Teens at work

The first part-time job I had was at age 14, over the Christmas holidays, in a shoe shop. If I had any burgeoning of the apparently universal female passion for shoes, that put paid to it, and it also convinced me that I didn’t want to spend my life working in the commercial retail industry, especially one that serviced people’s feet.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and teenagers who aren’t provided with pocket money can’t be fussy, so over the next few years I put most of my free time into a series of menial jobs, from stock-taking and sign-writing to waitressing and operating a till. And what that taught me was that it wasn’t just people’s feet that I wasn’t that fond of; I’m not overly crazy about people per se. So a career in the service industry, similarly, wouldn’t be a wise choice for me.

I learnt other small but vital skills through these jobs: how to get on with a variety of people with whom I had nothing in common other than working for the same boss; how to spend hours doing mind-numbingly boring tasks without letting loose with a primeval scream of frustration; how to down a cheeseburger in a 30-minute lunch ‘hour’ without giving myself heartburn; and, more prosaically, the importance of punctuality.

A taste of independence

What these holiday and part-time jobs also did was give me a small but heady taste of what it’s like to be financially independent. I spent my first wages, a pittance from the shoe shop, on two books, one a paperback novel and the other a hardback on the history of art. I still have both, and a glance at either instantly transports me back to that day, when I paid for the first serious, grownup purchase of my life with money I’d earned myself.

Working for luxuries

I’ve encouraged my own children to work part-time since they were legally able. Both have held down various holiday and weekend jobs that have enabled them to buy the luxuries I haven’t been able to provide (cellphones, portable music systems, CDs, label clothing, that kind of thing).

These limited but self-earned funds have given my kids, as they did for me, other foretastes of what it means to be financially independent: they’ve been able to buy gifts out of their own pockets; they’ve both saved up for overseas holidays; and now, nearing their 20s and total independence from home, they have some idea of the real value of money.

And there’s another interesting spin-off to this for teenagers who are, bless them, not normally renowned for their respect for property (theirs or anyone else’s). It’s generally accepted that something earned is more valued than something given, and the truth of this strikes home when I see how carefully my children look after the things they’ve bought with money they’ve earned themselves.

What jobs are suitable for teens? What are the pitfalls?

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