For some teenagers, summer represents a freedom from the shackles of academics and the promise of fun, sun, and relaxation.
For others, summer is a stiff wake-up call as they leave the safety-net of school and dive into the tedium of the real world as members of the workforce.
While most teenagers would opt for the former over the latter, there are some significant benefits to a terrible summer job.
Whether it is the menial act of cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors or the soul-crushing smiling and up-selling at the cash register, working an entry-level, low wage job can provide invaluable lessons in humbling one’s self.
When you work for someone else (or worse, a huge, faceless corporation), you have no choice but to check your ego at the door. You follow a dress code. You take breaks only when given permission. You follow the script. You cater to the customer. You keep your cell phone turned off. There aren’t arguments and negotiations, simply obedience or termination.
To keep a job requires playing by someone else’s rules; this is an invaluable life lesson that teens, especially, have to work hard to develop. A terrible summer job is a great teacher!
Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees
When you work long hours for little pay (or respect) you begin to realize the true value of a dollar.
It becomes a little more difficult to click “Buy It Now” when you can equate the total in your cart to 4 hours of manual labor stocking shelves while listening to the same Muzak tape on repeat.
Furthermore, teenagers typically have no idea how expensive it is to run the household they live in. Having the opportunity to see how difficult it can be just to keep gas in the tank on minimum wage (instead of an allowance) can be a real wake-up call!
Working in food or customer service is a like donning a magnet for people’s rudeness, ingratitude, and misdirected anger. You become the face for every problem they are dealing with that day; like somehow you are the minimum-wage-earning CEO.
For most teens, feeling disrespected is a trigger for an emotionally-charged response. In the workforce, however, that option is seldom acceptable and could mean the loss of a job.
This cuts two ways: teens have to learn when it is and when it isn’t appropriate to engage with antagonists, and teens need to realize what it feels like when someone treats them with undeserved disrespect. A summer grind can be a forced opportunity for practicing self-restraint.
It becomes a lot harder to be disrespectful to people when you have walked a mile in their shoes.
Truly awful work experiences help us to understand that while we may be fortunate enough to return to school or move on to other employment opportunities, there is a global network of people who have to grind at truly difficult and underappreciated jobs every day.
For a teenager, this can be a lesson that can be carried throughout their life (take, for example, the account from this Harvard student who spent her last summer at home working at Waffle House). Empathy makes teens more well-rounded people that will grow up to be better employees, bosses, parents, and citizens.
Through humanizing abysmal work experiences, teens gain insight into the realities in the world around them in a meaningful way.
Get a Job!
This summer (or better yet this spring), encourage the teenagers in your life to get out the door and start looking for a job – the worse the better! They may come home smelling like a mix of fry oil, Pine-Sol, and sweat grumbling about how unfair it is out there, but they will be growing as people in ways no schoolwork or cushy internship could provide. It may even help them get into college where they can work (with newfound purpose) towards a job they might actually enjoy!
What was your worst summer job? What did you learn from it? Share your stories of horror and/or growth in the comments below!