Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
The Best Summer Jobs for Teens
Every other day last summer, I watched as my college-bound teen put on slacks and a shirt — definitely not his usual uniform — and follow his father out the door to work. My son was a temporary file clerk in my husband’s office, a job that was not exciting but paid well.
The other two days of the week he donned swim trunks, sunscreen and a whistle and headed out to our neighborhood pool to be a lifeguard.
He ended up at the end of the summer with a nice chunk of change to take to college, as well as invaluable experience that has helped him secure a job as an Orientation Leader at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this summer.
He was one of the lucky ones. But the share of high-schoolers working summer jobs has dwindled since the early 1990s, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
Since 1948, which is as far back as the data go, teen summer employment followed a fairly regular pattern: rising during economic good times and falling during and after recessions, but generally fluctuating between 46 percent (the low, in 1963) and 58 percent (the peak, in 1978).
That pattern began to change after the 1990-91 recession, when the teen summer employment rate barely rebounded. Teen summer employment again fell sharply after the 2001 recession and again failed to rebound, and fell even more sharply during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. After bottoming out in 2010 and 2011 at 29.6 percent, the teen summer employment rate has barely budged.
It’s not easy to pinpoint why: Maybe jobs are being taken over by fulltime employees, or the recession hadn’t rebounded enough by the time this Pew report was written. Or maybe more teens are working year-round, which will skew summer employment statistics.
At any rate, my son was fortunate to secure not one but two summer jobs. Not only was he a known quantity at the swim club where he worked — he had spent every summer there on swim team since he was 3 — but his father helped him get his office intern job.
Not everyone has those advantages, but there are plenty of opportunities for teen employment during the long summer months. According to parents, teens and employers I polled, here are the Top 5 summer jobs for teens:
5 Lifeguard: Every private and public pool around is in need of good, certified lifeguards. The cost of training averages about $200-$300 but is worth it, since your teen will be learning CPR and valuable lifesaving skills. The one complaint I heard from my teen is that it sometimes gets boring — which is what you want when your job is saving lives. The pay is decent, anywhere from minimum wage to $13-$14 per hour.
4 Temporary shop employee: We live in an area with many colleges, and many of those college kids leave for the summer. That opens up lots of possibilities for seasonal employment at apparel stores, boutiques, restaurants and movie theaters, to name a few. Sometimes, just an afternoon of browsing the mall will reveal many “Help Wanted” signs, and often no experience is necessary. These are usually minimum wage jobs, but the experience looks great on future resumes.
3 Freelance “helper”: Thanks to the proliferation of Nextdoor.com sites, teens have an easy way to offer their services to neighbors, usually in the form of house and pet sitting, dog walking and yardwork. Or students can put their inherent computer skills to work by helping older neighbors navigate their electronics. I know I could use one of those around the house. The advantage of these jobs is that they generally pay well — $15-$20 an hour or around $100 a day or more for house sitting. And kids can usually work around their busy social schedules.
2 Temporary office worker: My son made a bundle of money scanning and filing last summer, but he also learned a valuable lesson: how the “real world looks.” Sometimes it was a bit like Dunder Mifflin in “The Office,” but more times than not, it gave him a glimpse of an industry he knew nothing about. And as an aspiring business major, the lessons he learned were not lost on him. The best thing a teen can do is contact friends and associates of his parents to see what types of youth internships are being offered at their companies. While many are reserved for college-age kids, some offices need a clerk like my son to do menial work and will pay anywhere from minimum wage to $15-$18 per hour. The worst thing about these jobs is dressing like a grown-up.
1 Camp counselor: The best teen employment opportunity, in my opinion, is that of a camp counselor. This job allows teens to interact with youth and other like-minded teens, get valuable experience in responsibility, and be in a fun and engaging environment. Most camps require counselors to be CPR-certified — which is what parents of campers want. If your child has gone to a camp and enjoyed it, check with the staff as to when they will be hiring. If your child has an interest in something, such as computer coding, sports or a faith-based environment, check out many of the camp directories in magazines (like Parents Press) or do a simple Google search for camp counselor positions. Local city-run daycamps are also great opportunities. Again, the pay varies, from minimum wage to $18-$20 an hour for the most experienced counselors, but your child will have a summer he or she will never forget.
Peggy Spear is a former editor of Parents Press and the mother of a teenager and two post-college kids.