By: Sheila Gaudet
When I was growing up, my parents owned their own business so there was never a question about the ability to have a job. I think my dad counted the day until I could get my “working papers” more than my driver’s license, or high school graduation. With a minimum wage of about $3.35 at the time, child labor was a bargain. No calling in sick, transportation problems, etc. I started working summers when I was 14, between 8th and 9th grade. It was about 20 hours a week which grew to full time quickly in the next year or so. I worked summers in my parent’s restaurant for six years until my college internships took over.
My dad did not take it easy on me because I was his daughter. It was hard work, long hours on my feet, and I left every day smelling like subs. It was also a crucial part of making me who I am today. I learned to work hard and fast, to do things I didn’t like to do, a lot about customer services, and how quickly I could clean up a kitchen. I learned from the people I worked with who took the time to show me things and taught me how to laugh at myself when disasters happen. They always happen at some point.
My own son is 15 this summer and I (at least) have been looking forward to him getting his first “real” job. He has done some other things like refereeing soccer in the past, but not summer employment. It was with dismay that I’ve read the recent statistics showing that unemployment rates for teens is at an all-time high. Just in the last ten or so years, the percent of teens employed has dropped from 45% in 2000 to 25% today and that’s for older teens (16-19). For younger teens who have more restrictions on hours and types of jobs they can do, the statistics are worse. Young men and women from urban areas or lower socioeconomic status have the highest unemployment rates, probably due to less connections with potential employers combined with cuts in federal and state programs that funded summer employment opportunities.
I don’t think it’s good for my son (or for me) to have him spend a whole summer idle so we have cobbled together various activities to get him through the summer with limited financial resources. First, he’s volunteering at the local library. Most libraries have summer reading programs for children and youth of all ages, including teens. His volunteer work will include helping kids track their reading progress, handing out prizes, and helping with entertainment at various events. He loves working with kids and this will even be an air-conditioned opportunity. There are also special events for teens including book clubs, a lock-in, etc. Check out www.nortonlibrary.org for details or your own local library.
He also has a job cutting the yard of our neighbor who spends most of his time out of state. This has been great because it is next door, provides him with some income, and instills some responsibility. He is hoping this leads to some additional work in our neighborhood as well. In addition, he and I have planned out some much needed large projects this summer at the house. Pressure washing and staining the pool deck, repainting the trim and the deck, re-doing the sun room, and if we are really successful, there’s some kitchen cabinets that will be repainted. I do plan on compensating him for some of the big projects while chores like cutting the grass fall under “other duties as assigned.”
As a high school athlete, he has captain’s practices and summer league going on for most of the summer as well. The physical activity is good for him and it builds in opportunities to see his friends and make plans with “the boys.” Not to mention, he loves to play. Throw in a trip to visit family for a wedding, a week at a wilderness camp in Maine, and hopefully some baseball games, and I think he’ll have a busy, but not overwhelming, summer.
For those in the Brockton area, I also want to put in a plug for Brockton After Dark. This program for youth ages 13-20, at no cost, and provides programming every weeknight during the summer. I’ve had the privilege of being part of one of the organizations involved in the past and think it is a great opportunity for youth in the area. Programs include basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, hip hop dance, arts programs, and more. You do need to register and volunteers are always needed. Food is often provided as well. Check it out at http://brockton.ma.us/Community/Youth/BAD.aspx.
Summer jobs are still important and if you have the opportunity to give a kid one, I encourage you to do so. If you can’t, or have a teenager who is already bored, try and help them find something to structure their days around while building in time to spend with their friends. A little bit of structure makes it a lot easier to go back to school in the fall.