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Why Your Teen Needs a Summer Job

I see in-person patients at my office a couple of days a week, including Saturdays.

What’s different about Saturdays, though, is that in the morning, before the other therapists get to the office and things get busy, I drive through the McDonald’s down the street from my building, order my usual #1 with regular bacon instead of Canadian bacon with a Dr. Pepper, and take it to my office. I like to take the first hour of the day to eat breakfast and do a little billing for the practice before I start seeing patients.

One thing about my local McDonald’s that had begun to annoy me was how LONG it took to go through the drive-through line to get my breakfast. What should have been a 10-minute journey suddenly took up to 25 minutes to get through the drive-through and to my office.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed the wait time in the drive-through is back to its normal 10-minute wait. Why? Because they’ve hired a ton of new employees, and they appear to be very ambitious teenagers—what a great situation – for both the customer and the teen.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has created a mental health crisis for our young people. New research examining the fallout of the pandemic and school closures is just now beginning to be published, and this is painting the complete picture of how our young people have been affected. JAMA Pediatrics recently published a study that looked at children and adolescents from 11 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Italy, Japan, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These researchers found a worrying amount of mental and physical health problems in the young people studied. These problems included anxiety, depression, lower physical activity, food insecurity, and school disengagement.

The clinicians and I at my Southern California practice have also seen an uptick in tweens and teens with mental health challenges due to the pandemic. And while this worries me, I’ve recently been encouraged by a new trend in the teens in my office – after-school jobs. These kids have taken advantage of the hot hiring market (complete with expedited onboarding and HUGE wages ($17 starting pay at McDonald’s – THAT’S AMAZING!!)) and are really thriving in these first jobs.

I really think that encouraging your teen to get a summer job this year could reduce – or even reverse – the negative effects of the past two years.

I believe that this hot hiring market provides the perfect opportunity for teens to not only avoid the summertime slump (you know, that weird time where teens sleep all day and stay up all night on screens, and you never see them for the fun family stuff!) but to increase their self-esteem, confidence, and maturity too. I want to share with you why it’s so important for your teen to get a job this summer and how to encourage them to get that job if they appear resistant.

But the important thing is that you have to start NOW. If you wait for summer to get here, all the good jobs will be taken, and all that opportunity for personal growth will be gone with it.

We all know that jobs build character and teach practical on-the-job skills, but there’s a lot more that first jobs can provide for our modern teens. Let’s take a look at those benefits now.


A Taste of Independence

A taste of independence – I can’t tell you how I’ve witnessed the power of a $300 paycheck. Teens feel such freedom and power when they receive a paycheck.

I recently had one of my favorite teen patients get a job at a fast-food restaurant. When I checked in with her to see how it was going after her first week, she was ready to quit. She described to me in detail how they expected way too much work from her and that the pace was too fast for her to handle. She ended the session by deciding that she would think over the pros and cons of staying versus quitting, but she was pretty sure she was going to quit. However, the following week when we met in my office, she reported that she LOVED her job – and the paycheck that went with it.

She was a changed girl after she cashed that first paycheck. She developed an attitude that while the tasks on her job were annoying, the people she worked with were fun, and the pay was amazing.

The power of wanting the independence the paycheck brought to my patient suddenly became greater than the pull to stay in bed and scroll through social media all afternoon. This was the incentive that she needed to continue working.


Jobs actually increase grades

Over the years, I’ve made an interesting observation. Every time I suggest that a teen get a part-time job to address their lack of motivation at school and with life, not only do I see their confidence and life skills increase, but their grades do too.

And this phenomenon doesn’t just happen to the patients in my office, there’s actual proof that kids who have part-time jobs actually get better grades than their peers who don’t work. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, teens with part-time jobs have an average GPA of 3.13 versus 3.04 for teens who don’t work.

Does that surprise you?

I have always suggested a part-time job to the parents of teens who struggle with motivation, but I can’t tell you how many parents are shocked that I even bring it up. They jump to the conclusion that their teen won’t have enough time to do their homework or extracurricular activities or don’t have enough faith in their teen, and they worry that their teen won’t do a good job or they’ll quit.

But that’s just not the case. I couldn’t find any research-backed reasons why this phenomenon exists, but my guess is that part-time jobs help teens develop time management skills that they use in other areas of their lives too. For example, the same skills that a teen uses at work to quickly fill fast-food orders so that the customers don’t complain are the same skills they’ll use to get their homework done on time.

So how much work is too much work for a teen? The research mentioned above also reported that the sweet spot for seeing these positive effects seems to diminish when the teen works more than 20 hours per week, so keep in mind that there is a limit to how much your teen should spend on the job while attending school. However, during the summer, they can work as much as the law permits with zero adverse effects.


