By the time my son hit the spring of his senior year, I was certain that, not only had he learned everything academically he needed to know to graduate, but I also assumed that somewhere along the way he had also learned some real life lessons concerning hard work.
He had just completed four years of high school with a pretty difficult schedule, many late nights of studying, plenty of group projects, and a slew of community service hours, so I figured he was pretty much good to go in the “work ethic” department.
And then a few months before he left for college, he took a part-time job at a popular fast food restaurant. All I can say is, he learned more life applicable lessons while making tacos and running the drive-thru for four months, than 12 years of school could ever teach him. There’s just something about a real job, even if it is part time and in fast food, that is able to perfectly demonstrate to teenagers some serious lessons about adulthood and employment.
What Part-Time Jobs Teach Teens
Here are some life truths that a part-time job is guaranteed to teach your teenager;
1. Value of a dollar
By far the first and most important lesson he learned was THIS- the real value of ONE DOLLAR. Things and stuff and food all suddenly became equated to “hours worked,” because when it’s your money and not your parent’s cash, it’s heartbreakingly hard to part with. You’ll start to hear things like, “No way on that Frappuccino, because I’d have to work 45 minutes for that,” or “Air pods are $175! That is like two weeks on the job!”
2. Deductions, taxes, more taxes, and more deductions
The day my son received his first paycheck which was three weeks after he started because of direct deposit set up (which then made him rant, “I’ve been working and working haven’t been paid yet. How can they do that?!”) he was befuddled with the amount of money he legitimately earned, but wasn’t going to be keeping because of taxes.
Soon thereafter, he suddenly became concerned with who and where this money was actually going, and who he needs to vote for so he can keep more of what he makes, and decide the programs he wants his taxes to fund. Turns out AP Government didn’t teach this.
3. Saving money
How and why you need to put a portion of each paycheck away in a savings account became abundantly clear when he had an unexpected expense that I was unwilling to pay for. He went from blowing every penny of every paycheck to being very conscious (if albeit cheap) when it came to what he spent his money on, and also learned how to have willpower to save for large expenses, or just a rainy day account. The more his savings account grew, the more excited he got about saving, and the less he spent.
4. Showing up
I had repeatedly told my son that 99% of life is “showing up” even when you don’t want to, but he didn’t fully grasp that until he started his job, and realized there are days that you just don’t want to work, but days that you just have to.
In real life there are no parents around to call your boss and tell them you don’t feel well, there are no unlimited sick days, and not showing up can and will affect the entire business. He learned a lesson in selflessness, and that his choice to not show up impacted everyone he worked with, not just him.
5. Rules, dress codes, policies, and working for a boss you don’t like
My son thought high school dress codes and rules were annoying and ridiculous, until he learned that most jobs have much the same policies. If you’re called to the school office for breaking a rule, you apologize, take a punishment, and go back to class.
If you do the same at work, you’re fired. You don’t get to have an opinion on their policies or pick and choose which ones you think are fair, you have to comply by all the rules for the opportunity and privilege to work. Also, he learned something even more true- that he is instantly replaceable, bosses are not friends, and you don’t need to like someone to work for them.
6. You’re not above any job as a teen (or adult for that matter)
If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you may have noticed something odd- people clearly in upper level management and dressed in a work suits, walking around the park holding a broom and dustpan and sweeping up garbage. Disney believes no employee is above working even the most entry level job, and the same life lesson was quickly taught to my son when he found himself cleaning toilets at 2 a.m., alongside the restaurant manager.
You may very well end up with an MBA, but your first day on the job you may be asked to make copies or grab a cup of coffee for someone, and never should your attitude or response be, “I’m too good and too smart for this type of work.” Nobody is above any job in the workplace (well, unless you own the workplace), but guess who probably started off cleaning toilets and still would if they had to? The current owner of the company.
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