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Why My Teens Will Spend Their Summer Working in a Restaurant

My high school summer days were spent ringing up Whoppers in a hideous polyester uniform complete with a coordinating visor. I began working at Burger King at the age of 15 because I wanted to earn some money. Little did I know that working in that restaurant would not only provide me a paycheck but also teach me skills that would serve me well throughout my life.

Now that summer has arrived, it’s good to see my four teenagers rest and regroup after a busy, challenging school year. It’s even better to see them working multiple hours at part-time jobs in restaurants, building essential life skills that I can’t teach them.

How can we help our teens strengthen their work ethic, empathy, and social skills this summer? If your teenager is of working age, a job at your local restaurant is the best way they could spend their time this summer.

4 Skills Teens Learn Working at a Restaurant:

1. Empathy

Working in our local breakfast restaurant on the weekends, my teens experience the struggles people face in the real world. They saw a server crying in the kitchen after a large table of customers left the restaurant without leaving her a tip. My children carried her pain home and vowed out loud never to do that to someone.

My teenagers sit around the dinner table telling us about their coworker, a father of six, who has to work two jobs all week long and still doesn’t have the money to get his car fixed. They discuss how they can help.

Working in a restaurant allows our teenagers to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. They develop empathy through their experiences.  

2) How to manage inconvenient and uncomfortable moments

Of course, my teens don’t look forward to getting up and being at work on Saturday mornings earlier than they even have to be at school. But that’s okay because adulthood is full of inconvenience and it’s better that they begin to learn how that feels now.

Having a job can be inconvenient sometimes, and it causes teens to have to miss out on social opportunities and complete tasks they may not feel like doing. Working in the restaurant, my sons and daughter have to see people they know from school, church, and other areas of their lives. It can be uncomfortable to be seen by peers when you’re cleaning up other people’s messes while wearing a less than glamorous uniform. But I think it’s good for their development into adults.

Our kids will become stronger through the uncomfortable and inconvenient experiences we allow them to work through, not by playing video games and scrolling social media all day.

3) Self-confidence

It feels better to have money that you earned to buy your girlfriend a birthday present or to go out to dinner with friends, rather than to have to ask your parents, yet again, for some spending cash.

Earning their own money builds a teen’s confidence because they know they worked hard for the cash they are spending. Our high schoolers also gain confidence in themselves, knowing they are a valuable asset to that restaurant.

It’s okay to expect our teenagers to pay for their gas, phone bill, and nights out with friends. Our kids are busy, but they should never be too busy to work for the things they want.

4) Communication

Working in a restaurant teaches teens to communicate in person with people from all walks of life, whether they like them or not. Our kids will push through their discomfort in order to advocate for themselves when talking to supervisors. They will also have the opportunity to build relationships with diverse coworkers, some of whom they would otherwise never know.

Working with people means face-to-face contact, so restaurant work is the perfect job to help our teens learn to navigate the world without their technology.

I have encouraged my teens to get restaurant jobs because I knew it would be good for them. Being a little uncomfortable and inconvenienced during the summer is a small price to pay for the wealth of experience they are gaining—not to mention the sense of accomplishment they get from earning their paycheck.

Amy Carney writes at and her work is published at a variety of online and print publications. She is also the author of Parent on Purpose: A Courageous Approach to Raising Children in a Complicated World.

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