Building Communication Skills via Summer Jobs

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A few weeks ago I wrote a TTT about ways to manage screen time in the summer and it was so popular that it has motivated me to write today’s post about the positives of summer jobs (and tasks) for our kids in our screen-saturated world. People often tell me how they worry that youth are losing their ability to communicate face-to-face. This concerns me, too, particularly when I think about how some youth may not be getting as much face-to-face communication time with adults as we once did. There was a time not long ago when you went to your friend’s home and their mom would ask about something you were doing in life and talked to you as if you were an adult. Now, when kids and teens go into other people’s homes, often everyone—the kids (and adults)—are looking at a phone or other screen.

One incredible antidote for this is having summer jobs—including volunteering—where our youth have interactions with adults. These early working experiences provide pre-teens and teens communication and negotiation skills with people older (and younger) than themselves. Examples include babysitting, working in a frozen yogurt shop, a clothing store, a movie theater, or volunteering at a day camp. One of my jobs in high school was working in the clothing store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley where I gained experience interacting with adults. The store manager, Kathleen, became a “mentor mom” to me. I knew she had respect for me and, boy, was that a wonderful feeling.

The reality is that jobs are hard to find in many parts of the US for young people (and adults of course). For youth, this often means thinking outside of the box.  Jobs can include all sorts of things, like helping out a neighbor regularly, setting up car washes, or volunteering at a retirement center helping the residents with technical issues like setting up Skype to talk with their grandkids (Tessa did this in 9th grade).  It is great when youth come up with ideas themselves but adults can play a key role as well.

Last week my neighbor, a 50-year-old wonderful dental hygienist who lives alone, came over to borrow some cooking oil, which I excitedly gave her because neighbors pop-over so rarely. Two days later she left a bag of cookies for my teens with this note:

I need help with a few jobs…. price negotiable per job! Thanks, Tessa and Chase.  P.S. You may also bid the job. All pay well and fair. Thanks, we’ll have fun together.

I LOVED THIS! How great that my neighbor reached out in this way. Tessa texted her to say she was interested but was in the midst of finals and would contact her right after. Tessa is indeed looking for other summer jobs. I am so jazzed that Tessa will not only be doing whatever tasks are needed but equally as important is that she will get to have regular conversations with my neighbor—more time talking with adults.

I am conscious of also trying to find tasks for neighborhood kids. For example, recently we got a dog (ahhh, scary, I have never had one) and a 12-year-old neighbor asked to walk him. So now she does this for us now and then, and when she comes by, I always stop what I am doing to talk with her about all sorts of topics.

Besides all the wonderful face-to-face time that jobs provide, they also provide youth with opportunities to build feelings of self-efficacy; ”I am a good worker,”  “I am responsible,” “I can negotiate,” “I asked questions, even though it made me feel uncomfortable.”

Finally, I want to give a bit of data (you know me, never short on data). In the 1980s, 70% of teens (age 16 to 19) had summer jobs. This number has declined yearly and in 2010 it reached 43% and has stayed about the same since (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

For TTT, let’s talk jobs. Not only do jobs help prevent screen time overload during the summer, they can have many upsides—and remember, even small jobs from time-to-time count too. **I would love for you to share on our Facebook post your experiences working as a youth and even give suggestions for youth today.

  1. Talk to youth about what summer jobs you might have had growing up and what communication skills you gained.
  2. What are the challenges and benefits of walking directly into stores, restaurants, etc. and asking if help is needed?
  3. One of the biggest things I look for when hiring people to help with film production is how persistent they are in trying to get the job. Discuss how to look and actually secure a job, internship, etc.
  4. How does tech help youth find jobs today? Are there postings on Instagram? Postings on Nextdoor.c om, etc.?