Let Teenagers Work
I got my first job paying hourly wages at age sixteen at a summer resort near my parents’ cottage in Canada. Although you might think that mopping floors doesn’t teach much skill—and you would be right—showing up on time was an important skill. That wasn’t important for the mopping job because it began at 11 a.m., an easy target even for a late-sleeping teenager to hit. But later in the summer the chef at the resort, who saw me faithfully mopping and never slacking, hired me to work in the kitchen as the dishwasher. That job started at 8 a.m. and hitting that target was a challenge. I still remember my conversation with the chef after I had shown up at 8:15 a.m. each day for the first three days.
Chef: You need to use an alarm clock.
David: I do use an alarm clock.
Chef: What time do you set it for?
David: 7:30 a.m.
Chef: Then why don’t you make it on time?
David: When the alarm goes off, I turn it off and then go back to sleep.
Chef: That’s your mistake. You need to get up. If you aren’t on time tomorrow, don’t show up because you’re fired.
Any guesses whether I was ever late again?
This is from David R. Henderson, “Letting Teenagers Work” Defining Ideas, April 20, 2023.
In it, as you might guess, I make case for relaxing restrictions on work by teenagers, as is being done in Arkansas, New Jersey, and a few other states.
When my daughter was in third grade, I decided to coach a girls’ basketball team that she was on. Even when she got to middle school and played on her school’s team, I kept coaching other girls because I enjoyed it so much. But it did have its challenges. I remember one girl in particular who didn’t pay attention during timeouts to the plays I was trying to set up. She also didn’t seem to have much skill at dealing with people. She was, in short, high maintenance.
Fast forward about four or five years. One day I was checking out at the local Safeway and I noticed the checkout girl, who looked to be about age seventeen, being very pleasant and responsive. Something about her seemed familiar. Then I realized that it was that same girl. Her attitude was almost unrecognizable. Being in a job had taught her some very important skills: good attitude to customers and overall friendliness. You could say that having a job taught her to be more virtuous.
I end by quoting Emma Camp of Reason:
The aforementioned Emma Camp said it best and so I won’t try to say it better. She wrote, “We need to stop treating teenagers as inherently fragile, or they’ll become that way. Real-world exposure to the challenge of getting paid to do things that other people value will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”
Read the whole thing.