer workers” around here. You want someone all the time, not for two months. And summer, for me at least, was always a valuable time to decompress. I spent 10 months in a state of constant stress, feeling sick to my stomach, knowing that there was constantly something that needed to be done, never feeling like I could relax. And up until I started working summers, July and August was the time that I had to let it all go and just enjoy being free of responsibility for a little while.

    I never had the privilege of not working really being an option. As soon as I turned 15, my parents stopped paying for hair cuts and underwear and field trips, and stopped paying me my “allowance” (which was really a salary for the 10-40 hours of babysitting I did a week, which I continue to do unpaid now). I used my savings for everything except for housing and groceries up until I managed to get a job. But it didn’t help grow as a person. It just sucked.

    1. Kathlynn*

      School also took a lot out of me. Going to visit my grandma in the summer really helped me. The one year I didn’t was horrible. (but I also had a bad home life.)

    2. AnnieNonymous*

      That’s a good point about summer employment. I think people forget what seasonal work really means in the summer. Here’s it’s a call for bartenders. Sure, you can be 18 to bartend, but bars would prefer to hire people who are 21. It’s usually teachers who snag up those jobs over summer vacation. No one wants to visit a shore town and be served a drink by an 18-year-old.

  100. JenGray*

    I have a story that I was told at an HR training that is very relevant here. There were two friends who owned different businesses- one was a Wendy’s restaurant and the other a services business. The services business owner was complaining to his friend that he couldn’t find any good workers who showed up on time, did their job without complaints, helped out on things not in job description etc. Well the two owners decided that the owner of the Wendy’s would hire people, train them, and then those that were good at their jobs would get referred to the services business. The owner of the services business didn’t have to spend a bunch of time figuring out if someone was a good employee because he had his friends referral. Of course, they never told the employees about this arrangement but it really helped out both businesses. So really working fast food or retail could be a gateway to something else. If that is what you want to do. These businesses are just like any other (except for the pay) and you can learn a lot from a job there.

  101. katamia*

    I worked in a library for a bit in high school and then food service and a summer at a concert pavilion in college. I don’t know if it was good for me in the long run or not. I didn’t need the money (very lucky in that respect) and had parents who were responsible and taught me a lot of basic life/work skills. But it was something to fill my time with and keep me a little more grounded, which I think I may have needed at that stage in life.

    I really wish I’d done internships in college. I don’t know what would have been available for Asian Studies students in the Midwest (it was actually a good school for area studies, but after growing up in DC, there REALLY weren’t a lot of opportunities for internships in any of the things I thought I wanted to do), but I graduated in 2007 (hello, Recession!) and the lack of office work experience really hurt me, both in finding a job and in giving me the psychological stamina to sit at a desk for 8 hours.

    1. S*

      A friend of mine had a lot of work-study and part-time experience, but no internships at all–it’s made his job search very difficult. None of the part-time work helped him because he hadn’t fostered the hard skills (he’s in engineering) that he needed for a job in his industry, even if he was developing lots of other very good soft skills from his unrelated jobs.

    2. matcha123*

      I also majored in Asian Studies and never did any internship in university.
      You might want to look into working Asia, that’s where I am now!

  102. Anx*

    The one thing I regret from working in high school and college is that it gave me a false sense of security that work was easy to find. I think people are typically more forgiving of students having less experience and a lot of your candidacy is hinged on proving yourself to be a team player or responsible without necessarily having developed specific skills.

    Being underemployed and unemployed as an adult was much more mentally and emotionally taxing because I had put a lot of my self worth in my work identity.

    This is not to discourage you from encouraging kids to work, but rather to discourage you from assuming that it will all go uphill from here or to put too much value on unemployment.

  103. Erynne*

    Honestly, I almost wish I hadn’t worked in high school. I’m the one who actually fought to get a job (they didn’t want me working or driving until I was 18, the house rule for all the girls, but I really went in for it. In the end they agreed but it meant that I paid for everything — all of my school supplies, new clothes, etc. — because they weren’t in support). I started working when I was 16, even during the school year, and have worked full-time or close to it all through college. I had to. I wasn’t one of the lucky students who could take on an unpaid internship.

    Now, though, I feel like it’s worked against me. All I’ve ever been able to get are retail jobs. No matter how hard I sold transferrable skills and what I was learning in school, no matter how many different ways I wrote my cover letter or resume (and yes, I’ve followed Allison’s advice just about religiously since I found it), I couldn’t get the experience I actually need for the jobs that I want. I’ve been applying since before graduation and here it is almost August, and I haven’t even received a callback. At this rate I’m going to have to go back to retail, and continue working somewhere that’s not helping me grow or giving me valuable experience. It wasn’t worth it.

    1. Ad Astra*

      So you graduated in May and haven’t found a job by July 28? I know that probably feels like forever, especially if you’re running out of money, but this is actually pretty normal. Keep at it!

