A Parents Perspective On When And Why Kids Should Get Jobs

I started mowing lawns when I was 13 or 14. At 15 I was a bus boy at Madison’s Cafe in Jefferson City during the school year and worked 40 hours a week every summer in high school. One summer I worked with Probation and Parole sorting through files (easily the most boring), another summer I worked creating trails at the Conservation Department (easily the most difficult), and for two summers I worked mowing sewage lagoons with my friend, Shay (easily the most fun).

A few of my friends worked during the school year and almost everyone had a full time summer job. My wife, Christine, worked far more than I did in her hometown of Belton, MO while still having time to play softball, be a cheerleader, and a member of student council.

So when our oldest hit 14 we just assumed he’d find some sort of job. It wasn’t the kind of thing that Christine and I had to talk about or pray about. We never imagined a world where our kids didn’t work. Each of the boys has mowed lawns. Luke, the youngest, started when he was 12. Nathan and Sammy now both work at the public golf courses and often pick up other side jobs.

But what I’ve noticed is that this is unusual. Unlike when Christine and I were their age, most of our kids’ friends don’t start jobs as young and when their friends do get jobs (if they get jobs) they don’t work as many hours. I’ve reflected lately on why that is and whether or not it was good for my kids to start work when they did and work as much as they do.

This is one of those tricky issues because while I’m definitely happy about the choices that we made in this area, I don’t presume that it’s the right choice for everyone. At the end of this post I’ll share how with one of our kids we made a different choice.

One more thing: This was never primarily about money in the sense that the kids’ lawn mowing money was used to pay the bills. That might be the case for some families but that hasn’t been our story. We could have given our kids some spending money although not as much as they wanted.

This was about our kids learning personal maturity through work that can’t be learned as well in other places.

When your kids have a job…

They have to show up whether they want to or not.

They learn to have a good attitude (or at least fake it).

They learn to open a checking account and how to keep track of their money and the consequences of not doing that.

They learn how to think about the value of a movie ticket or a new hat or sweatshirt. When each started mowing lawns I’d ask if the $50 shirt was worth mowing two $25 lawns.

They learn delayed gratification by saving money to buy something more expensive.

They learn that some entry level jobs are boring so it’s probably smart to pay attention in school so that you’ll have other opportunities down the road.

They’re exposed to different types of people from very different backgrounds. If they move beyond entry level work and end up with a better job, they’ll always respect the average worker who shows up each day and works hard to provide for his/her family.

They learn how to look people they don’t know in the eyes and have adult conversations.

They learn customer service which is pretty important no matter what field they enter.

They learn how to handle an unfair or temperamental boss and lazy co-workers.

Anticipated Questions:

Can’t you learn these same things from sports or dance or _________? Kinda yes but mostly no. Sports are fantastic and my kids have all participated in various sports. I learned a massive amount from growing up playing sports and focusing on football in high school. But look back through this list as you’ll see that there’s a kind of maturity that sports don’t produce.

Don’t jobs cause kids to grow up too fast? Kids need to grow up faster. There’s a huge problem with people in their 20’s still having a difficult time being adults. In fact there’s a term that was created to describe the problem: “adultolescence“.

Aren’t you worried kids won’t be safe? It depends. Common sense is necessary. But my default position is that parents are inappropriately obsessed with safety. How many kids get hurt serving fast food or working at the golf course or mowing lawns or working at the mall? If you’re talking about moral safety, then I’d say that sitting at home watching Netflix is more dangerous than what they’ll encounter at most job sites.

Our Exception: Our daughter proved early on that she was academically oriented. She regularly took the toughest classes offered, studied hard, and did well. She also swam 2-4 hours a day with Columbia Swim Club. While we talked about her having a job we decided it wasn’t the right choice. That decision paid off when she got a full ride academic scholarship. One thing that made me feel like we had made the right decision not having her work in high school is that as soon as she graduated she got a full time summer job and now has 2 jobs in college even though she has the full ride. There’s not a one size answer that fits every kid and every family.

So what’s my big point? This is one part of my personal crusade to get parents to consider how they might be unintentionally holding their kids back from being the men and women they want their kids to turn into.

Thanks for letting me rant.

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