British Columbia·Point of View

Working it out: How a part-time job can teach teens valuable life lessons

A part-time job can teach teens lot about life — and that can be more valuable than the money they make.

For many teens, employment pays off in more ways than just money

Working after school or on the summer break can teach teens a lot about responsibility, team work and budgeting. (The Canadian Press)

This story is part of Amy Bell's column Parental Guidance, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

A first job is a rite of passage for many teens and can be filled with glamour, intrigue and astounding wealth —  but more likely a minimum wage, grunt work and a rock-bottom position in the company pecking order. 

I was only 13 when I dipped my toes into the world of gainful employment. From then on, if I wasn't at school, I was busy bussing tables, washing dishes, scrubbing washrooms and navigating the unique politics of the restaurant industry.

Did I complain about working every weekend and every school vacation? Of course! I was a surly teenager who complained about most things, but having a steady source of money I could budget for and depend on was an incredible experience.

And while having another source of income is a necessary reality for many teens and their families in the Lower Mainland, it isn't always the money that's the most beneficial part.

A first job actually teaches teens some pretty important skills. It shows them, in a sense, how to "work"; how to be responsible and navigate expectations. They learn to ask questions and take orders and criticism from people who aren't loving family members.

Those are tools they'll use in their various jobs going forward. 

Range of experiences

Emily Wight is a Vancouver mom and writer who now works at UBC. She credits her many teenage jobs for giving her an edge when it came to getting her "real" career started.

"I had conflict experience, I had experience working for unreasonable bosses, I had salary negotiation experience," says Wight. 

Of course, the money is important — and not just in the sense that your kids can buy their own things and stop stealing your change from the counter. 

Tanya Finley is a business owner in Nelson and the mom to two young boys who have been earning their own money since they were 2½ years old, when they began doing chores in the house.

Now aged five and six, and in addition to working in the family's restaurants, they've created a snow-plowing service for their neighbours and put their own money toward bikes and treats for their grandparents. 

While some people criticize Finley for getting her children to work at such a young age, she says she wants to make sure they properly respect and manage their money going forward — because she sees the result of not having this experience in some of the young adults she hires. 

"They don't even understand interest rates on a credit card," says Finley. "They're absolutely overwhelmed with filing taxes … they're just not prepared." 

Valuable tools

Even the process of getting a job — building the resumé and interviewing for positions — can give teens valuable tools when it comes to making their mark with future employers. 

And if they get the job, and it isn't a good fit, they can also gain some insight by recognizing that if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they have every right to leave.

The beauty of working when you are young is that the stakes are relatively low compared to when you're a debt-saddled adult. I'm not expecting my children to help pay the mortgage, but I'd like to instill in them early a sense of pride, responsibility, accountability and respect for the hard work they witness from others.

They could also step up their game when it comes to Mother's Day gifts, so money will certainly help with that. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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