Builds soft skills

In today’s workforce, the people who get the most promotions and make the most income possess hard skills like technical ability and on-the-job know-how, but they excel in soft skills.

Soft skills are everyday interpersonal skills that teens and adults need to succeed on the job. They include skills such as communicating clearly and appropriately, remembering work directions, working well with others, and knowing how to solve problems.

Let’s go through a few of these soft skills now.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is that skill that allows teens to comprehend and manage their emotions while on the job accurately. It also includes accurately picking up on the emotions of the people around them and “reading” situations appropriately.

For example, a teen with a well-developed sense of emotional intelligence will be able to understand that when the boss says, “Do you think this is clean enough before going home?” that means that the boss thinks the teen should continue cleaning before going home. This teen will also be able to manage their frustration with this situation. Even though they might feel the urge to throw down their cleaning supplies and walk off the job, they stay because they can see the long-term benefits of doing so.

 Many teens lack emotional intelligence in everyday life, which is why many teens struggle with attention and concentration, social skills, anger, and time management. Getting on-the-job practice with this important life skill can help in all of those areas.

Communication Skills

One trend I’ve seen a lot over the past several years – and one that has worsened since the isolation of the pandemic – is that many tweens and teens are too scared to talk first in a conversation or to walk up to someone they don’t know and say something.

A worrisome number of teens also tell me they have a phobia of talking on the phone. They only text because they don’t like talking on the phone – especially to someone they don’t know. As an example, I worked with a young adult patient who needed coaching and practicing in my office so that they could make an important call to their prospective college admissions officer.

The teens who struggle with this type of communication report that they worry that the other person will negatively judge them. The young adult who needed to call her admissions officer explained that her worry thought was that the admissions officer would think she was “stupid” or “not very sophisticated.”

Most part-time jobs force teens to practice their communication skills. They quickly learn how to greet new customers, talk to their manager during a tense situation, and lots of other communication situations.

Teamwork and Respect

Learning how to be a part of a workplace team means practicing how to think selflessly instead of selfishly. I’ve loved seeing how our teens with part-time jobs start to think outside of their immediate world and start to think about how their actions can have a positive (or negative effect) on the people around them.

I’ve also seen a great secondary effect as well: The ability for teens to practice knowing when to lead and when to follow. Sometimes teens have difficulty with either being too domineering (and they just don’t like letting other people like parents or teachers be in charge), or they don’t ever step up to be a leader. Part-time jobs provide excellent training in this area.

Finally, being part of a workplace team also means learning to respect themselves and other people. Teens will be exposed to different opinions and points of view. This doesn’t mean that they have to agree and accept all these new points of view, but they learn the respectful way of allowing other people to have different views. In addition, teens learn to respect the work that they and their coworkers do.

Flexibility, Problem-Solving, and Creativity

Developmentally, teens are still used to letting the adults around them make decisions and solve problems, so the part-time job forces the teen to develop skills that give them opportunities to think about things in a new or different way, deal with uncertainty or ambiguity, solve problems, adjust to changes, and incorporate new information into their plans and ideas.

These are key life skills that every young person needs to develop, and the earlier they can master these skills, the better.


As a business owner and a previous supervisor for first-year psychology graduate students, I’ve found that professionalism is something that young people THINK they have, but often they just don’t.

Professionalism includes behaviors that make you a good person to work with and employ. Your teen needs to know simple things like how to apply for a job and what is appropriate and not appropriate to say at an interview. It includes little everyday behaviors like being on time, knowing how to use the equipment on the job, asking for help when needed, and much, much more.

The key point about professionalism is that young people who have a good grasp of this concept tend to be better respected by their peers and managers and get promoted quickly.

 Mastering the soft skills that we just discussed is so important because I’ve seen how much easier some young people have with life when they have these skills down pat.


Take-Home Message

If you’ve ever thought that your child could benefit from an after-school or summer job, I hope that now you’re convinced it could be a lifesaver for them.

The pandemic influenced some teens to sink deep into an isolative bubble, where all they want to do is stay home and play video games or scroll through social media – but YOU KNOW this is not good for them! Encouraging your teen to get a part-time job helps them learn valuable life skills, raises their grades, and increases their confidence and self-esteem.

Your child might be intimidated by the process of getting their first job, so be prepared to help them with the basics – from giving them the language to ask for an application to teaching them how to dress for the interview to how to call to follow-up after the interview. The time you put into coaching your teen through this process will translate into bigger and better things in your child’s future.


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