      1. Erynne*

        I haven’t even found an interview. I’ve been applying to jobs in my degree field since April (our graduation was May 2nd), but even more worrisome to me is that I’ve never — literally, ever — been able to get a job building experience in areas I know these employers want to see that I can’t get in retail because I’m not ever able to get anything *but* retail.

        1. Intrepid Intern*

          I don’t know if you’ll see this, but–

          I’m in a somewhat similar situation. For background, I have office skills in spades, BUT I did an International Relations degree in the Midwest. I’m in DC now. I was able to get an internship after graduation (and now’s a great time to be apply for internships!) and it’s really helped me get interviews and network.

          1. Erynne*

            Paid internships are unfortunately nigh-nonexistent in my field, and I cannot feasibly afford an unpaid internship. I am wholly independent with no family support and student loans that will go into repayment five months from now. An unpaid position is just not in the cards for me, but I am glad it’s worked out for you.

            1. Intrepid Intern*

              I didn’t take an unpaid internship! I barely covered rent and egg sandwiches, but believe me, I can’t afford to work for free either. For some reason I thought you said you got your degree in Asian studies, which would put us looking for similar types of jobs. Now I don’t see it, so I’m sorry for leaping to conclusions.

              1. Intrepid Intern*

                Yep, a little upward scrolling proves I conflated two totally different comments. Sorry about that.

        2. Marina*

          I have 8 years of experience in my field and it took me 6 months to find a job. Read Alison’s e-book, take a close look at your resume, and keep at it.

    2. S*

      Keep your head up! I graduated last year in mid-May, and I wasn’t employed in any capacity until October. I know it feels like forever (it did for me too) but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, trust me.

      1. A*

        I get where you’re going with this, but if I had heard this kind of thing several years ago when I graduated from college I’d probably have sat right down and bawled my eyes out. May to October doesn’t sound like a long time to me right now, because I’m stable financially. For someone who just got out of college who may or may not have enough in savings to wait that long, or may or may not have parents or other family members willing to put them up until they find something or otherwise help them out, they’re not really helped by “hang in there” platitudes. They’re worried about how they’re going to pay their rent, because their landlord doesn’t care about the light at the end of the tunnel, they care about getting their check on time.

  104. Kathlynn*

    I think the idea of having to work may hours during college is one we should shy away from. Now, I don’t know how things would have changed if I didn’t go through school with undiagnosed mental health issues, but when I did I couldn’t handle 4 classes and a part time job, let alone more. And I did work in the summer, but the job I had gave me 12 hours a week, at min wage. Didn’t cover summer expenses let alone college expenses. (and I didn’t have the resources to get another one, esp. mentally at the time). I’m looking at my college issues now, and I’m going “how can I go to school, even part time, and work a full time job” (I need to work 20/w just for my car payment+insurance, so that each check covers it’s bills.)

  105. Jill 2*

    This is super interesting. My parents would never let me work in a retail/customer service position. I don’t think they thought it was a menial thing — as my mom now works in retail, because she can’t work in a library anymore :-( — but rather to shield me from assholes. However, I worked at one of those Kumon-center type places, taught dance, and tutored privately, starting from the age of 14.

    Truthfully, I don’t think I could do a customer service job, then or now, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I wonder if this is why I feel I will never make it in a leadership role as an adult. I don’t know how to deal with people. I freeze up in tense situations or if there’s conflict. It seems like it’s one of those things that if you learn it young, you’re much better positioned than having to learn it later on in life. It’s one of my biggest professional weaknesses, and I don’t know how to address it.

  106. purlgurly*

    I can trace a line from the position I started with in high school (lifeguard at a theme park) to the position I am in now (volunteer coordinator at a hospital) with 17 years of progressive experience in between. Education and school-based internships would not have gotten me to where I am today.

    1. purlgurly*

      (Should have said: education and school-based internships *alone*. Big difference!)

  107. Sandy The Panda*

    I cringe at the advice of the mother that claimed her daughter was “too smart” for “menial work.” I worked at a bagel shop for two years when I was in high school, and I’m pretty sure I learned more real-world lessons in that “menial” job than I did in my actual high school classes. Let’s name a few: showing up to work on time (even if it’s 6 am on a Saturday, eek), taking direction from a boss, taking initiative to do a task you know needs to be done even when someone doesn’t directly tell you so, providing good customer service, maintaining food safety standards, budgeting/saving my paycheck, handling difficult coworkers….I could go on and on. I think all of those are valuable life lessons, and they’re things I do daily in my regular life and at my adult job. If and when I have children, I will make certain that they have part-time jobs as soon as they are allowed.

  108. pinky*

    my 18 year old literally shoveled rocks today in the 90 degree heat. Shoveled rocks last week too. Manager said my son was great at shoveling rocks! I was so proud. I told my son, “if you can shovel rocks for 6 hours a day, and not complain, you can do anything in this world!” He was really happy my husband and I said that! He is doing a town internship, so food pantry shelf stocking, shovel rocks for grounds, pick up trash, clean the beach at the pond, all good stuff!

