Delaney Ruston is a coproducer of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. The film explores the many struggles students have with social media, cell phones, video games, academics, and internet addiction. This article originally appeared on screenagersmovie.com.
I wrote a post about ways to manage screen time in the summer and it was so popular that it has motivated me to write this 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 teens 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.
One incredible antidote for this is having summer jobs—or 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 or working at a frozen yogurt shop, clothing store, movie theater, or day camp.
The reality is that jobs are hard to find in many parts of the United States for young people. For youth, this often means thinking outside 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 by helping the residents with technical issues like setting up Skype to talk with their grandkids. It’s great when teens come up with ideas themselves, but adults can play a key role as well.
Last week my neighbor, 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! PS: You may also bid the job. All pay well and fair. Thanks, we’ll have fun together.”
I loved this! How great was it that my neighbor reached out in this way. My daughter texted her to say she was interested but was in the midst of finals and would contact her right after. She is also looking for other summer jobs. I am so jazzed that my daughter 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’m also conscious of trying to find tasks for neighborhood kids. For example, recently we got a dog and a 12-year-old neighbor asked to walk him. She does this for us now and then, and when she comes by, I always stop what I’m doing to talk with her about all sorts of topics.
Besides all the wonderful face-to-face time that jobs provide, they also provide kids 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. In the 1980s, 70% of teens ages 16–19 had summer jobs. This number has declined yearly, and in 2010, it reached 43% and has stayed about the same since, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.