A common refrain among business owners who are hiring young adults is that many of them are not prepared to work hard and take responsibility. “A lack of work ethic” is one of the biggest complaints among small business owners today, and something that is having a huge impact on the ability of teens to find good jobs.
Our children today are leaving for college and/or entering the workplace with fewer skills than most of our previous generations. They struggle with managing money, paying bills on time, dealing with the various kinds of contract law they encounter (credit applications, leases, and traffic court), and holding onto their jobs. All of these require experience and practice, and are activities that very few of our children encounter with any consistency before they leave the nest.
In our society, we fear failure. Failure is something to be avoided at all costs. We no longer value the learning that happens when poor choices hand us negative consequences, so we shield our children from the results of bad decisions or procrastination ~ straight-jacketing the learning that comes from making mistakes and learning first-hand about cause and effect relationships.
We have 18 years to prepare our children for adulthood. A century ago, children were married and having children of their own by the time they were teenagers. Our children are just as capable of taking on responsibility today, and there are several concrete things that parents can do to assist this process.
By the time children are in 8th grade, they should take responsibility for their own schoolwork. Getting their homework done and completing projects on their own ~ and taking ownership of any poor grades for missed work or procrastination ~ is critical for their eventual success in high school. Parents can create study times and discuss goals with their children, but should not do work for them or hound their children to complete work. Obviously, instilling a good work ethic regarding school starts much earlier than middle school, but by 8th grade parents need to let their student(s) control the quality and timeliness of their work so they learn cause and effect before they enter high school, where a poor grade can affect college prospects.
Children should begin to think about work as early as 8th or 9th grade. In addition to job-shadowing, where students learn about the various career paths that interest them, students should begin to think about viable part-time employment by age 16. Experience working with others and handling workplace conflicts are critical to developing the work ethic and job skills teens will need when they transition to the adult workplace. Many part-time opportunities can be secured by working as an unpaid intern while a student is too young to qualify for a paid position. Supervisors in summer camp programs, park and rec departments, landscaping companies, and businesses that specialize in recreational activities are often willing to use free labor, and volunteering opens the door for a paid position when one becomes available. Babysitting, pet-sitting and mowing lawns in early high school can pave the way for paid work later.
Students should be working part-time and learning how to juggle work and school commitments in preparation for life beyond school, when they will have to juggle work and family responsibilities. Colleges consider regular employment in high school when making admissions decisions because it shows dedication, responsibility, and maturity ~ and working at the same job for 2 to 3 years during high school earns even more points!
With a part-time job comes the need to learn how to manage money. It is critical for teenagers to learn how to monitor a checking account and budget their money. Overdrafts and unpaid bills have negative consequences for adults in the form of lower credit scores and an inability to get credit. It is better to learn from those kinds of mistakes while they are young. “The financial world forgives the mistakes of children,” explains Lewyn M. Hayes, a vice-president at Bank of America. “It’s important that they learn by trial and error before they turn 18 and start making choices as adults.” In an era of easy credit and payment plans, the temptation to spend more than you earn hits younger target markets every year, and it is never too early to teach children how to resist those offers. While younger children can start with savings accounts, teenagers should open a checking account as soon as they start working, even if they are only babysitting. Parents can monitor a child’s bank account until they are at least 18, which provides many learning moments as they navigate good saving and spending habits.
Cars and Insurance
Purchasing their own car when they receive their license can be the single most rewarding effort a teenager makes other than good grades and a decent job. The sense of accomplishment that a child feels when they save their money for a purchase as large as a vehicle cannot be equaled until they buy their first house. The conscious effort of saving for months (preferably the entire time they have their permit) for their own car will teach them the value of setting a goal and achieving it by themselves, and give them the confidence to plan for future purchases or investments. If this is not financially feasible, then teenagers should contribute to the insurance and upkeep of whatever vehicle they are using. Paying for insurance isn’t sexy and won’t be popular, but teens are old enough to assume some logistical responsibility for the tools that they are using to become adults.
By the time a teen gets their first job, they should be given responsibility for their cell phone charges. This cuts down on extravagant cell phone use and overage charges because the student is more prudent about usage when they have to pay the bill. It also teaches responsibility and the concept that their activities are not free. Waiting until they graduate to contribute to the costs of their daily lives is doing them a disservice. Denying them that experience creates a buffer against the real world that will eventually catch up with them when negative events have more serious consequences.