Youngsters on bicycles no longer deliver newspapers. They don't cut lawns and shovel snow for their neighbors. Vans pass by in early morning and papers in plastic bags are hurled onto lawns and driveways. Lawn service trucks with their immigrant labor dot our neighborhoods. But children are still working for their spending money, in fast food franchises, in supermarkets stocking shelves and bagging groceries, in specialty stores, and even in businesses and local industry. So things are pretty much the same: children are still learning responsibility, medium-hard work, and the value of the dollar, right?

Not really.

First off, consider the change in the quality of work. Outdoor, healthful work has changed into mind-deadening, repetitive, low skill labor. Nor is there much of a learning process going on. What is the long term value of scooping ice cream, or working an automated cash register? When so many jobs are filled with teenagers working with each other, what high level skills are being taught?

If you drive around Plainview today, and patronize the local merchants, you will find the stores staffed with local teenagers, many of whom work more than twelve hours a week. Where student hours are protected by law, some teens work twelve on the books, then more off. Children as young as fourteen years old are employed in local supermarkets. So these teens are on their way to being productive citizens, learning the work ethic, and preparing for their futures. Right?

Perhaps not. More and more, students' jobs are interfering with their education. They come to school unprepared, rush to copy required homework from those who had time to do it, and come to class empty, intellectually. Or they fall asleep in class. Or they simply don't read assigned work, especially full length books. Instead, they buy Cliff's Notes, or some other condensation of the required book. They never lay their eyes on real literature.

The effects of too much work and too little reading are particularly noticeable in English classes where the howling errors they make show that they've rarely read anything. Students who write about "cereal killers," or some bride's trip down the "I'll" reveal a shocking type of illiteracy. A failure to recognize that snakes have a fairly well known symbolism in Judeo-Christian culture, or that rattlers prevail in the deserts of our country show real poverty of background.

Instead of being so very quick to sign those working papers for your teenager, reflect on what you're giving your child. Make sure that you aren't permitting your child to work too many hours so that there is less time to read. Less time to view films or television shows that might add to his/her store of information about our society. Fewer family dinners (teens often work through most families' meal times) at which they can join in intelligent discussions of world events. A much smaller storehouse of information on which to rely when it comes to writing that composition. A really shrunken cultural background with which to face college and the real world. Is that what's best for your child?

return to pobct homepage