Today is “National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” and a good time to think about what we can teach our kids about work skills. Schools can teach them content, but we may be the only people who can teach them the attitudes and soft skills they need. There are several important steps we can take to let kids be prepared for the world that they inevitably will have to face without us.
• Let Them Face Logical Consequences. I’ve written a lot about the importance of letting kids deal with the logical consequences of their decisions. Sometimes, all we have to do is stay out of the way. If a child waits until the last minute to do a science project, a bad grade may be a good lesson about the dangers of procrastination. Other times, we need to be more proactive. For example, if a teenager forgets to take the trash to the outside can, putting the bag in his room will be a better reminder than a lecture. As I explained more than once, I wanted to move the trash bag to a place that it didn’t annoy me, but I don’t want to do their job for them.
You always have to keep the consequences safe for the child. We want them to have a preview of the real world, not full exposure to all of the bad things that can happen to them. Part of keeping the preview safe is the need to pick your battles carefully. Your children may or not be able to deal with average child-level problems. You have to learn which issues to deal with today and which ones to deal with later — or never. For example, allowing an average child who forgets his lunch money to be hungry for a few hours or have to eat school food he doesnt’ like will be a good lesson in planning ahead for his day. For a child who has experienced food insecurity, on the other hand, missing a meal can trigger all sorts of trauma. For that child, you will need to find other consequences.
Within the limits of safety and your child’s maturity, let them learn from their decisions. Sometimes we have to bail our kids out in order to protect them, but we can‘t do it so often that they start expecting to avoid consequences. The more we can let them learn lessons for themselves, the better off they will be in the long run.
• Teach Them The Value of Knowing a Trade. Our society places a high value on a college education, but we can’t forget, or let our kids overlook, the fact that having a trade skill can be incredibly valuable. Career & Technical Education (CTE) has an unfair reputation as being inferior to academic education. In fact, CTE requirements can be just as rigorous as, and sometimes more demanding than, an academic degree. CTE classes can teach not only information, but soft skills such as balancing work load, showing up on time, and team work. These life lessons are just as important as academic skills, and CTE can be the best option for our kids to learn them.
In talking to our kids about CTE, we may have to fight against the stereotype that vocational training is for people who aren’t intelligent enough for academic classes. Let’s face it, schools are run by academics who were trained by academics. Of course they have a bias in favor of their own training. But we shouldn’t let conventional wisdom influence us against what might work for our kids.
• Encourage Older Kids to Get a Part-Time Job. It may be hard for our kids to fit a job into their schedules (and for us to fit chauffeuring duties into our schedules), but actual work experience will teach them adult skills that nothing else can. Those life lessons include
• The process of applying and interviewing
• Learning about different careers from the inside
• Time management
• The importance of showing up on time
• Real-world reasons for safety rules
• Dealing with difficult customers
• Managing money (including paying taxes)
Entry-level jobs are not glamorous, but that very fact makes them unparalleled opportunities for life lessons. After all, there aren’t many places that teens can learn that everyone has to take a turn at cleaning the bathroom.
It is important to stay out of the way and let our kids handle the logistics of their jobs. We may need to offer suggestions about filling out job applications or how to interview, but we should leave as much as possible up to them. We should always be there to listen, offer advice, and help them make decisions. But it is their job, not ours, and they need to figure out how to do it.
Taking our kids to work is a great way to expand their horizons beyond the classroom and help them learn about various careers. Let’s also find opportunities to teach them much more important life skills that will benefit them no matter what career path they choose.