From the moment we lay eyes on our precious little newborns, we want to give them the world. As they grow, we teach them about picking up toys and helping around the house, particularly after stepping on a Lego (ouch!) or finding inside-out dirty clothes in a pile right NEXT to the hamper. We all put forth daily effort to teach our children how to be contributing family members and grow into responsible people.
However, as the pre-teen and teenage years approach, life can get pretty expensive for these little cherubs. From school supplies, to instruments, lessons, and competitive sports fees, we quickly learn that the diapers and baby gear we worried about were just a drop in a VERY LARGE bucket. Raising little humans into full-grown adults is expensive!
In a world where entitled kids are becoming more commonplace, my husband and I knew we wanted to avoid the pitfall of a house full of kids who believe life owes them something. Based on our own experiences of working during our teenage years, in addition to one of our core values that hard work produces character, we came up with some ground rules regarding our children and work.
1. Dangle a carrot
First, the legal age to work in our state is 14 (I’m sure it varies from state to state). Because it seems that kids these days practically graduate kindergarten with a smartphone in their hands, we felt this was a powerful carrot we could dangle in front of our kids to get them to start down the path of gainful employment. You see, our kids get their first personal cell phone when they turn 12. Yes, I said TWELVE! A phone is the symbolic gift for “coming of age” in the communications world.
What? Yes, but it’s a simple phone. They are getting harder and harder to find these days, but this type of phone dials calls and has a slide out keyboard for texting their pre-pubescent and adorably awkward friends. No browser, no social media, no frills. This 12-year-old threshold gives them some time to enjoy the independence of having a phone of their own. But as the excitement wears off and their friends move on to (and often start out with) bigger and better phones, the desire to upgrade naturally increases.
Enter: The carrot.
Our children all know that their pre-determined path to a smartphone is WORK!
At the turn of their 14th year, our kids need to secure a real job. Their previous years of babysitting and odd jobs do not count anymore. In our little town there are very few places that hire 14-year-olds, as most businesses have a beginner threshold of 16. A particular fast food chain has been the starting point for our teens. On account of activities and sports, not to mention family vacations, the key criteria for a ‘starter job’ is flexibility. Fast food is great for this and other important reasons.
Working fast food has proven to teach our kids people skills (i.e. the customer is always right) and multi-tasking (i.e. entering orders and running credit card payments simultaneously) like nothing else so far. You see, the goal is to teach them to communicate with others, manage money, and understand the value of an hour of their time. Oh, and that money doesn’t grow on a mystery tree in our back yard!
Sure, they sometimes gripe and moan, “Why do WE have to work? NONE of our friends have to work!” Our answer? “I guess their parents love them more than we love you.” (We actually enjoy the giant teenage eye roll we receive in response.) Because the truth is, after a few paychecks come in, they start to appreciate the freedom that comes with having money to spend.
2. Reward the work
After holding down a job for 12 months and earning acceptable grades, each teenage worker bee may purchase his or her very own smartphone at the age of 15. They love catching that carrot! Luckily, by that age they’ve learned there are benefits to working beyond the beloved screen.
I have one kid who spends so much money on junk food, candy, soda, and eating out that I want to scream (and barf). Over the years though, I’ve realized he spends his money on things I don’t often provide for our family. We don’t eat out a lot and I don’t buy soda or a lot of junk food. So I’ve realized this is just him spreading his little worker bee wings, which is also helping him learn from his own mistakes (and indigestion).
Another one of my sons has taken interest in owning fish. He has spent hundreds of dollars of his hard-earned-drive-through-may-I-take-your-order-have-a-nice-day money on aquariums, supplies, plants, rocks, and fish. LOTS of fish.
In both cases, the pleasure of making independent financial decisions is the reward.
3. Enjoy their personal responsibility
Without any direction from us, our kids have stopped expecting or even asking for us to pay for social activities. I’m so proud when they grab their wallets and go pig out on pizza with their friends or risk their lives with every bounce at an indoor trampoline park. There have been times I’ve been willing to pay for something, but because they don’t ask, I don’t offer. They choose more carefully and value activities and purchases greatly when they pay for them. Duh, right? (It sure is cool to watch.)
4. Encourage career development
Experience breeds confidence. After two years at the fast food counter, our eldest child recently took the initiative to leave the fast food industry and apply as a server’s assistant at a high-end restaurant nearby. He applied, interviewed, and was hired without any parental involvement. He is making triple the money and learning a whole new set of skills, graduating from cheeseburgers and fries to salad forks and soup spoons. We are excited to see where those skills will lead him when it comes time to leave this Queen Bee and our cozy hive.
We’ve come a long way from the days of picking up Legos, although we still have some work to do on those piles of dirty laundry! Raising little worker bees has allowed our children to learn the value of hard work while developing crucial communication, interpersonal, and financial skills. Most of us will spend decades in the workforce, so it’s ‘good parenting’ to help your children develop a strong work ethic and an appreciation of the (financial) benefits of employment.
What was your first job and what did it teach you?