Will Work for the Summer
Illustration by Aaron Roseli, © Style Media Group.
Every teenager, when they are old enough, should have a summer job that sucks.
It could be a job that puts them outside and makes them sore, sweaty and sunburned; or maybe dehydrated and yelled at by a crotchety old foreman with skin like beef jerky who seems to hate everything and everyone; or, it could be something indoors that keeps them on their feet—perhaps filling orders or stocking shelves, washing dishes or wiping tables.
Either way, it should be something that keeps them too busy to text or tweet or launch a single Angry Bird toward a single smirking pig for a good six to eight hours. Something that makes them interact with others, or not at all, that makes them think on their own, or put their brain on pause. It should be something that spells them from books, school, parents, siblings and maybe even athletics. The job should make them occasionally have to say no to friends when invited to hang out at the mall, the lake or a party on Saturday night.
They should have to punch in and punch out, sometimes working early, sometimes staying late, sometimes getting called in last minute because a co-worker flaked. They should have to help a customer locate something not easy to find, or help an old person to their car, or smile (forced or not) at little kids begging: “Please Mom can I get something?” as they walk past the candy aisle, because that was them not too long ago.
They should learn to make a pizza, or a sandwich, or hear “double-double animal style” and know exactly what to do next. Maybe they’re a lifeguard, supervising the carefree chaos of a public pool on a 100-degree day, sunglasses over their eyes and zinc oxide on their nose. Or they could just mundanely stand at the front of an air-conditioned movie theater, tearing tickets and saying “Screen 14, to your right.”
It doesn’t even have to suck all that much. A mall or coffee shop job could be pretty chill. Whatever it is though, it should demonstrate the value of a dollar, so they can start to get their head around how many of them it takes to fill a gas tank, buy clothes for fall or books for their first year in college. On second thought, they might need a couple jobs for that one.
It should show them what it means to live up to the expectations of a manager who doesn’t think they are the center of the universe but who may grudgingly show them respect if they do a good-enough job, or—if they do better than that—might even come to rely on them.
Granted, it isn’t easy for a teen to get a summer job these days; a recent study found that 35 percent of teens looking for work in California last summer didn’t find any. But as the economy improves, that will change, and regardless, a kid should still try, because there is value just in that—perseverance, for example. And if they do get a job? They also get this: appreciation for honest hard work and for honest, hard-working people.
And here’s the biggest upside of all: If the job goes well, or even if it doesn’t, they will have gotten a taste of self-reliance, real independence, and a sense that maybe they can eventually make their own way through this crazy world. Which, unless you don’t care if they’re still living at home when they’re 30, should be reason enough.