Kids and Summer Jobs

Kids and Summer Jobs

Before Warren Buffett became the Oracle of Omaha, he delivered newspapers. Oprah Winfrey worked at a grocery store; Colin Powell, a furniture store. The author Stephen King worked as a janitor. George Clooney sold shoes.

The lowly summer job is part of the biography of many successful people: proof they started with no special advantages, understood the value of hard work, and succeeded because of effort and ingenuity, not because of family wealth or special favors.

These are lessons we universally value. But when it comes to encouraging our own children to find jobs, many of us are torn. If money is not really an issue, are the lessons learned from having a job more valuable than the lessons learned from participating in sports? Or mastering a musical instrument? Is having a job more important than the bonding that occurs during a family vacation? Should our children spend time out of school earning minimum wage, or studying and preparing for college?

The parents we serve at Highland who struggle with the decision to push their kids to get summer jobs are typically in their 40s or 50s with teenagers at home. They are usually well-educated with more than one degree; they are comfortable financially if not well off.

They often have careers or leadership roles they care about that keep them very busy. They have a passion for hard work and respect the rewards that work can bring. What they want most is to impart these same values to their children, while also giving them the means to pursue their dreams. What is not as clear is how or whether a summer job can play a role in that development.  See our prior post on family multi-generational success and work ethic.

For families with financial hardships, a summer job is not a choice. Some kids have to work. But for families with enough money to buy their children what they need and want, the benefits of a summer job are not always obvious.

Of course, all parents want to teach their kids how to manage money. They want to impart ambition and thrift and other values they feel got them to where they are, but they don’t always know how. They want to give their children opportunities to learn, without creating hardships that might hold back their kids. In my experience, a Parent’s desire to protect and support their children sometimes is at odds with their desire to prepare them for the real world.

So is an after-school or summer job just one of many options or a critical learning tool?

Part of the answer can be found in the concept of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” the idea that family wealth can be squandered in three generations if money is handed down without a work ethic. The theory goes something like this:

The first generation comes from little and has to work for everything it gets. They learned to manage money because they had to. The second generation grows up watching the first and also experiences some of the struggle and also the rewards of hard work. The third generation, however, never knows struggle and has been given everything. They grow up with a sense of entitlement. In other words, they know how to be consumers but not creators of wealth. As a result, they spend the family fortune away.

Warren Buffett is known for having said “you should give your children enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” That statement was also paraphrased in the movie “The Descendants,” about the decline of a wealthy, land-owning family in Hawaii.

When asked how much of his vast fortune he will leave his children, Bill Gates once said they will have their educations paid for, but beyond that will not receive very much. He said he expects his children to find their passion and work hard.

Most of the families we work with at Highland are relatively new to wealth, what we call first generation wealth creators. They did not grow up with it. Some had to overcome obstacles to achieve success. Employment for their children or grandchildren is discretionary, not necessary. They can afford to be generous to their heirs, but that kind of caring has the potential to backfire later.

Once the family decides a summer job is a good idea, there are more questions to consider. Should parents help kids get their jobs? How many hours should they put in at their job? Is their child old enough yet?

A parent’s networks of neighbors, friends, and colleagues are good sources for the kinds of jobs suitable for younger teens like yard work, washing cars, walking dogs, and babysitting. The summer, in particular, is when demand is high for people to clean cars, mow lawns, and care for young children that are no longer in school during the day.

Older teens might consider looking up summer camps they attended in years past. Those camps might need counselors and would probably prefer to hire former campers. Amusement parks are a great source of seasonal work, as are swimming pools if your child is a strong swimmer. Older teens can also compete for some of the same jobs held by grown-ups in food service or retail.

The city of Seattle has a page devoted to jobs for teens:

Here are some others:  1)  2)  3)

Whatever the job, it helps to start looking early, before school ends. A summer job provides teens with experience beyond the work itself. This is a good time for them to learn about writing résumés, interviewing for a job, starting a savings account, as well as paying taxes.

With some luck, a teen might even find a job that aligns with his or her interests. Who knows? That summer job could be the seed that eventually blooms into a career.

John Christianson
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