This article originally appeared in the June 13, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Many of us have fond memories about our first summer job, but we probably didn’t realize at the time that we were learning many important lessons to prepare us for adulthood while earning our very first paychecks. Teenagers who opt to work a summer job get many more benefits than spending money: they are absorbing valuable knowledge that will help them in both their careers and social lives.
Of course, money management is the most obvious skill that a teen will learn. In a society where carrying cash is not necessary, swiping a plastic card to buy what we want seems very easy. But working a summer job will provide invaluable context to a teenager. When they know they worked three hours to get the money for that movie or video game, it helps them understand the value of money in a way that lectures from Mom and Dad can’t match.
Summer jobs can help with a teen’s social skills as well. The process of applying and interviewing for summer jobs can put teenagers on a good path for success. Good interview skills are crucial, and the ability to present well to others can’t be overstated. Interview skills are important to helping gain college acceptance, potentially getting scholarships, and landing full-time careers when the time comes.
Summer jobs are a terrific way for teens to learn something about themselves. Putting different skills to use can teach people a lot about what they enjoy and don’t enjoy in their jobs. Perhaps a teenager’s dream job may not be scooping ice cream, but they may find they enjoy interacting with customers through the work shift. Working a cash register may not be their ultimate career goal, but teens may find satisfaction in counting money and making their register balance at the end of the day. Whatever the job, there will be elements that may speak to them and help them understand what they like and don’t like in a job and, someday, a career.
Teenagers may also find that their summer job pushes them out of their comfort zone in the best possible way. Going out to ask for job applications and returning them, interviewing, and learning a new position can be daunting. Certainly it’s easier to spend a summer playing video games. But learning how to address strangers and work through the process of getting a job is an invaluable skill earned only outside of one’s comfort zone.
A summer job will also set teenagers on the path to understanding the importance of a work-life balance. Most parents don’t opt to spend evenings playing video games after a long day at work. Home responsibilities don’t disappear on week days and, for most teens, chores won’t disappear on week days either. It may not seem like fun at the time but knowing how to tackle the responsibilities that await you at home is an important part of being an adult.
Paychecks with their name on them might seem like the most rewarding aspect of a summer job, but teens will gain important knowledge that will follow them throughout their lives.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.