    He also has a job in a big chain retail store cleaning the bathroom and taking out garbage and collecting carts. I think he is learning pretty much everything about the world!

  109. Nobody*

    I have mixed feelings on this. I worked part-time when I was in school, from age 12 (paper route and babysitting) all the way through college. I also had summer jobs as an office assistant, and internships when I was in college.

    I definitely got a lot out of the internships and summer jobs. I was actually paid pretty well for the internships, which allowed me to graduate from college with money in the bank, but the experience alone (and references and resume material) was invaluable to my career.

    The paper route and menial student jobs in college, on the other hand, were probably not the best use of my time. I think I would have gotten better grades if I had just focused on school instead of trying to make a few measly bucks. I did learn the value of a dollar, though, by having to work for my money rather than getting handed an allowance.

  110. Mr. E*

    What if you’re not in school/college anymore? Not working when I was in high school and college was a big mistake and now I feel its too late for me to get a career. Every internship I can find now is for students only and I can’t afford to go back to school, at least not the ones the internships require.

  111. totally agree.. but*

    I would advise if possible, to not work your freshman year of school (at least the school year). That year is just crazy stressful and just having to focus on school can be a good thing

  112. Marcela*

    Earlier today I read many comments and it seems I’m the only dissenting voice here. I guess it’s my different culture. At home we were professional students. In the same way our parents had to work, my brother and I had to study. As soon as we could, we also got house chores. But apart from that, the rest of the time was ours. I feel children now are too busy. If there is an advantage of our era, is that children are not forced to work, as it happened as recently as my father’s childhood.

    In our “job” as students, very early we had to learn to manage our schedules. Our parents were there at all times to help and supervise us, but they didn’t make things for us: I remember once “forgetting” to tell my mother about a homework. She discovered it about one hour before going to school, and instead of trying to make me do it right there, she sent me to the school without it. When I got the lowest score and was devastated, I learned to ask for help on time. I was very young there, maybe 6 or 7 years old.

    The lack of a job didn’t mean we were completely clueless. We were taught about money. Even without an allowance, we knew money doesn’t grow on trees. We got credit cards at about 15, under our parents’ names, and we were expected to know how to use them to get the clothes or school materials we needed. It was our responsibility to ask for money to pay them on time (we didn’t get an allowance). We knew how to buy food, how to keep and maintain a home (although my mother spared my brother the learning of the disgusting parts, such as cleaning the bathroom). It was our responsibility to keep our clothes clean. We were required to always be on time and to keep our given word. It was also our duty to obey our elders, no matter what they asked (I’m kind of confused saying this, because I mean they could ask us to clean a mess or the bathroom or the dog’s poop, not that we were supposed to obey no matter what). Although we didn’t know details, we knew that taxes existed and how to pay some of them, for example property taxes. At some point we had to do by ourselves all of the normal burocratic procedures of daily life, often with our parents to our side, but we were taught how to interact with most of the situations our parents expected we could find.

    Something that surprises me is the idea that you can spend the money you earn in whatever you want. At my place, as long as I lived under my parents’ roof, they had the last word in everything. No way they were going to let me buy anything they did not like, no matter where the money had come from. But in my country, it’s not usual to leave the family home to go to college. We don’t even have college dorms.

    1. WL*


      You beat me to it! I filled out my FAFSA by myself because my parents didn’t know how. They just provided the numbers that I needed. I taught them how to use computers, how to fill out English forms, how to navigate city bureaucracy, and how to do a lot of other things that frankly, I wouldn’t have been taught to do at a summer job. I had to teach myself first, and then teach them. Just because I lack the summer employment experience doesn’t mean I’m a sheltered rich kid, and that’s where this thread is heading with its 500+ comments.

      1. Observer*

        No, it’s not. If you read what people have to say, it’s not that at all. It’s possible to over-shelter a kid, rich or not. It’s possible to have a bad or stupid attitude, rich or not. These are problems. Encouraging a kid or college student to take a job can be a good way to counter those kinds of problems. But, as most of the writers seem to agree, it’s not necessarily the ONLY way.

    2. Observer*

      You make a valid point. But, clearly your parents didn’t fall into the “let children be children as long as they can” and try to protect you from responsibility. Treating your school as your job + expecting you to take responsibility for yourself + pitch in around the house in a regular fashion makes a huge difference.

      Till a certain point, my parents also had the last say on how we spent our money. However, they clearly treated our decisions to spend our money differently that requests for them to pay for things. We never got an allowance; it was all money we got as gifts or earned in small jobs like baby sitting. And, I will say, it was a very smart thing. As much as I learned from things like regular shopping, discussion of the household budget, etc. managing your own money add a layer of experience that was invaluable. I made plenty of mistakes, but fortunately, they were fairly low stakes. And, I learned as much from those mistakes as from everything else.

