Jobs That Are Good for Teenagers (And Why)

As an adult, jobs (for most households) are necessary in this world. They provide income to pay the bills, and in the United States they also provide access to crucial benefits like health insurance and a means to contribute to social security and / or a pension.

For kids — teenagers — money is certainly part of the equation. And if the family budget is tight, a teen’s job might even be a crucial part of keeping the family afloat. (I’ve known a few kids in my lifetime whose income was the difference between their family having a roof over their head or not.) But for a lot of kids, jobs are also about something more … as in, developing life skills that are important as they transition into adults.

So here is a list of jobs that are good for teens, with explanations why. As always, we’d love to hear your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

1. Babysitting

Babysitting is often one of the very first jobs a kid takes on. Depending on the kids, it can be easy work or hard work, and depending on their parents the pay can be just as unpredictable. But it’s valuable work, and for a couple of reasons.

One, it can typically be done at a younger age than most traditional jobs. That means kids can get paid earlier for the work than they could, say, working at a restaurant.

Two, it teaches some valuable qualities, including leadership, conflict resolution, and how to deal with children. This last part is important, particularly if a kid is an only child or a youngest child and doesn’t have a lot of exposure dealing with younger siblings.

2. Fast Food

I worked three summers in fast food, and I found it to be a largely thankless job. The hours varied between boredom and panic (lunch was the worst), the pay was lousy, and the working conditions were a little sketchy. Customers could be highly variable, with some nice and some who thought I was just a disposable part. The fact that I was a college student at the time meant nothing to them.

So why is it important? For a couple of reasons, I think fast food jobs are among the better jobs for kids to have, even if they are hard work.

One, fast food jobs are a great reminder of the value of an education. Almost everyone I worked with and under in fast food had just a high school diploma, or less than that. More than one shift manager expressed the wish that they could do something else, but they didn’t have the education or job training to do anything else, certainly not near the pay they made. (And they weren’t paid well, as I learned.)

Two, fast food jobs are great training for dealing with people. This is especially true of cashiers, who have to contend with customers of all types. If you can deal with fast food customers effectively, you’re pretty much ready to be an ambassador to another country.

Three, fast food jobs change your perspective when standing on the other side of the counter. I’ve learned to be a lot more patient when I’m in restaurants now, especially when the staff is doing the best they can under the circumstances.

3. Waiting / Serving

Waiting and serving are similar to but also distinct from fast food, and it’s not easy work. Keeping orders straight, dealing with multiple tables, and dealing with unruly (and / or drunk) customers can be a real challenge. It’s also a job where the pay can be highly unpredictable, especially if you’re paid below minimum wage with tips being the bulk of your income.

But, like fast food, there are some valuable things that come out of waiting.

One, the job helps to build important skills like organization, multitasking, and diplomacy. In rush times (dinner is often the hardest), it also teaches how to deal with stress and deadlines.

Two, waiting helps to really hit home how vital tips are to workers. I’m a far more generous tipper for having worked as a server, even when service is slow. I learned from experience that the kitchen is more likely to the be reason for your delay than the person delivering the food.

Three, like fast food, waiting is a good reminder of the value of education. While some people can make pretty good money waiting tables, it’s not easy work and it’s not usually the job people want to do for a career.

4. Lawn Care

Lawn care isn’t always the first thing people think of when people think of teen jobs. For one thing, being a self-employed lawn care guy requires getting the equipment, which costs money. There are often maintenance and groundskeeping jobs out there for teens (public school districts are a good place to look for these) but not everyone knows about them or wants them. And the work environment — outside, potentially in heat — can be a turnoff to people.

But these jobs, like all the others, teach some great skills.

One, lawn care is a skill that most adults benefit from having. Anyone who lives in a home will likely have a lawn to take care of, and just knowing how to properly use and care for a lawn mower, weed trimmer, and the other work that comes with lawn care is useful.

Two, outdoor work, while not easy, also helps kids better appreciate labor-intensive work. It’s easy for people who have not had to work in the elements to not realize the effort involved, and it can be particularly helpful for those who are interested in outdoor work — be it a skilled trade or otherwise — to figure out how to manage it.

5. Work in their desired field

Over the years, I’ve had many a student express a desire to work in health care. Many want to be doctors, while a healthy number want to be nurses. Of course, those programs aren’t easy to get into — medical school in particular — but that’s not the only challenge many kids face. I know a few aspiring doctors who didn’t set foot in a hospital in any serious way until they were well into a pre-med program … only to find out they hated the sight of blood or dealing with patients.

One of the most important things a kid should do before launching into a field is to spend some time observing it. And I’m not just talking about internships, which are important, but even simple observations.¬†Teens who want to go into law enforcement should shadow an officer. Those who want to do nursing should volunteer or work at a hospital. Aspiring teachers should shadow teachers early and often. And people who think engineering is their dream job should get a chance to watch engineers at work.

What about you? What sorts of work do teens and kids benefit from being exposed to?

One Comment

  1. As someone who worked fast food during my last two years in high school and through most of my college years, I concur with most of what you say about the worth of such jobs.

    I partially disagree, however, about the “value of education” lesson. I can really speak only for myself, but that’s not a lesson I took. For me, the lesson was, “some people are fated to hold such jobs and I might be one of those people, regardless of my education level.” I’m not quite sure how/why I got that lesson. (I have some ideas, but that would make for an overly long blog comment.) It’s not as if most of my coworkers were college grads. I don’t think any were. But it’s a lesson I took.

    Another lesson, if I could call it a “lesson,” was that I was introduced to a large number of people on a level that was something like equality who I might never have otherwise met. I worked with people who were on public assistance, people who lived in trailer parks, persons of color, and people who had had and probably would have that type of job for the rest of their lives., with little advancement, except perhaps to shift manager. (Of course, others were college students or eventually had the resources to get better jobs.) As a white person from a relatively (to them) affluent background, that was an eye opener in many ways. And of course, while I worked with them on a level “that was something like equality,” I had the advantages to move on while most of them probably didn’t.

    I certainly agree with the other two lessons you cite from fast food work. I’ve never held most of the other jobs you mention, but those lessons strike me as reasonable.

    Thanks for writing this post!

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