My Teen’s First Job: Lessons from the Unglamorous World of Grocery Bagging

Here is Amanda on her very first day of her very first job!

Here is Amanda on her very first day of her very first job!

Amanda, 16, started her very first job a few weeks ago.  She didn’t necessarily need to get a job, but rather wanted to instead.  Her best friend, and many of her closest friends from school, all work at the same local grocery store, so naturally, she wanted to work there as well.  She aced her first job interview, even though she had no previous job experience. It helped that she is an honor student, has leadership skills (this is her third year as a Choir Officer) and is creative, intelligent and a fast learner.  These are all valuable skills when trying to land that first teen job.

There is some controversy among parents of teenagers as to whether or not allowing your teen to get a job, rather than concentrating on schoolwork, is a good idea.  Believe me, as a mom, I have had many mixed feelings about this as well.  But aside from my own apprehensiveness, I think that the ability to juggle school, social activities and a part-time job really depends on who the teen is.  In other words, if Amanda wasn’t the competent, capable, self-motivated individual that she is, her Dad and I definitely would have discouraged this decision.  And I think it goes without saying that her grades are still top priority, no matter what.

So far, she’s been handling the workload well.  Until this weekend, that is.  This weekend she hit her first brick wall.  She was crazy busy, and running on very little sleep and almost no real nutrition. This being November, her varsity choir is involved in numerous weekend events.  She competed in a regional choir contest which involved a bus ride across the city to another school district, which began at noon on Friday, went all day Saturday, and culminated in a 200-voice concert on Saturday night.  The next day, she got up and went to work at 10 am and put in a full 8-hour day.  Then she had four hours of homework, which she was just too tired to complete.   Talk about a harsh lesson in responsibility and commitment!

She’s starting to understand that a part-time job is anything but glamorous or even fun for that matter.  And let’s be honest, sometimes working just plain sucks.

I can’t help but think about my own first job and how similar an experience it was.  My best friend worked at a mall gift shop, and I was so excited, I lied about my age at 15, got the job, and I’ve been working ever since.  But it didn’t take long for the shiny newness to wear off, and for me to realize that working was challenging, tiresome and a real grind.  However, looking back, I realize that maybe those temporary teen jobs had some value.  Back then, I dealt directly with people in all walks of life, people in different circumstances, good and bad.  Working with the public, you learn quickly how to conduct yourself in an adult world.

I’ll bet no one would argue that most of today’s teens have an overblown sense of entitlement. Many teens live extravagant and demanding lives, believing that they deserve to be pampered and spoiled.  But shouldn’t our teenagers be learning the importance of working hard for what they want instead?  That’s what I want for my teens.

As I said, I believe there is value in working that first part-time job. Here are the lessons that I hope my daughter learns from her experience as a “lowly” minimum wage grocery sacker:

  1. Appreciation for the Service Industry.  Dealing with the public helps you develop empathy and compassion for the human race. Everyone one you met is facing their own challenges, and some handle it better than others.  Amanda has already had to deal with her share of crabby old ladies, stressed out moms with screaming toddlers and incredibly rude and obnoxious jerks.  But the majority of grocery shoppers that she encounters are pleasant and complimentary.  Empathy for the general public is a critical skill for almost any job you will have in your future professional career, and knowing how to interact with all types of people can only benefit you later in life. Plus, I promise, you will never forget this experience, and it will only motivate you get a college degree and climb the ladder of success, preferably NOT within the service industry.
  2. Importance of a Strong Work Ethic. You may feel invisible or unimportant in your entry-level job.  You may feel like sacking groceries is the most unglamorous job on earth. But it’s important to take your job seriously because your supervisors and coworkers are depending on you to do the best job within your capabilities. Always exceed expectations for any job, project or task that you do. Go the extra mile and establish yourself as your supervisor’s “go-to” person. You will be amazed at how far that reputation will lead you.
  3. How to Work as a Team.  The importance of working as a team is a talent that is transferrable to almost any industry or future job. It fosters social engagement in the workplace, a sense of belonging to a group and establishes the bond of camaraderie.
  4. Time Management.  It’s amazing the things you will find the strength to do when you know other team members are counting on you. Like showing up for your shift on time, even when you don’t feel like it.  Having to balance school and work teaches teens to prioritize responsibilities and manage their time.  By the time Amanda goes off to college, I am hoping that she will have mastered this skill, because let’s face it, Mom is not always going to be around to act as your human alarm clock!
  5. Money Management. There’s great satisfaction in being able to buy something you really want, or to start a savings fund, with your own hard-earned money. Not having to rely on your parents for every little thing is the very beginning of financial independence.  But with independence comes great responsibility. Fortunately, my daughter is smarter and more frugal than I ever was, so I am confident she will do a better job in this area than her parents did.
  6. Building a Resume and Recommendations. Being able to list work experience on a resume will help you get ahead of the crowd when it comes time to apply for college or find a full-time job. It shows colleges and employers that you are motivated, hard-working and reliable. In addition, you should know that letters of recommendation can come from surprising places. While you are sacking groceries, you are also building relationships that can benefit you in the future. If you demonstrate loyalty and a good work ethic, your supervisor might just write you a glowing letter of recommendation that could get you into your dream college!

Of course, there are a few down sides to having your teen get a job as well.  Most are purely selfish on my part. For instance, I really miss her being around on the weekends.  We don’t get to see her as much, but I guess that’s part of the process of growing up, but I still kind of hate it!  Also family time – like nightly dinners, shopping trips and vacations – are going to be harder to come by than they used to be.

Nevertheless, I am happy and proud of her for taking this milestone step, no matter how unglamorous the job is, but I’m also sad about losing that little girl that was once so dependent on me.  See? Mixed emotions. And speaking of jobs, out of all the jobs I’ve held in my lifetime so far, motherhood is BY FAR the hardest!

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About thedaughterdiaries

Here’s a secret for all you moms of cute toddlers out there.... when you get to the teen years, things are not much better, I'm sorry to say. They still act exactly like toddlers...wild mood swings, strange sleep patterns, irrational behavior, crying fits and screaming. Wait..that last one is mostly me. Only now I can't bribe them with candy like I used to.
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