The writer of Proverbs had much to say about the importance of work:

“Those who work…will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense” (Proverbs 12:11).

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).

“Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor” (Proverbs 12:24).

And the references continue. As homeschoolers, we have devoted ourselves to our children’s all-around development. I would suggest that part of this development for teenagers includes non-academic work, whether through summer jobs, part-time work during the school year, or both. The jobs my children held in high school proved valuable, teaching important, lifelong lessons. I’d like to share seven of these.

1. Handling Paperwork

As our oldest, my son was the first to work outside of the home. He was a long-time student of martial arts who was expected to teach once he reached the rank of black belt as a teenager. He also spent his summers as a counselor-in-training, and then counselor, at the local camp program he had enjoyed as a child. By the time he was 16, he had applied for a junior work permit and multiple regular work permits (both required by our state), in addition to completing the required federal and company paperwork for both his martial arts school and the camp program.

This running around to complete forms, obtain signatures, and produce identification served as a great introduction to the adult world of paperwork and legal processes. It wasn’t hard. But it did require time, organization, and planning before each job even started.

2. Working Hard

Lesson two involved developing responsible habits and a good work ethic. My kids learned the importance of getting to work on time, which during the winter months in New England could require extra time and effort. If the kids were sick, they needed to notify their boss. (Note: We reminded them of this, but it was their responsibility.)

Our youngest daughter worked one year as a server/waitress at a local retirement home. When sick she had to both notify her boss and contact other teens who worked there to find someone to cover her shift. While at work, our youngest also learned the importance of completing the job, often staying late to finish cleaning up when other workers disappeared once the shift was officially over. A few other teens did the same. Their diligence was noticed and appreciated by both residents and staff.

Colossians 3:23-24 comes to mind here. As the apostle Paul urged: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Ideally our children have been learning this as it applies to their academic work. But this new experience of work outside the home, sometimes in settings where compromise is the norm, challenges them to develop the habit of working diligently for the Lord.

3. Expanding Abilities

New abilities and valuable work skills resulted from these jobs. My son’s part-time job of teaching martial arts classes evolved into his adult full-time job. His work as a counselor-in-training for his favorite summer camp led to full-time summer work throughout his college years. The part-time job he held beginning the summer before he started college locally–answering phones for that school’s Center for Educational Technology (CET)–taught him a lot about professional phone skills and trouble shooting computer systems.

My older daughter’s experiences were different but equally valuable. She babysat during high school and college, taking Red Cross classes in both babysitting and first aid as a teen. Today she and her husband have a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old. That teen work, and the classes she took to prepare for it, are now paying dividends as she parents her own children.

Our younger daughter’s experience was different still. Her retirement home serving job helped her develop waitressing skills, should she choose to waitress during her college years. She also was a counselor-in-training with her older brother’s summer camp program, but she earned the indoor and outdoor belay certification required for helping with the camp’s rock climbing activities, a personal hobby of hers. My children’s jobs varied, based on what was available at the time and what they were personally interested in, but each job yielded new and useful abilities.

4. Honing Interpersonal Skills

Jobs can build your high schooler’s interpersonal skills. My youngest has never liked talking on the phone. Her work as a server stretched her in this area. As she called in sick to a supervisor, or called other teen servers to swap shifts, she grew more comfortable with this form of communication. While at work she also grew to enjoy visiting with the residents of the retirement home as she served them, and with the cooks and cleaning staff when she stayed late to help with clean-up. Particularly with her camp coworkers, and coworkers on a paint crew she joined the summer between high school and college, she developed a sense of camaraderie that I now see as helpful when she began forming college relationships.

My son interacted with faculty, staff, students and vendors in his CET job, his dealings with each group expanding his interpersonal skills and comfort level. In his martial arts and camp jobs he developed an amazing rapport with youth and a facility interacting with their parents. My older daughter became comfortable interacting with both parents and young children in her years of babysitting. These polished interpersonal skills will undoubtedly prove helpful throughout their lives.