      1. Marcela*

        Yes, but most of the comments seem to say that unless you have a job, you don’t get to learn work ethics, knowledge about money and how to behave in a job setting, among other things. That is simply not true. You can get all of that without a job or you can get an job and still being unable to behave properly.

  113. WL*

    Here’s a different perspective: my parents are immigrants and my dad works at a restaurant. He made sacrifices on his time and health so that I didn’t have to work while growing up or in college. My priority was supposed to be school. He’s explicitly said it before when I was in high school and wanted to get a driver’s license: nothing was to be a distraction from my grades, and while extracurriculars were a necessary portfolio-builder, everything else was a distraction, jobs and driving included.

    I don’t think I grew up not knowing the value of a dollar (if anything, I was more of a saver than my parents were). And I don’t think I’m above the labor-intensive work that’s the typical service-sector job. No one is, and quite honestly, minimum-wage workers of any age have to put up with waaaaay more than I do in my cushy office job. I couldn’t last a week doing what they do. I couldn’t last a week doing what my dad does. But part-time jobs and summer jobs for high schoolers to teach them “real-life skills” seems to me like a very middle- or upper-class American thing. There are other ways of learning those same skills.

    1. Bob from Accounting*

      I agree that working as a student (either high school or college) isn’t necessarily required for one to have a work ethic. I didn’t actually start working until after I graduated college. Didn’t prevent me from having a work ethic. (Or learning the importance of budgeting my money.)

      Once, I decided to take a summer class and volunteer at the same time. That turned out to be a mistake. They were both more intensive than I thought they would be, and it left me feeling constantly drained and burned out.

      1. S*

        I started working for actual pay after college too, but I wasn’t resting on my laurels before that. I had SAT prep, AP summer homework, volunteering, and band camp during high school. In college, I had internships, a leadership position in a club, and a GPA requirement if I wanted to keep my financial aid and scholarships. I studied abroad and I did a fellowship after graduation until I found my way to a full-time job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working a summer or part-time job when you’re in high school or college, but it’s also wrong to think that just because there’s a teenager out there who doesn’t have a paycheck coming in from McDonald’s, then that teenager is somehow lazy or incompetent or doesn’t understand what hard work is.

      2. Anx*

        I’ll never be able to live my life differently and now what life would have been life if I had worked hard since childhood or had been a professional scholar in my youth, so I can’t really tell just how influential my first jobs were, but I don’t think it’s that necessary for everyone.

        I didn’t really have a first job that changed everything. I worked at my family’s retail store as a child and then on and off until I was 17, when I got a real job. I also was on teams, in groups, etc. where there was sort of work component since childhood.

  114. PhyllisB*

    I already made a comment, but want to say, nowdays it’s harder for young people (especially high school age) to get jobs. Most places now hire older workers who are working to support their families. Some because this all they can get, some as second jobs. Why would they pay a high school student and deal with all the issues that entails when they can hire a mature worker for the same amount of money? I’m saying that is entirely fair (how are they supposed to get experience if no one will hire them?) but it’s just a fact of life.

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      There’s also the fact that a lot of our first jobs (bookstores, music stores, comic book stores, clothing stores) don’t exist anymore. Thanks Amazon! The infrastructure is totally different these days.

  115. Senor Poncho*

    Here to just jump on the pro-students-working bandwagon.

    I actually had a lot of fun at my high school job (golf course attendant + bussing tables). Good chance to get used to work + fun = good idea.

  116. Tiana*

    Reading this post and the comments makes me feel more uncomfortable about the fact I am unemployed at my age (17). But that’s what prompted me to comment. I want to ask how I could turn my situation around. I have done volunteer work at different places – but never gotten an actual job. Mostly because I never applied for them. It’s not because I don’t wanna lose time being a teenager or what have you – it’s because I don’t feel comfortable with having to work with people who have made my life miserable for years (hell, they’ve sent my friends into a deep depression – one of them was considering of self-harming. They have both since moved away, but I don’t have that same opportunity, because my parents get mad at me and tell me to just grow a pair.). I understand that I will have to put up with people who I won’t get along with later in life – but I feel I am getting pushed into the deep end with it. No matter how many online counseling sessions I do with helplines, there is just one of me, and dozens of them who don’t like me, or anyone else who is “weird”, and they make me feel helpless – and getting told to just grow a pair doesn’t help me either.

    There was a time where a manager from one of the places where I volunteered wanted to know if I wanted the job, but it wasn’t because I impressed them – I made A LOT of mistakes when I was there (I even got yelled at by one of the workers) – it was because the manager was friends with my parents. They were prepared to hire me because of who my parents are, not because I had skill (which I obviously didn’t). Typically, my parents weren’t pleased that I refused the job offer, and go on to tell me how I won’t go anywhere in life with that negative attitude. But it’s not like I want to be so negative as they put it – that’s why I am doing online counseling sessions with helplines. So I can brave the storm. But I also regress when it comes to having to face those people.

