I can distinctly remember my first job interview. I was fresh out of high school and was hoping to make extra money during the summer to pay for college. I scheduled an interview at a local temp agency and was hired to do secretarial work in offices in my area. On my first day of work, I felt like a big deal in my 90s-style business suit. I quickly learned that that I’d be spending my summer making copies, filing, and ensuring the coffee pot never ran dry.
I worked long hours for the temp agency because my parents were adamant about me focusing on my studies while I was in college. They did not want me to juggle a job and my heavy nursing school course load. At the time, I felt lucky that I didn’t have to dash off to wait tables after a grueling day of nursing clinical. And, when it came time for me to get my first job after college, I felt more than prepared to be professional on the job.
Not working during the school year in high school or college didn’t affect my ability to adapt to my adult financial responsibilities. And now that my son is a teenager, I feel the same way about his school life experience.
I want him to be able to focus on his grades, join clubs, and be dedicated to sports and activities without having the additional strain of a part-time job.
My husband feels otherwise.
My husband was not very involved in high school activities. He had a part-time job from the time he was fourteen. First he worked as a cashier in a grocery store and then later as a clerk in an auto parts store. He paid for his car insurance and bought his own car with the money he saved from his jobs.
I’ve often wondered aloud how things would have been different if his parents hadn’t insisted that he work during high school. And our different philosophies, based on how we were raised, has caused some friction between us as we’ve tried to work out what’s best for our teens.
Should our son get a job? How many hours should a teenager work? It’s hard to find a common ground when we both feel our parents made the right choice. I appreciate that my parents protected me from the adult realities of paying bills and demanding bosses for as long as they could. And my husband is grateful that he learned customer service skills, as well as what financial independence feels like, early on.
We’re realizing there is no one right choice when it comes to raising teens.
As we’ve heatedly discussed our stances over the last few months, it dawned on us that we hadn’t actually asked the one person our decision affected: our son.
We were trying to make a decision without his input. And, since our son is 16, he’s clearly able to make choices about the demands on his time.
So, we asked him. And his answer surprised me.
Our son wants to work because he knows how good it feels to make money for a job well done. He’s mowed lawns, taken care of neighborhood pets, and done odd jobs like painting and yard work. But, he told us, “I want to learn how to have a real job. I want to learn how to be like you and Dad when it comes to money.”
I stopped looking at a part-time job as a punishment. I realized that, for our son, a job represents his growing independence. He wants us to help him along the way, and he’s asked us about budgeting his time and his new paychecks.
While I still have reservations about how a job will fit into his high school schedule, we’ve agreed to work together to figure it out. I’ve compromised by letting him get a job and my husband has agreed his school week hours should be kept to a minimum, with more hours on the weekend. Our son has agreed to let us know if he’s feeling overwhelmed or like he can’t manage his schoolwork.
When my son completed his job application, he looked at me and beamed. “I promise to take you out to dinner with my first paycheck, Ma,” he said.
This part-time job thing might just have perks after all.