Why Are Fewer Kids Working? (Pedcast)

Topic Introduction

Is it just my imagination or have you noticed what I have; fewer kids have a job before they graduate from high school. I think I am seeing fewer teens that are working compared to previous years. Actually, the stats back this up.  But why? Is it because parents are hyper focused on academics and sports and discourage their teens from working? Do parents now perceive work as time their teen isn’t improving their resume. Or could it be this way because teens just don’t need the extra money that a job affords them since their parents provide plenty for cash? Or, maybe the great recession of 2008 squeezed them out of many entry-level jobs that they typically could have gotten in the past. Now they are competing with grandma and grandpa for these hourly, low skill entry jobs. Whatever the reason, my impression seems to be correct… youth employment is at 20 year low.(1)

Musical Introduction

Why is This Issue Important?

Low teen employment is really a shame in my opinion since I think that many kids are losing out on learning essential life skills, like; how to manage money, mastering the art of being punctual in the workplace, the art of balancing income versus expenses , how to work when you don’t feel well or just don’t want to go to work, the value of teamwork, and the importance of customer service among many many other things.


Let me share with you my own family’s experience with teen employment.  My wife and I insisted that our kids were going to get an “Out of the house”, bonafied, W-2 paying, hourly job before they graduated from HS. We wanted them to appreciate how hard the people around them were working and teach them all of the lessons that I just enumerated.  Both our kids ended up working in office setting. For my son who was and still is an outstanding musician, having a job his senior year meant giving up an opportunity to go to the prestigious music camp called Tanglewood. He had already been to Tanglewood once, the previous summer.  It was expensive, and his mother and I just felt that a summer of work was more important. I like to believe that we were right.  After a lot of arguing, he came to grips with being told no to something he really, really wanted badly.  Our refusal to let him go afforded another benefit; it gave us, as a family, a chance to  work out a compromise– he would attend another music program that only lasted 2 weeks that summer and then, he would work for the rest of the summer before going off to college.I do think his work experience turned out to be a very valuable learning experience.  During his working time, I remember one particularly stressful day he came home talking about how one of that day’s customers had belittled him because she assumed that he was not going to college since he was doing office work. Little did she know he would be at Princeton in two months.  Don’t make assumptions about others was the lesson he learned that day. I also remember Ben coming home frequently that summer very tired talking about how many different jobs they had him doing in that office, from constructing furniture, to filing, to data entry in their computer system. Work as a team, at whatever job the office needs, for the good of the organization was the lesson for those days. I think Ben definitely learned what it is like to be an employee.  As for our daughter Sarah, I remember the dress code at her office was a source of consternation for her as well as some resentment of her immediate boss who always seemed to give her very boring work to do. Lesson of the day- do what the boss asks and do it with a smilethey are paying you. Sarah seemed to have less contact with customers but more long hours of filing and other boring tasks. While her friends were at the pool, she toiled away 8-5, punching clocks and carrying her lunch to work indoors.  Lesson of the summer, get a job doing something that you enjoy. work that is not fun is just work. Sarah, who loves the outdoors, decided that summer that her next job would be outside! Indeed it was! From that summer on, she did just that, putting her tennis skills to work teaching tennis to young kids, outside of course. .

Essential Skills Adolescents Need to Master

While I was doing some research for this pedcast I came across an interesting article from the Washington Post 2013 entitled “Life Skills your Kids Should have before leaving home”. I think you should take a few minutes and read it.(2)  I totally agree with the article. In fact, I agree so much with it that I came to the same conclusion and dedicated an entire chapter in my book, Can Doesn’t Mean Should, to the subject of family responsibility. I concluded that teaching kids to contribute to their family in meaningful ways, teaches them vital life skills at the same time. Here is a quick list of what skills  the Washington Post article thinks your child needs to master before HS graduation:

  1. How to make good purchasing choices on a limited budget and understanding the basics of taxes, writing a check, paying bills on time.
  2. How to handle an emergency– Things like what to do if they are in an auto accident, someone needs to be taken to the ED or doctor’s office, and understanding the basics about how insurance works.
  3. Knowing how to effectively communicate with adults from things like job interviews to talking to professors and other adults in positions of authority.
  4. Developing a deep respect for the value of honesty, teamwork, trustworthiness.
  5. Learning time management skills.
  6. Mastering the basic mundane but essential life household skills of doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, and shopping.


I’ll bet you can think of a lot of other skills that kids need to master before they are on their own. I would love to hear them. I think this is a great subject for a blog so go on and weigh in with your stories and advice. As always, thanks for joining me and helping to make Doc Smo one of the biggest and most followed pediatric blogs out there. This is Doc Smo, hoping it won’t just be a quirk, for your kids to get out and work. Until next time.



Smo Notes:

(1) –Washington Times article- Youth employment low.



(2) Life Skills kids should have before leaving home