    So, does anyone have any advice on how to make my situation better? Because I am at a stalemate. :(

    1. A*

      You’re right that you’re going to have to work with people that you don’t get along with throughout life. However, saying that you’re getting pushed “into the deep end” is a very extreme reaction to coworkers (or fellow volunteers, or what have you) not being your best friend, and that concerns me.

      Seek counseling in another capacity. It doesn’t sound from what you’re describing like the online counseling you’re doing is moving you in a productive direction. Once you find a better source of counseling, and this is going to sound more harsh than I intend it I’m sure, you need to start working with whomever you start seeing bout how you’re taking criticism and the negative reactions of others. I’m willing to bet that 90% of those workers are upset that you made a mistake because perhaps it makes their job a bit harder, but that they don’t think as much as is necessary on it to decide that they hate you. You’re going to have to learn to get past that, or at least learn how to power through it, or you’re not going to be able to make the situation better.

      1. Tiana*

        I never said I expected my coworkers to be my friends. That’s not what I mean’t by saying I was being pushed into the deep end. What I mean’t by that is I’m expected to work with people who are biased towards me. They hate me because I am, to quote “weird”, and have made it apparent to make me feel worthless in and outside of school for years.

        An example: my younger cousin who is well liked, has the same date of birth as me. His mother encouraged his peers (some of them being those people) to come along to the party we were having. I was told to get out of my own party by these people because I didn’t “belong there”. What didn’t help was their parents and the friends who had accompanied them had thought this was the case too and told me to go. Heck, a mother got frustrated with me because I was in the way of letting her daughters stand beside my cousin in the birthday shot. So, in short, half of the guests wanted me gone at my Sweet Sixteenth because those people who are biased towards me wanted me to go. My parents didn’t stand up for me. There were the couple of guests who did but not my parents.

        That did wonders for my self-esteem!

        The problem is I can’t find another service that doesn’t cost anything. My parents don’t think I need counseling so they refuse to pay for sessions. The sessions I do take are when they are not around.

        Oh, I accept I made mistakes that made the job more difficult than it needed to be and that is why he yelled at me. I didn’t take it to heart and think he hated my being there. The reason I mentioned this experience was because I made lots of mistakes that pushed him into yelling at me but the managers were prepared to hire me because of who my parents are and not my skills (or lack thereof)

    2. Marina*

      Are there options for working with people who have not made your life miserable for years? I suppose if you’re in a small town and there’s only a couple of places where it’s an option to work, I can see how there might not be that opportunity. But for most jobs, the goal isn’t to learn to work with people who make your life miserable–it’s to work with people who you don’t know, people you’ve never met before.

      1. Tiana*

        Unfortunately, I do live in a small town so there are few places. That place where I was offered a job was one of them but I refused because they didn’t want hire me because I had skill (but because of who my parents are). Other places I volunteered at I worked with people I hadn’t met prior and I found it to be a breeze. Rather than having to work with people who are biased towards me.

        1. Tiana*

          But those other places I volunteered at had employed those people who are biased towards me but just they were on at different times to me. So they did work there but not when I was on.

  117. nep*

    ‘As for the “I don’t want my daughter doing menial work because she is too smart to waste her time that way” mother — well, ick. Way to teach her kid humility and appreciation for hard work. And does she think her daughter is going to graduate and go straight into a VP job?’

    Spot on.

  118. AnnieNonymous*

    My only issue with this advice is that people who are fully adult don’t really have a concept of how certain regulations affect teenagers/students. It’s cool to hear that so-and-so started working at 12, but that’s illegal in my state. I also hear a lot about “volunteering” and “interning” under circumstances that are clearly illegal. Obviously job experience is a good thing, but I file a lot of this stuff under “useless job advice from my mom.” Cool, I’ll call the hiring manager the day after I submit my resume. I’ll demand an interview. That’s not outdated at all, and it always totally works.

    1. S*

      I actually had to google “child labor laws” to figure out if that was actually legal or not. My gut was screaming NO at me.

      1. AnnieNonymous*

        It’s really hard to advocate for living wages and adherence to labor laws when job forums encourage teenagers to work for little or no pay. It’s also very “your mileage may vary.” Alison’s mom required her to volunteer every summer? It’s a lovely idea, but did her mom drive her to and fro every day? Young teens can’t volunteer or even babysit if their parents don’t work a perfect 9-5 schedule. My mom had four kids. If she had a rule like that, she’d have been on the hook for driving four kids to four different gigs, and that’s not feasible for an adult with a job. There’s a bit of privilege involved in judging kids for not working. Unless you’re doing the driving, it’s none of your business and not your place to judge.

          1. Marina*

            Like you, I grew up in a neighborhood where it was safe for me to walk and take the bus, and there were good opportunities within walking distance or on public transportation. That’s also not an option for a lot of kids.

