5 Reasons Why Kids Should Work

A while back I saw a conversation thread unspool on social media that completely baffled me. The catalyst for the conversation was a well-intentioned question, but it still baffled me. A parent asked whether kids should work; the concern was that a job would be hard and also get in the way of homework, extracurriculars, and free time.

To back up, I admit that my childhood work context is pretty extreme. My parents were immigrants who owned a bodega that was our family’s livelihood. My 6 siblings and I worked incredibly long hours (as in, sometimes we were there from opening to closing, 8am to 11pm) for no pay and that was just how it was. We never questioned it. And when I was in college, I was financially on my own after the first year and during summers and breaks I worked a full-time office job then worked at an ice cream store in the evenings (so, a similar 8am to 11pm work pattern).

This is not the experience I want for my kids, but I do believe that kids should work. (And, in case you’re wondering, I also believe that kids should do chores because they are part of the family system, not for pay.) Today I want to share 5 reasons why I feel so strongly about kids and work.

1. Working helps kids learn the relationship between money, time, and things

This is a simple, basic concept but it’s one parents often lose sight of. If you just buy your kids all the things all the time, they will never develop an appreciation for the relationship between money, time, and things. People often ask me about my opinion on allowance and I am definitely a proponent of allowance as a tool to give kids a chance to experiment and learn about money. And then when kids have an opportunity to earn money at a job, it takes that understanding and appreciation to a totally different level. Over the past year, Laurel earned a significant amount of money in a few different ways (a custom scrapbook project, working as a cleanup helper at a baby shower, babysitting, and helping with our family business). A few weeks ago when we were visiting our artist friend Sheila Corkery at her open studios, Laurel decided to buy a ring. It was pretty amazing to see her mind working -- it was a large sum of money for a kid so she labored a bit on that point but ultimately worked through the justification that it would feel good to spend her hard earned money on a piece of art made by someone she knew. She is so proud of that purchase and takes special care of it, no doubt because she bought it herself.

I also bought some earrings at Sheila Corkery’s open studios showing -- with my hard earned money!

I also bought some earrings at Sheila Corkery’s open studios showing -- with my hard earned money!

2. Working can serve as a way to connect with your kids

One of the unexpected things that happened as a result of starting Brave New World Designs is that it has offered two unexpected things: 1) a tangible business that my kids can see in operation and understand (vs. my life on the Internet, which is sort of nebulous to them), and 2) a way for me to connect with the girls. All phases of production happen at our home studio and the girls have been awesome helpers. We pay them for their time working on Brave New World Designs (we have a whiteboard where they track their time and Violet, not surprisingly, is a little competitive about who has logged more hours!) and one of my very favorite parts of this process is that it offers time for us to chat and connect. Sometimes being able to talk while not making eye contact has resulted in some really crucial conversations with Laurel.

3. Working offers opportunities to talk about spending, saving, and sharing

One great thing about kids earning money is that it offers opportunities to talk about what to do with that money. While yes, the girls like spending occasionally on things (Violet just opted to spend some of her Brave New World Designs earnings on this fidget spinner), we have had lots of conversations about putting money into their college savings accounts and also talk about donating money (Brave New World Designs helps lots of charities so that has been very cool for them to see). Given my work with Fidelity/MEFA over the years -- coupled with our general discussions about money -- college is definitely top of mind and they more often than not ask us to deposit birthday or holiday cash gifts into their 529 accounts. It’s also really fun when I can bring them to events where all of these things intersect!

At the Fidelity/MEFA tent at Mayfair in Harvard Square

At the Fidelity/MEFA tent at Mayfair in Harvard Square

4. Working will help kids with time management

I started this post referencing a parent who was concerned that a job would get in the way of homework, extracurriculars, and free time. I have heard a parallel argument for letting kids off the hook with chores. But friends, engage your kids in chores and work! They will give your kids life skills and also will give them practice figuring out how to manage their time.

5. Working helps kids learn to deal with discomfort

Reality = not all work is fun. When Jon and I are dealing with a tough work situation we often joke about the below Red Forman clip from That 70’s Show (“If it wasn’t work they wouldn’t call it work. They’d call it super wonderful crazy fun time. Or skipideedoo.”). We live in a time where parents want to shelter their kids from discomfort and while I know that desire is coming from a well-intentioned place, I’ll be plain and say that you’re doing your kids a huge disservice if you do this. Kids need to experience discomfort and learn how to cope with hard things, and that’s part of the journey with working. Let them get practice with it before they get out in the real world.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Fidelity/MEFA. All opinions about why kids should work and the fact that they should totally dump some of their earnings into their 529 are, of course, my own. To learn more about the 529 college savings account, hop over to the MEFA website.