Teenage Employees Deserve Our Respect

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas

Do you remember the excitement you hard starting your first job? This was your chance to make money of your own. Maybe you were saving for a car or college, or maybe it was just to afford your own coffee and movie tickets. That first foray into a bit of financial freedom and responsibility was exhilarating. It was all fun until you had to deal with the customers, right?

I was waiting tables as a teenager and I brought a table a Sprite instead of a pink lemonade. It was an honest mistake. I didn’t do it on purpose. Evidently the customer thought that I did and approached me while I was ringing up another order. He proceeded to announce, “You fucked up my drink, you dumb bitch,” and threw it on me. I was positively humiliated in front of the entire dining room.

Before I knew what hit me, half of the cooks from the kitchen came flying out the door and were ready to throw down. The asshole, narrowly escaping getting his ass kicked, was thrown out of the restaurant. That was 24 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. His face will never be erased, nor will the way that he treated me. I was a kid. I vowed that day that I would never treat someone in the service industry with such disrespect. And I never have.

Adults are the worst. That has been established. But they are especially awful when they treat teens like shit in their workplace. So your order at Five Guys got screwed up? Does that mean that you can belittle a teenage kid who is likely making minimum wage for leaving the pickles off of your burger? Absofuckinglutely not!

Believe it or not, teenagers are human beings too. They make mistakes, but they also do great things. Think about a time you were at the grocery store and couldn’t find something and that nice kid came along and helped you. They were sweet, right? And you got what you needed, correct? You were a happy customer? Think about that the next time you want to release your inner Karen and embarrass some teenager at their job. Just like you, they make mistakes and that is okay.

Just because they are teens doesn’t mean that they are stupid, either. As a matter of fact if you’re talking things like technology or video games, there’s a good chance the younger employee is going to be a better help to you than their older counterpart. They can likely speak the language better than you — trust them. As a matter of fact, if you are looking for the perfect clothing for your daughter or son, ask the teenager working at the store. They know the styles and trends and will be able to help. Let them.

When you allow a teenage employee to help you, it builds their self-esteem. They feel good about themselves when they are able to make a customer happy. They feel validated when they are valued. Let someone know when an employee has gone above and beyond to meet your needs. This is the time of their lives when positive self-image is most important. Help them to achieve it.

Right now there are millions of jobs open and teenagers, even those 14 and 15, are being hired to fill open positions. Those kids are young, babies even. These first jobs are going to help establish their work ethic. If they are miserable and hate their jobs because adults treat them like shit, that doesn’t bode well for them every wanting to work with customers again.

If you are going to be an asshole, just stay home. Seriously. Just about everything you need can be delivered or brought out to your car nowadays, no one needs you causing trouble. Because come to think of it, adults don’t need your bullshit either. No one does.

Teenage employees need to be given a little grace, not subjected to anger or humiliation. The next time you feel like treating a young employee badly, try to remember when you had your first job. Or, just think about being a teenager in general. Remember how good it felt to be respected by adults. It made you feel like an adult yourself.

And keep in mind, that teenager you are dumping on is someone’s kid. They are a brother or sister, a niece or nephew, a beloved teacher’s student. How would you feel if someone did that to your kid? Guarantee the mama or papa bear in you would come out with claws and teeth blazing. Remember that. And check the attitude at the door, Karen.