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Mowing Lawns and Cooking Fries: Why Every Teen Needs a Job

Teen JobsExcuse me for a moment while I boast, but in fourth grade I discovered that I had a knack for selling stuff.  You know those candy bar drives schools put on to raise money?  Every student was saddled with an inventory of 2 cases of inexpensive chocolate and charged with hawking what they could to neighbors, friends, and family.  It was a ritual despised by parents and kids alike.  But when I saw the prizes I could win by selling these mediocre treats I was inspired to do whatever it would take to make my candy campaign successful.  So I hatched a plan to offer free samples of the chocolate bars to potential customers, and then charge a little bit more for the candy bars to make up the difference.  At the end of the drive, I had managed to sell sixty cases of chocolate bars!  Not bad for a ten-year-old kid!  But before my head swells too big, let me admit that I’ve also had a few failures in my work career.  I’ve even been fired from a job.  It sure didn’t feel good, but the lessons I’ve learned have stuck with me.

Here’s the point of these personal illustrations:  kids need jobs!  And no amount of after-school activities, social clubs, sports programs, or music lessons can replace the education and life skills gained at work.  These days, parents may be tempted to focus too much attention on their kids.  We used to call this “spoiling” our kids.  But doing too much, or giving too much to your teens without asking any responsibility from them in return may result in an entitled teen, who becomes an entitled adult. There’s no better way to teach responsibility than requiring your teen to have a job.  Sure, maybe the pay off is not immediate, but the void left when kids don’t work is felt later on in life.

What happens when your son or daughter gets married and the clash of finances begins?  It’s one of the main reasons marriages dissolve.  Young couples that haven’t had much experience handling their own finances don’t understand how to create and live under a budget, so they fight about who is spending what or they use credit cards to supply all their wants and needs.  Pretty soon, they’re in a financial hole that takes decades to escape!

Mom and Dad; now is the time to start instilling the value of work and the principles of financial management.  When your teenagers begin a job, they can look forward to learning a few lessons along the way that will help them succeed throughout their lives.

Learn How to Listen

Parents often tell me, “My kid just won’t listen to me!”  However, this bad habit will start to wither away once your son or daughter starts working for a boss.  They’ll understand quickly that respect and attention are essential in order to earn that paycheck at the end of the week.  You can’t mouth off to a superior (well, you can, but you won’t have a job very long).  You have to listen to instructions and have the maturity to carry them out.  If your teen is not grasping this lesson at home, he will definitely be able to learn it at the workplace.

Learn to Handle Finances

What’s that old proverb?  Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.  Applied to the area of finances, this time-tested bit of wisdom holds water.  We can give teenagers an allowance of money, pay their bills, finance their hobbies, and supply their needs and wants.  But when we do this, we are really robbing them of the chance to earn and handle money on their own. I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide anything for your kids.  As a parent, it’s your responsibility to care for their basic needs.  But it’s possible to take this too far.  Some parents never turn down their teens’ requests for cash, and are always buying them bigger and better toys. It’s wiser to encourage your teens to earn money and budget for what they want.  A dollar earned is more valuable than a dollar given.  When teens realize the effort that goes into making money, they’ll understand the value of being good stewards of what they have.  So every year, slowly step back from financing their lives.  One year, let them pay for gifts for Christmas and birthday parties.  The next year, have them help pay for school clothes.  When they get a license, let your son or daughter pay for their car insurance.  In college, have them pay for books or the interest payments on their school loans.  Of course, they’ll need a job to pay for all these things.  But that’s good!  Give them the opportunity to handle money at an early age, and you’ll be preparing them for a financially healthy life later on.

Learn to Work Well

It’s not all about the dollars and cents.  Having a job can instill a sense of accomplishment and purpose in a teen’s life.  Your child can learn what it means to be devoted to doing quality and valuable work.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling that comes from a job well done.  So start early, and give your child chores around the house and praise him or her for a good job.  If your teen mows the lawn, comment on how good the yard looks.  If your kids are in charge of feeding and walking the animals, let them know that you appreciate their work.  Reinforce the idea that working with your hands is worthwhile and meaningful.  Work is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced and done with an eye towards excellence.

Learn Their Own Potential

There may be some moms and dads reading this thinking, “Frankly, Mark, I think teenagers shouldn’t have to jump into the working world so soon.  I mean, they’re just kids!  They don’t have the tools necessary to handle that type of responsibility.

But that is just not true.  Teenagers have more potential then we often give them credit for.  Let’s go back a hundred years.  What would we find?  Seventeen-year-olds running the family farm.  Fourteen-year-olds managing large animals.  Nineteen year-olds leading armies into battle.  Sixteen-year-olds getting married (Of course, this doesn’t mean your high-school daughter should run off and marry her boyfriend).  Were kids inherently different back then?  I don’t think so.  Teenagers today are not all that different from the teenagers of yesterday.  The problem is, we expect less of them or don’t give them the opportunities to earn maturity.  Give a teenager a project that has substance, or meaning, or adds value, and you’ll find them rising to the challenge and displaying levels of character you might have never seen before!  Work can bring out the hidden potential in your child.

Learn Valuable Skills

Mom and Dad, let me ask you this—have you replaced your teen’s work with after-school activities?  Now, there’s nothing wrong with soccer practice, violin lessons, or being in the chess club.  Will every child who shoots hoops after school become a basketball star?  Probably not.  But every child will eventually join the workforce.  Instead of forcing activities on your child that he or she may not continue later on in life, why not give them a chance to develop the skills they will need to have a career one day?

If your teens’ schedule is too packed for a part-time job, it’s time to evaluate the priorities.  Provide the time needed to take on a construction job, or fold clothes at the GAP, cook fries at the drive-thru, or groom neighborhood animals.  Let your teens find work.  In that way, you’re supplying them with needed skills they will use for the rest of their adult life.

In this culture, work is being viewed as a lifetime punishment with no possibility of parole.  And while our teens are over exposed to the issues and subjects of adult life, they are under exposed to needed responsibilities.  We have teens that can build complex software from the ground-up, but can’t socially interact with supervisors or people in charge.

A job can change that.  And you’re not a bad parent for making your teenager get a job.  In fact, you’re giving them a priceless gift.  You’re teaching them the value of work.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential facility for teens located in Hallsville, Texas. Check out our website, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent, such as other helpful articles by Mark, and practical resources for moms and dads. On our website you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcast. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.