        1. VintageLydia USA*

          I think this is also a function of geography and infrastructure. The city a grew up in had terrible public transportation but most neighborhoods were within a mile of some sort of shopping center (my brother walked to his first job and honestly so did most of my friends–even those of us with driver’s licenses didn’t have their own cars.) We were close to the library, various schools and churches, more fast food restaurants than you could even imagine, etc etc. But there was a section of the city that was really really rural (still within city limits–it was a huge city geographically and used to be a county until the entire thing got incorporated. People familiar with the situation will probably know exactly where I’m talking about because it’s unusual.) They were not (and still aren’t) close to ANYTHING. Most of those kids worked on the surrounding farms and stables, though, and those that didn’t were wealthy enough to have their own cars, anyway (it’s rural but not poor. Like, rap stars live out there for some godforsaken reason??)

          That said, it doesn’t solve the problem that every time I go back and go to these stores and restaurants my friends used to work and seeing mostly college aged and older people working now. The store I used to work at will no longer hire under 18 for any position except for possibly cashiering, and that would be a stretch since most positions are cross trained in at least one other department. When I was hired the evening staff except the manager was almost exclusively held by high schoolers like me.

    2. VintageLydia USA*

      Well, most people are pointing out jobs like babysitting and mowing lawns at 12 which, while a stretch, isn’t impossible to get. Paper routes for younger people don’t exist anymore, at least no where I ever lived. The few times I’ve seen that job advertised mentioned it requires a car, ideally a van or truck, because they’re too long for a kid on a bike with a messenger bag anymore. A lot of labor laws for teens (especially 14-15 year olds) prevent them from working most customer service jobs because by law they have to be off work well before the store closes, and if they’re not getting someone in until 4 or 5 most employers want them to stay until the 10 or 11 they need for the closing shift (IIRC when I was a teen you had to be out by 9 if you were 15 or younger. My store closed at 9 but closers needed to stay after to clean the store so we didn’t get out until 10ish. We didn’t hire younger than 16 who’s only restriction was “not during school hours” and then later no younger than 18.)

      The only people I know my age (29) who were able to get paying jobs other than babysitting that young worked for family businesses or friend’s of family businesses. Mostly illegal/under the table.

  119. Sonya*

    Here in Australia, you can work limited hours from 14 years and nine months of age. There are rules about what shifts they can give you. Employers in the retail and fast food sectors do NOT like hiring anyone older than about 18. By 21, they have to pay you a full adult wage. Prior to that, it’s a junior wage. They also really hate penalty rates, which are time-and-a-half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays, plus public holiday pay. Oh, and they keep you casual, so they can stop giving you shifts if you do something they don’t like, such as sticking up for yourself or taking them to Fair Work because they’re underpaying you.

    I wasn’t forced to get a job right away. I started work after finishing my Year 11 exams. I worked at the university I later attended, doing data entry (enrolments). My mother was involved in getting me this job, but I still created the best resume and cover letter I could. I was asked back every summer.

    A couple of summers in, I also got a job at Officeworks (US equivalent would be Staples, I guess) but I didn’t last the summer as I had a no-call no-show on a weekend. Silly me, I didn’t check the register roster because every day I was introduced as Sonya in the tech department. So I checked the tech roster only. I’m still a little snooty about that.

    Towards the middle of my degree, I worked in student admin. It was scheduled around my uni study. The year I graduated, I applied for the job I still have: a call centre operator in a bank. It took about two years to get made permanent (I was basically a permatemp – regular hours, etc, but labour hire). This September I’ll have been permanent for three years. My goal was to have a permanent job by age 25 and I came in under par! Okay, so it’s not glamorous, but it’s just as dignified as any other job. I really didn’t want to do food service, but I was in a metro area with a lot of different shops, so I didn’t have to work at Maccas or Kentucky Fried Children if I didn’t want to. Someone else would have been better at it. I’m too anal. I’d take too long to do things. I don’t think there’s shame in leaving a job for someone else, who is better at it, to take.

    1. Kassy*

      Please tell me “Kentucky Fried Children” was intentional, because I laughed so hard. (Sorry if this is like a huge Internet joke and I am just that far behind.)

  120. valancy stirling*

    In high school my parents didn’t let me work during the school year, wanting me to treat academics as my full-time job. During the summer, however, it was understood that I should do my best to find a job. I was very lucky to always find comfortable work — my first summer job in high school was doing basic paper filing in a city government office, and my next was doing database management for a small business. Having the combination of these white-collar work experiences and a strong academic record on my resume was crucial to letting me land some pretty sweet summer jobs starting right at the beginning of college — the summer after my first year of college I was doing a business internship in Asia alongside Ivy league MBAs. I started working during the school year my first year in college, but again it was more comfortable than menial; I worked as a TA for a math professor.

