Thinking of Summer by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
Growing up in Michigan, I experienced a rite of passage for every high school kid: the opportunity to go to my first concert at Pine Knob (the equivalent of today’s Comcast/Tweeter Center). Sometime during the summer after my ninth-grade year, a few of my friends decided we were going to head to Pine Knob with someone’s older brother and get tickets to see Bachman Turner Overdrive (remember them?!). So, as most ninth graders do, I asked my parents for the money to buy the ticket – and they replied that I needed to earn the money to pay for the ticket myself.
Thus began my working life for the next eight years: house painter, lawn mower, dishwasher, camp counselor. These were the days before internships and fancy summer programs, and those long, hot working days of summer taught me some of the most important lessons of my formative years.
Perhaps the most important lesson was realizing I didn’t have to turn to my parents for spending money (how many of us as parents feel like human ATMs these days?). All adolescents crave greater independence, and having a summer job – no matter what the job is – gives them a substantive experience of it. My summer jobs taught me to make choices about what was important for me financially and reminded me that I had a responsibility to our family not to use up family resources for my own fun and frolic. Did I really need to go to that concert? Was I willing to save for my first car (which ended up being an $850 Datsun 210 wagon)? Having such responsibility certainly made me more confident that I could take care of myself in college and beyond.
Another benefit of my summer work was that I was accountable to people who did not care about my parents, my school and my friends – they only cared about whether or not I got the job done and done well. For much of my early adolescence, I had gotten by simply on being a good guy – personable and friendly. But my first tastes of work taught me that while being a nice guy was important, it didn’t matter if the job wasn’t completed competently and on time.
Some of my summer jobs were just flat out boring and physically hard. Those challenges gave me a renewed commitment to my academic work (Did I really want to make my living with my body or with my brain?) and tremendous empathy and respect for people who do that kind of hard work every day. While my parents could preach the importance of doing well in school and being respectful of those who did manual labor, there was no better way to teach me those things than by getting me to engage in that kind of work myself.
Often Nobles students and parents come to me looking for ideas about summer programs and opportunities – and more often than not, they revolve around education, travel or internship programs (which, if you know me, you know I support enthusiastically). In almost every case I will be supportive of such programs if they provide sufficient challenge and get our kids into unfamiliar places and situations – but those experiences should not rule out the opportunity for working a summer job.
As the conversations begin about the agenda for the summer of 2011, I encourage you to engage your children in a conversation about the importance of getting work this summer – they may learn the most important lessons of their adolescence during those long, hot days.
Check out this article in the New York Times – Teaching the Value of Work to Children.
*If some of this looks familiar, this is a theme I’ve written about (in similar forms) the last couple of years.