5. Understanding True Costs

Transporting kids to and from sports, jobs, and other activities adds up in both time and money for parents. When our kids were in high school, we wanted them to gain some concept of this cost. Our older daughter, who was very involved in music and drama, babysat as time allowed. Since her jobs were sporadic and produced irregular income, we simply required her to pay for a tank of gas now and then. Our younger daughter’s jobs were infrequent until her senior year of high school, when we knew she needed to seriously build savings for upcoming out-of-state college expenses. We drove her to and from her jobs, not requiring a financial contribution but occasionally reminding her of the hidden costs for her work—our time, gas, vehicle wear and tear, etc.

Our son is the best example of lesson five. Since he began working the earliest, and often worked multiple jobs even in high school, he earned the most money as a teen. Once he had his driver’s license, he was expected to cover his portion of auto insurance. When an elderly relative gave up driving, our son purchased her car. From that point on, he paid for all of his car-related—gas, insurance, inspections, and repairs.

6. Balancing Responsibilities

As our teens work they are challenged to balance their various responsibilities. They answer to Mom and Dad, and possibly others, in academic areas. They answer to other adults at their jobs. Learning to budget their time and becoming efficient in both their academic and income-producing work are great life lessons. Academics might take precedence certain times of year and your student may need to request fewer work hours for a while. Or, there could be a work-related event requiring extra hours for student workers. Learning to schedule school, work, and other activities—and make adjustments as they go—is an invaluable life lesson.

Adding outside work to their academic load also forces our children to make responsible, and sometimes tough, choices. Do they need to go to bed earlier so they stay healthy and have the energy needed for each day? Are they making wise decisions when it comes to downtime? When we give our teens some freedom in these areas, but help them get back on track when they blow it, we’re building awareness and habits that will help them in college and throughout adult life. In the case of our youngest, she agreed to limit any video games to free time over weekends, committing to focus on academics and her job weekdays.

7. Building Savings

When our children were young, we taught them to budget using an envelope system—10% went into one envelope for church tithe, 10% went into another for savings, and 80% went into the third envelope for regular use. By the time they were teens, however, building savings was crucial, and a much higher percentage was needed. All three applied savings to college expenses, using summer jobs to replenish their balance. Our son’s savings also allowed him to purchase a car and cover the related expenses.

Each teen was unique in how they handled our push to build their savings. Our son put almost every penny earned into savings, rarely withdrawing any. Our older daughter, the opposite of her brother in many ways, tended to spend money as quickly as she made it, which required more active parenting on our part to make sure her savings account was growing. Our youngest daughter is somewhere in between, usually putting full paychecks into savings but occasionally seeking approval for hobby purchases.

Your teen’s natural tendencies will dictate how carefully you need to monitor them in this area. But whether they tend to save or spend, and whether they pursue college or full-time work after high school, it’s good for them to learn the importance of building savings.

Still More Lessons

These seven areas of growth or learning that I noticed are in no way exhaustive. Looking back, there were also opportunities to encourage our children in the discipline, and joy, of tithing. There were discussions about how we should honor the sabbath, prioritizing corporate worship and rest in our 24/7 world. There were conversations about resting and playing with a clear conscience following diligent work.

Our children enjoyed fellowship with believers in some workplaces and had the opportunity to witness to non-believers in others. They learned to respond to coworkers who shirked their responsibilities or overstepped bounds. The lessons learned during this time grew them in maturity, yielding skills needed for responsible and godly adulthood. And the time helped transition Mom and Dad to coaches and encouragers, moving us toward the next stage of parenting.

Your teen may have many choices for work outside the home, or they may be so busy with academics and extracurricular activities that there’s no time for a job. In either case, I’d encourage you to look at teenage jobs as a vital area of your child’s education. They are more than just a paycheck.

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Debbie

Debbie O’Brien homeschooled for 19 years in Massachusetts, teaching literature and writing to students at multiple co-ops. A mother of three and grandmother of two, she now proctors practice SATs and ACTs for a Boston-area tutoring company. When not working, she can be found reading, baking, or kayaking with her husband of 31 years.