    It’s a far cry from the work experience that most students get, and I think that economic privilege strongly plays into it. My family was well-off, so they could afford to let me just focus on academics during high school and not work and study at the same time. And because my parents were both office professionals and my dad was an executive, I got a lot of coaching on building my resume, acing an interview, and appropriately and responsibly behaving/dressing in an office — which all played a major role in being able to land non-service industry jobs in high school. And because I interacted in affluent social circles, I had access to comfortable jobs like the database management position, which taught me industry-level skills like Salesforce database administration and paid double the minimum wage even though I only had a HS diploma. The only reason I got that job was because my classmate/friend recommended me.

    There’s a lot to be said about implicit biases towards “pedigree” in hiring young people — where pedigree is really a manifestation of socioeconomic privilege. I had the luxury of being picky about the jobs I took, which many teenagers simply do not. I’m seeing that starting your career in white-collar positions as a teenager gives you an enormous (and unfair) leg-up over peers who instead had to work with the primary goal of earning rather than resume-building.

  121. la Contessa*

    FWIW, not working during law school was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. I wanted to focus on getting good grades (your class rank is Serious Business in law school), but then I had no experience besides 6 months of government internships when I graduated. It took me a year and a half to get a job as a lawyer, and at that point, I was one month away from defaulting on all my student loans because they wanted me to pay per month literally more than I made in that month.

    I give this PSA every time this topic comes up. At least try to get a job. If there are no openings, okay, you tried, but at least try.

    (And I 100% agree about everyone working in public-facing jobs to learn some respect and empathy–there will come a point when my daughter is a teenager that I will strongly encourage her to work in retail or food service or customer service, or something like that. I learned so much from those jobs.)

  122. Zenika*

    Wow – 600 comments! Not sure what I can add except to chime in and say yes, I believe in high school/college work. It taught me a lot about adults (good and bad) in ways I couldn’t learn at home. Even babysitting – very valuable although I may not have felt it at the time. And even if your family doesn’t have enough money for things, the feeling that you get when you pay for something big by yourself is irreplaceable.

  123. mel*

    Getting the work experience in highschool is great – get that retail stuff out of the way so you don’t have to do it forever, especially if you’re actually ambitious.

    But muscle memory of getting up in the morning? Learning the value of money? I didn’t have a job in high school, and I learned these things. Isn’t this literally what grade school is for? To teach people how to sit in a room all day when they’d rather be doing something else? The only difference I noticed between high school and work, is that work is so much more mind-numbing with a whole lot less brain stimulation going on.

    That, and getting paid so you can keep going there. Hooray, life!

    1. Tau*

      Yeah, a lot of the things people are mentioning are things where I feel like… surely you should be learning this anyway, somehow? Like what you mention, or stuff like respecting people who work service jobs – I don’t remember ever having problems with that despite not working retail. Yes, the “I’ve been there!” empathy isn’t there but I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary. Even without that I can still respect that these are people, trying to get by in life same as anyone, working at a job that’d probably make me miserable, and I’m not going to make it even harder for them because I am not, in fact, an asshole.

      I get all uncomfortable around this topic because I never did work retail and sure, part of that is that I was lucky enough – privileged enough – not to have to, but part of it was that I was/am disprivileged enough to be dealing with two separate disabilities that don’t always play well with things like retail jobs. I never seriously considered getting a job in high school because I have a speech disorder and I figured no one would ever hire me for the sorts of jobs teenagers could get and I’d be terrible at them anyway… and then when I went to university and started rethinking that, disability #2 started making itself massively known. I spent most of undergrad frantically trying to keep my life semi-functional and highly unwilling to risk bringing it crashing down by trying to add more responsibilities. Looking back, it’s possible that adding on a job might have helped add structure… but it’s also possible I’d have failed out of uni entirely with one more thing heaped on me, and at the time I certainly didn’t think I was up to it.

      Really, whenever I hear “doing thing X teaches you this incredibly important and foundational life skill”, I think “if it’s so important, shouldn’t we make sure schools are teaching it? Somehow?”

      1. Observer*

        Really, whenever I hear “doing thing X teaches you this incredibly important and foundational life skill”, I think “if it’s so important, shouldn’t we make sure schools are teaching it? Somehow?”

        Valid point. And, sometimes it’s true that if schools were doing their job, it wouldn’t be necessary to teach those specific things. On the other hand, the role of schools is NOT to take over the parents’ job in its entirety. And, the reality is that schools are not the place to teach certain types of skills in general, nor to deal with things that are highly individual. In fact, I would say that the structure of schools makes some things impossible to teach in that context. And, the obligations of public education makes some other things impossible to really teach in the context of public schools.

        And, in my opinion, that’s fine. Because one thing that everyone needs to learn is that while certain rules apply EVERYWHERE and EVERYWHEN, others are highly context specific. And, it’s really not practical to provide that understanding if you don’t provide different contexts to people.

