As a psychotherapist for teens and young adults, I have the honor of watching teenagers grow up and transform into independent individuals. Leaving the nest is both a beautiful and messy process mixed with highs and lows, and it can be quite anxiety provoking for many teens and their families. Some of the stress during this time is the result of living in a culture where there is more pressure than ever on our teenagers to get into college. In some communities, it’s the right college that counts and I have seen this pressure start as young as 6th grade. High schoolers today feel as though they not only have to be the top of their class, but they have to be the very best at every sport or extra curricular activity because “it will look good on their college application.” Because of this standard, I am witnessing extremes happen in order to achieve this level of accomplishment and honestly I don’t like it. Some teens are sacrificing their sleep, meals and even their mental health to meet certain expectations, criteria or standards that may not directly impact their future or college acceptance anyway.
On the other hand, there are also the teenagers who aren’t interested in any type of sport, activity or club whatsoever and have nothing to fill their after school hours with. This is a different type of panic for those families. Teens start to feel required to dedicate hours to something they don’t care about or have any interest in so they can put something on their college application. These adolescents feel badly about not having something they are passionate about, which is pretty irrational since many adults have no idea about what they are passionate about either! Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is very important for our teens to have some kind of commitment outside of school. It fosters responsibility and could generally keep them out of making poor decisions and engaging in risky behaviors. So what if their “thing” after school was a job?
As a result of this pressure of resume building for college, we have forgotten about the importance of encouraging our teens to get jobs. One that requires them to wake up earlier than they want to, do things they don’t want to do, be around people they may not know or like and meet the expectations of a boss or manager. I have seen the negative outcome of young adults that have never worked a day in their life prior to college graduation. These twenty-somethings never developed the skills they needed in order to succeed in a work environment but we throw them into the work force once they graduate college and expect them to thrive or know how to be held accountable. So many young adults are unwilling to start from the bottom and work their way up. They don’t understand the notion that they may need to take a job they don’t like or salary they aren’t proud of in order to start somewhere.
Unfortunately, teens with jobs is so underrated today. We seem to have forgotten about the important skills our youth need to develop as a result of maintaining a job that will serve them long term. We need to encourage our teenagers to have a job at some point before they leave our homes. They actually may enjoy it a lot more than joining that club that they could care less about and it will teach them more valuable life skills. Here are some reasons why your teenager would benefit from putting some weekly hours of work in…
I do want to acknowledge that I am speaking to a very specific population of parents and teens right now. There are many families in which teenagers working is not a choice, but a necesity. Their job may help with family income or pay for things they need. These families may not have the privilege of thinking about why their teen may need a job. Consider yourself lucky if you have it as an option.
Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.