I have three teens who will all be driving in less than a year, and to say kids are expensive is an understatement. Have you seen the average cost of a (somewhat) reliable car? Do you know how much one year of college is? Did you know teenage girls eat just as much as teenage boys, and my three kids can clear out my freshly stocked pantry and fridge the same day I bring home groceries?
Being teenagers, they like to remind me it was my choice to have three kids in three years and I shouldn’t complain about the expense. I agree with them, but I can’t seem to help myself, either. No one is perfect.
But I’ve also told them all since they were in diapers that if they wanted to drive around with their friends and do things like go to the movies without me tagging along, they’d need to get a job to help pay their way. And I continue to stand by that statement: These teens are going to get summer jobs, by God, and I am not sorry.
My oldest son has worked every summer since he was eleven. And I’m not talking about easy jobs, either. Some years, he spent days working in hay fields in the sun with his grandfather. He worked two jobs the summer before he took his driver’s education test, and by the time he got his license he had enough money saved to pay cash for his first car. He was so proud of himself the day he got to drive it home, and man, I was even prouder.
And now, my two younger kids will follow in his footsteps — says me — because I don’t think you can put a price on the skills kids learn working during the summer, especially if they don’t like the job. Last summer, they picked berries in a large dirt field. Then my daughter washed dishes at night, and my son scooped ice cream. There were days they didn’t want to go and had to turn down fun plans like going to the pool with their friends. They wanted to quit many times and told me repeatedly they didn’t like to work.
However, they liked the feeling they got when their paycheck made its way into their hot little hand. I liked how having a job got them into a routine and out of their bed before noon. I also believe that it helped them learn the value of money. They were less likely to throw away, or not use, something they bought with their hard-earned money — something I’ve got after them for doing with my hard-earned money more than one-hundred thousand times.
Having too much free time in the summer isn’t good for my kids. They are used to more structure, and when school and extracurricular activities end, a little respite is good. But on a beautiful summer day, they will spend it in bed and on their phones. Not having anything to do besides hanging out with their friends sometimes makes for unmotivated teenagers.
My kids have also discovered how important it is to find a job you love. Summer jobs are an excellent way for our kids to explore different careers and skills. My daughter realized she didn’t like working in strawberry fields, but she loved visiting the animals on that farm and realized she wanted to pursue a career with animals. My youngest son discovered how much he loved being out in nature and working in the dirt and has now turned our entire backyard into a garden. My oldest worked for his father a few summers as a plumber and found a career he loves.
Working has helped my kids realize the value of money and hard work. Yes, they’d rather not have to have a job and take the entire summer off (who wouldn’t) but I know I’m doing more for them by making them work three months out of the year than I would be if I let them lie in their room from June until the beginning of September.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.