Why It’s So Important For Teens To Have Jobs

by Lisa Sugarman
Lisa writes the nationally syndicated column "It Is What It Is" and is the author of Untying Parent Anxiety.

Like our first kiss, or our first date, or our first time behind the wheel, the day we walked into our first job is a day that’s forever engraved into our memory.

We remember that electric, scary, intimidating feeling of crossing the threshold into that new role and taking on a brand new stage of life — the stage where we become an active contributor, an independent person, a breadwinner. (Even if it’s in the form of tiny crumbs to start.)

I remember turning 16 and walking into the video store where we rented all our movies, sucking in a deep, calming breath, and asking Charlie, the owner, if I could have a job.

I was terrified, but the only thing more intense than my terror was my lust to be employed.

Needless to say, Charlie said yes.


As far back as my memory goes, I’ve had this fiery little ball in the pit of my belly that was burning white-hot for a job. I remember all the dinners out with my parents, at their favorite little bar and grill in town, when I used to beg our regular waitress to let me “work” in the kitchen.

Eventually, I wore the restaurant staff down and they gave me a little white apron, a broken golf pencil, and a half-empty note pad and told me to stay in the back corner of the kitchen and dry dishes.


It was like winning the kid lottery. And for all my hard work and dedication, I was given an unlimited supply of dinner rolls and butter. I was in heaven. I was employed. I had made the big time.

But, of course, it wasn’t a real job. It was just our waitress’ kindhearted way of humoring me and giving my poor parents five peaceful minutes to finish their chowder. Either way, it marked the beginning for me — the beginning of a career as a productive and independent working woman that continues to this day.


This is relevant because my youngest daughter, our 15-year-old, just got her first real paying job working in our local candy store. And watching her cycle through the range of emotions that came with heading out the door for her first day of work just brought me right back to my first shift behind the video counter in the early ’80s.

It’s been so funny watching my daughter experience all these things for herself. She went from feeling elated that she was hired to petrified that she didn’t know the first thing about how to make or sell candy.


She wanted so badly to make a great impression on her new boss, but was afraid her total lack of knowledge of the candy industry — besides how to eat it — would be a problem. But after a quick reminder that everyone has to start at the beginning with something new, she took her own deep, cleansing breath and stepped through the door.

The truth is, she was being absolutely adorable, wanting to get there early, wanting to wear the right clothes, wanting to do all the right things. Her nervousness made it clear how much she wanted to be successful at this new job. And from that point on, I knew she would be successful at any job she ever got. Because she cares.


She may have been a babysitter, and a junior counselor at a summer camp for years, but none of that quite equates to earning a real live paycheck with your name on it. And it’s that desire — to work hard and make a good impression and do your best — that separates the slackers from the go-getters.

Our child’s first job is so powerful for us as parents because it means that all those single dollar bills — along with the folded-up tens and twenties we shove in the hidden pocket of our wallet — will actually still be there the next time we go looking for them.

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