Do you remember your first job?

As the weather turns warm and school winds down for the academic year, summer job postings are soaring. With tourism returning to pre-pandemic levels and the employment market continuing to reel from the impact of the “Great Resignation” this past year, openings are plentiful.

If you’re a teenager in search of a job, few summers have had so many opportunities.

And if you have a teenager who’s not interested in working – the big question is: Why?

Back in the summer of 1978, over 60% of teens were either looking for work or working. Today, just over 30% are expected to be employed this year.

What’s happened?

It would be easy to suggest today’s teens have grown lazy and even entitled, and there would be some evidence to back up such a claim. There are parents who say they want their kids to enjoy their childhood. They feel a job cramps their children’s style and prematurely thrusts them into adulthood.

In addition, with increasing affluence and parents covering more and more of a child’s expenses, there might be little incentive for a teen to work at all. I remember wanting basketball shoes and cleats – two items my father deemed luxuries. “If you want them, you’re going to have to buy them,” he said. Ditto for Big Gulps at 7/11 or ice cream on a hot summer day.

To be fair, it’s not as easy for young people to work as in days’ past. Once upon a time, paper routes were something of a rite of passage for youngsters growing up in suburbia. All you needed was to be reliable and own a bicycle. Nevertheless, entrepreneurial teens can still find work mowing grass, shoveling snow and babysitting. Fast food and retail companies are begging for workers. If you want something enough, you can find a way. If you don’t want it, you will find an excuse.

But it’s more than just laziness and lack of opportunity leading to a precipitous drop in employment.  Some of today’s teens don’t work due to school and a slate of extracurricular activities. When you figure in camps and unofficial off-season workouts, a three-month football season has morphed into a nearly year-long commitment. High-achieving teens may take summer school classes, attend band camps or take on internships designed to pad a resume and juice a college application.

However, it’s the wise parent who recognizes the benefits and role of work in the development of a teenager. Kids don’t just work for money – they’re curating and gleaning all kinds of invaluable experience from the seemingly mundane roles found in hourly employment.

When a teenager takes a job scooping ice cream or working the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A, they’re learning how to serve and get along with other people. They’re often forced to deal with difficult personalities and moody customers – and do it all with a smile. Jobs compel kids to get up early, show up on time, sometimes work late and then come back the next day with their clothes washed and pressed. They learn to express authority. Work often brings out something good in a teen a parent may not see in the home.

Teenagers who work experience the realities of paying taxes, tithing and saving and budgeting their earnings. It’s an important step towards independence and learning how to be self-sufficient, rather than always depending on mom or dad.

The Bible repeatedly highlights the value of work. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor,” we read in Proverbs (12:24). Or how is this for bluntness: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4).

So, if you have a teen in the home or in your family – encourage them to get a job this summer – and beyond. They may not appreciate it now, but hard work today will take them to great and wonderful places tomorrow.

Photo from Shutterstock.