Life Lessons

I Can’t Believe How Much Getting A Job Helped My Kids

The benefits go so far beyond the money in their pockets — and that’s pretty great, too.

a collage of a teen girl pouring coffee at her part-time job and a stack of money behind her
Social Studies

During the lockdown days of early 2020, I noticed my daughter seemed to be very withdrawn. She spent most of her time in her room and while some of that was due to online learning, some of it was by choice too. I wasn’t sure if it was because so many of her usual in-person social outlets were suspended, or if something else was going on. However, something changed when she mentioned getting a job, which I thought was a great idea.

And I have to say, I’m even more delighted with the results than I thought I would be. It has built up her confidence like nothing else. And it’s not just her — all my kids have benefitted from their part-time jobs, and not just financially, either.

My older son has always been somewhat of a workhorse. At eleven, he got a job haying during the summer and saved enough money to buy a mountain bike. The following summer he worked toward a cell phone. Now he’s almost nineteen, he works full-time, and he has more money saved than a lot of adults I know. He heads to work every day with enthusiasm and he’s just happier when he’s working and even struggles during a vacation. There’s something about the routine and structure that makes him feel alive.

My daughter’s path to her job was a little rockier. She was sure she didn’t want to deal with the public; she wanted something that didn’t involve waiting on people in any way. I suggested she stop in at a local restaurant and see if they needed a dishwasher. She didn’t want to do that, so I told her to message them on Instagram — even if they weren’t hiring, they’d keep her in mind.

Again, she was hesitant to put herself out there, but she did it. The owner got back to her right away and let her know they didn’t need anyone then but would let her know if and when they did. That short conversation gave her an important boost; she’d done something that felt scary. She continued inquiring about jobs until it turned out the restaurant needed somebody after all and asked if she could start in a few days.

I’ll never forget sitting in the parking lot with her on the night of her first shift. She looked at me and told me how nervous she was, admitting: “I don’t know if I can get out of the car.” If you have a child who gets really anxious in social situations, you know the delicate balancing act you have to play as a parent when this happens. You try to encourage without being too pushy because if you are, they shut down even more.

I told her the hardest part would be for her to walk in there. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get out of the car and start her shift but she did. And when I picked her up, she was so happy and relieved it went well.

In the following weeks, I really noticed a change in her. She seemed to have a kind of pep and enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in her in a long time. She spent less and less time in her room. She loved collecting her paychecks and tips. Watching her bank account grow really got her excited. Having the extra responsibility of a job boosted her self-esteem because it showed her that she could try something new even if she didn’t know what to expect. Two years later, she now has a job serving food at an assisted living community. She looks forward to going in every day, and she’s saving for a car.

A job gives kids experiences and skills that school, extracurriculars, and sports can’t. It allows our teens to practice working with other people and dealing with different personalities, and it’s a huge opportunity for them to make a difference and reap the rewards. I’m not just talking about a paycheck, either. I’ve seen them come home after getting a bonus check, receiving a compliment from a customer, or having something really touching happen while they were working, and the glow they have about them as they tell me about it can’t compare to anything I’ve ever seen in my kids.

They’ve learned things about themselves, too. They’ve had jobs they didn’t like, quit, and found something they do like. I love that because if there’s one thing about working that I want to instill in my children, it’s that their quality of life will be so much better if they like what they do for a living. I like that they’ve had a taste of doing something that they didn’t enjoy because it gave them the push to realize they are worthy of finding something they actually look forward to instead.

I realize all teenagers are different and we all get our energy from different people and things. But for my kids, working has been great for their self-esteem. It makes them feel like they have a purpose like they make a difference. It’s been a fantastic life experience for all of them — even on the days when things go wrong — because it shows them how incredibly capable they really are.

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 much money online and drinking Coke Zero.