  124. MBA*

    I wish I could have worked in high school and college. Because my family was dirt poor (2 of us surviving on about 9-10k a year) we got public assistance. The government counts everyone’s income in this including the kids. While I wanted to work to gain experience, my mother wouldn’t let me because it would affect our benefits – particularly her medical which she needed because of severe health issues.

    The entire thing sucked and really set me back from my peers who got work experience early. Instead, I learned by doing odd jobs with neighbors. While I gained a lot of great experience – including tech and event organizing experience – it wasn’t stuff I could easily put on a resume.

    1. matcha123*

      Are you in the US? While my family didn’t get welfare, we did get child support which was about 9K per year. However, and I could be wrong, for underage and in school people, their income isn’t counted.

      1. Kassy*

        Rules are different for those programs. Child support tends to be skewed heavily in favor of the custodial parent (as it should be, IMO). But for other programs, all income counts, including that of students and kids. (In fact, at least in MO, you can’t even get food stamps as a full-time college student unless you are working at least 20 hours per week. They assume if you can afford to go to school, you can afford to eat. Not always true, but there you have it.)

  125. CS*

    I totally agree. Working as a high school/college student, especially when I turned 18 and worked full time hours during breaks, was an important experience for all the reasons you pointed out. It also taught me about the types of jobs I will never be suited for (food service) and the ones I can handle (customer service). I ended up working in retail, which meant I worked alongside people of all ages from different backgrounds and learn how to get along with all of them – another valuable skill.

    The initial shock of working a 40 hour week for the first time is also something you kind of learn how to deal with over time.

    My only regret is that I basically always had a job from the age of 12 (paper route). When I turned 14 I started working weekend mornings at Dunkin Donuts. I remember my dad saying, “you’re gonna be working for the rest of your life … are you sure you want to start now?” Had I fully understood that statement, I might have waited a couple years.

  126. Dolores*

    I understand wanting your kids to have work experience, but I personally wouldn’t want my kids to work through junior high and high school. Work is not “menial” it’s just work. I think it’s a good idea however for them to work while in College so they won’t be completely stunned by the corporate world after they graduate and have to find a job. It does SOMEWHAT prepare them.

    If I could afford to pay their way through college I would and just allow them to save the money from their job they’ve earned. I also think it’s an excellent idea to give them an allowance for doing chores while in junior high and high school and teaching them how to save and spend money wisely. If you teach them these small important lessons young they will hopefully know and respect the value of a dollar before they get out in the real world.

    Only keeping a child responsible for doing chores and school work can be an excellent way to teach them the value of hard work without thrusting adult responsibility on them before it’s time. Let a kid be a kid until it’s time for them to grow up. Its’ not like they’ll ever get a second childhood.

  127. Unegen*

    High school kids should ideally have a part-time job (even just a few hours a week) not just for the work experience per se, but also just because it gets them out of the house and away from their parents. They need that. It’s a healthy part of the separation and identity-building process. Home, no matter how loving, is still stifling simply because it always presents the same perspective. Same with school. A job is an unfamiliar situation that requires constant adaptation (especially if it’s something menial and customer service related). It’s a shame to waste an opportunity for personal growth like that.

    And college kids definitely should have a part-time job. Or several part-time jobs, as many of my roommates had. And work summers. Face it: college kids need at least some of their own money, to take on expenses that they are solely responsible for (and to blow on beer…because don’t lie to yourself, some of it’s going to beer). I hate to sound like a fuddy duddy but it’s true, nothing rams home the value of a dollar like having to earn it. I did not have a job in college. I watched my roommates work theirs…and I think they made the wiser decision. If I could go back and do it over again, I’d get myself a job the first day of first semester.

  128. Haley*

    Kids need to have work experience. My parents forced all their kids to start working part-time once they turned sixteen, which frankly I hated, but it was necessary. Once I hit college I wasn’t physically able to hold down a job while studying full time (minor disability, my grades plummeted), but I still worked as much as I could in the summers and also took a semester off just to work and save money. My friend, however, never worked a formal job in her life, just freelancing here and there. She graduated with high honors, stellar portfolio, but her resume is such a blank slate absolutely nobody will hire her. I did not like most of my crappy summer jobs, outright hated a couple of them, but in this day and age no employer is going to waste their time on somebody who looks that bad. Not having worked, btw, looks bad.

    1. Amberrr*

      Same on the minor health part – I’m usually actually not physically well enough to be able to keep up working and studying. I worked part time in high school and first year university, and now I just work full time in the summers. It was my choice to work in high school and I’m going to admit it did screw up my grades a bit but I really liked having money to do things. I’m currently a bit broke and it’s rough!

  129. emma2*

    I’m one year out of school, and working 8 hours a day is CAKE compared to my 12-hour days as a student + part-time job holder + other extracurricular activity doer. I have always been the kind of person who gets bored easily with free time, so I liked working. My parents actually didn’t let me work in high school – they thought it would distract from school – so I did community service during summers.

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