If there’s one thing this summer has taught me, it’s that it’s time for my teenager to go to work. I am done being her personal ATM machine, as well as her employer. We’ve spent years cultivating her skills and she needs to go out into the workforce and put them to use. My guess is that she will be a much better employee to someone other than me and her father.
I understand that summer is their break. They work very hard all school year, keeping a strict schedule that includes rising very early in the morning, a full day of school, sports practices and games, various extra-curricular activities and sometimes hours of homework that stretch right up until bedtime. Add in social and family time and there aren’t enough hours in a day.
The dichotomy that summer brings to the pre-workforce teen is extreme. This summer I was witness to the sleeping in until 11 a.m., the lolling about on the couch affixed to the iPhone and the constant demands for rides to various recreational sites such as country clubs, malls and friends’ parties. Early on I struggled to add some structure to her days: a gym membership, a chore and associated payment menu, a schedule for allowable cell phone time and a reasonable bed time (pre-dawn, hoping that sleep might make her more productive).
Maybe it’s the contrast between the intensity of the school year and the hazy days of summer, but it is clear that teenagers are notoriously lazy. Despite the hand always being out for frivolous non-necessities, the desire to work, at least at chores around the house, is sorely lacking.
I’ve tried to impart wisdom about finances, budgeting and the value of work since they were toddlers. When the weekly allowance began many years ago, it was earned by checking off a chore chart. Later, tasks like babysitting, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and washing the cars came with an hourly rate. My kids understand the difference between the cost of public and private colleges. They have spent time with the less fortunate, the children I work with who are in foster care.
Despite the daily, sometimes hourly battle to teach this age group to work, to save, to budget and to appreciate, the war is far from over. This summer, my incoming high school freshman told me that she was required to buy a tablet for school, preferably an iPad. I told her I would look into it and took a few days reading all the information circulated by the high school. I spoke to other parents, some with older teens, and my husband and I discussed the options. The final decision was a resounding “No” with tantrum-like consequences that went completely ignored.
Then came to the back-to-school shopping lists. The girls and I (one middle school, the other entering high school), began the process as always by going through their drawers and closets and getting rid of things they had outgrown. Once these items were donated, they created lists of what they needed. I was in agreement with the need to buy new pairs of jeans, shorts that were appropriate for gym class and dress-code-worthy collared shirts. One item that sprung out at me like a red flag was the very specific “Nike Roshe” sneakers.
“Don’t you have sneakers that fit?” I asked. “I didn’t see any in the discard pile.”
“Yeah, but these are so cool! Everyone has these now.” My memory told me that I had bought them both Converse a few years ago, and Keds much more recently. I could see the shining Keds looking out from the open closet, and they looked great.
“Are these Nike Roshe shoes necessary for some sport?” I inquired. “Because I thought your track shoes were in great shape and we were going to consider new ones for the spring season.”
“No,” was the downcast response. “But I really need them.”
The war waged on as I calmly set the plan. They would each have the exact same budget for our shopping trip. Necessary items would be purchased first. If she was very bargain-conscious and thrifty, maybe there would be enough left over for this extravagance. But I doubted it.
I am thankful that this problem should resolve itself shortly. Like friends of hers who worked this summer shelving books at the library or caddying at the country clubs, my 14-year-old has her working papers and an interview set up. If the people at the pumpkin patch think she’s worthy, she will be going somewhere else for her money. Mom and Dad will no longer be her sole source of income. Welcome to the working world, kid.