Teaching children to stand on their own feet


Years ago, most older schoolchildren also had small jobs.

Photo credit: Samuel Muigai | Nation Media Group

Years ago, most older school children also had small jobs. Perhaps on the family farm, or in local businesses.

But somehow that’s out of fashion these days. Partly because we’re more protective of our children, but also because parents want their kids to do extracurricular activities like additional tuition, sport or music. So apart from the few children who find internships while they’re still studying, surprisingly few schoolchildren have a job nowadays.

Many students also worked their way through college, but that’s also unfashionable now. But both were a good idea. Part time jobs cultivate skills like time management and instil a sense of independence and personal responsibility. They also teach more concrete lessons. Because being a good student doesn’t necessarily mean being good at work. There’s a whole range of skills involved in successfully holding down a job and few of them are taught in schools or colleges.

Like you’ll have to work with people who aren’t like you. With different backgrounds and values from yours. And you have to figure out how to get along.

You also learn what it’s like to make minimum wage, and that you’re being paid for your efforts. I hated one boss of mine yelling, ‘Don’t lean on that counter, clean it!’ But I learned that I was being paid for what I did, not just for being there.

So perhaps we should encourage our children to at least work their way through college because you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to get a job if you have.

Because while qualifications are important, what employers really want to know is whether you have what it takes to be effective in their organisation. Whether you’re enthusiastic, hard working and self motivated. Show them that by building your CV while you’re still studying. Because even working in a fast food joint shows you can hold down a tough job, work hard, turn up on time, and keep going under pressure.While internships and voluntary work in your chosen field give you those specialist skills no college can ever teach.

Because becoming an adult’s not like unlocking a level in some video game. You don’t wake up one day suddenly mature. Maturity comes from learning the skills that make you successful.

And life’s not fair. Schools and teachers try to be fair, but people at work are just too busy. There’s no safety net to catch you when you mess up. And there are plenty of people to take your place.

Working your way through college also teaches you to stand on your own two feet. There’s great satisfaction in living in a tiny apartment on a minimal wage, and eating well on cheap food. Learning to live a simple life, driven by your studies and work, and approaching every day as if it was the most important one in your life. Which it is!

And before you know it, you’ll realise that you’ve become a successful adult.