Saturday 3 December 2016

Should we put our teens to work?

As Sasha Obama, Barack and Michelle's 15-year-old daughter, lands a summer job at a seafood restaurant, our reporter looks at the pros and cons of children earning a crust

Barbara Scully

Published 10/08/2016 | 02:30

New normal: Michelle and Barack Obama with daughters Malia (18) and Sasha Obama (15), pictured far right, who has begun a summer job in a restaurant
New normal: Michelle and Barack Obama with daughters Malia (18) and Sasha Obama (15), pictured far right, who has begun a summer job in a restaurant
Barbara Scully with her 17-year-old daughter Roisin, who has started working to save for driving lessons
It's who you know: Romeo and Brooklyn Beckham both bagged lucrative contracts for summer jobs

There comes a time, every summer, usually around now when, if you have teenagers, you think 'oh my God it's time they went back to school'. This results from a combination of their boredom and the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to be sanguine about their lying in bed till lunchtime and lying on the sofa in a darkened room after that. This is probably what led me to encourage my older two daughters to get jobs as soon as they were legally entitled to work (essentially at 16 years of age - although they can work some hours from 14).

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Not surprisingly Michelle Obama had higher ideals and more virtuous motivations when she presumably encouraged her daughter Sasha, 15, to take on a summer job at a seafood restaurant in Martha's Vineyard recently. Although she hasn't commented directly on Sasha's job, her speech at the Democratic Convention leaves us in no doubt of her motivations.

She said: "I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just seven and 10-years-old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns. And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, 'What have we done?' See, because at that moment, I realised that our time in the White House would form the foundation for who they would become, and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them."

So let's assume that part of managing the unusual experience that comes with being the First Daughters of the USA was getting the Obama girls to take on summer jobs, just like normal kids. Although how normal it can be to work a summer job with Secret Service agents accompanying you is questionable, but I get where Michelle is coming from.

Barbara Scully with her 17-year-old daughter Roisin, who has started working to save for driving lessons
Barbara Scully with her 17-year-old daughter Roisin, who has started working to save for driving lessons

The Beckhams seemingly took a similar approach with their eldest son, Brooklyn, who reportedly worked in a London café and also spent time working with film-maker Guy Ritchie in the summer of 2014 when he was 15 - nice work if you can get it.

Two years later however and Brooklyn has recently landed himself a rather lucrative advertising contract worth £100,000 with Huawei mobile phones, and has been accused of being the product of nepotism when he scored a high-profile photography gig shooting Burberry's summer fragrance campaign this year.

Of course his younger brother, Romeo (13) has been advertising the brand for some time, no doubt another lucrative contract.

So, it is a good idea for parents to encourage their teens to find a job during the summer months, whatever their motivation might be? Joanna Fortune is a clinical psychotherapist working with children and teenagers at Solamh.com, and she thinks that having a summer job is only a positive thing.

She says having a job gives young people a structure to their time, especially during the long summer holidays, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

She goes on to outline the real benefits as being "an opportunity for teenagers to step away from their parents, to stand on their own two feet. The experience will also give them confidence and the capacity to engage with other people such as their employers, customers and others."

It's who you know: Romeo and Brooklyn Beckham both bagged lucrative contracts for summer jobs
It's who you know: Romeo and Brooklyn Beckham both bagged lucrative contracts for summer jobs

My eldest daughter turned 16 back in 2003 and couldn't wait to get a summer job. Back then in the glory days of the Celtic Tiger, finding such work wasn't a problem. But nowadays it's not so easy. So what about the kids that aren't so lucky?

Joanna says that it's important for parents to praise the effort rather than the outcome. "If they have gone out, calling into companies, handing in CVs and if they haven't been successful then it's important that parents give them credit for trying. The experience of asking for work is beneficial too."

Joanna further suggests that in this case parents may (if they can afford to) give their teen some of the bigger household tasks to do and pay them a fee for that. "And I am not talking about paying them to clean up after themselves, but jobs like taking responsibility for the weekly grocery shopping, the family washing and things like that."

So does working and earning their own money teach our teenagers to be financially savvy? Personal finance expert and commentator, Sinead Ryan thinks so.

"But more importantly, even teens should contribute at home when they start earning. This might seem mean, but if they simply earn and spend, they're not learning to budget and save. If mammy takes a few bob, even putting it away in an account for them, it teaches them discipline.

"They should have a plan for spending their earnings, otherwise it gets frittered away on clothes, going out and call credit. This is fine, by the way, as long as that's the intended goal for it. But if they're saving for college, car insurance or a new bike, then a portion should be diverted into an account specifically for this."

Opening a bank account usually accompanies the first job experience and Sinead suggests that teens should ensure their bank account is online and that they also open a deposit account (which is free) and into which they can divert some of their earnings.

So if our kids learn good money habits as teenagers, will it stand to them for the rest of their lives? Sinead says not necessarily.

"The big difference between teens saving and adults is access to credit. You cannot borrow when you are 15, but you sure can when you're 25. We then mistakenly consider the loan to be 'our money' and it's all downhill from there.

"A good cushion, nest egg or savings habit becomes ingrained, just as bad habits do. Seeing saving as a key expenditure, not just as something to do with 'left over' money, is vital."

There are some parents who are happy to fund their teenagers through the summer and feel that summer should be carefree and work-free. Are they denying their teenagers a useful experience?

"One of the jobs of parenting is to encourage independence," says Joanna. "There are important life skills to be gained from having a job, such as putting yourself out there in the world, positive risk-taking and learning to work with colleagues."

Our middle daughter, Roisin Sherwood, 17, is currently enjoying the benefits of her first job. "I suppose I feel like an adult now because in work I am treated like an adult which is somewhat different to school. Although it can also be a little intimidating to be pushed out of your comfort zone, to take responsibility and work on your own initiative." Roisin's main motivation in getting a job is the ability to fund a car and driving lessons.

When I was in school we had this brilliant teacher who not only taught us to read and write but also doled out life advice on a regular basis, even though we were only 12. She repeatedly told us that once we started working we should divide our money into three: one third went to your mammy, one third into savings and you could have one third for yourself.

I have mentioned this 'one third' system to Roisin who thought it a hilarious concept. I bet Michelle Obama manages to wrangle some of Sasha's wages from her. I clearly have some way to go yet before I match her parenting skills.

Irish Independent

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