Living in the Washington suburbs, I see a culture where elite sports, study abroad, and internships have replaced crappy part-time and summer jobs for upper middle class students. I’ve often heard that with college admissions being so competitive, our children don’t have time to work. I was once shot down with this rationale when I suggested the girls on a travel team have a bake sale to pay for a trip instead of their parents writing checks. It may have been just as well — I’m sure it would have been moms doing the baking and selling anyway — but, I have to call nonsense on this. Students manage to find time for ski trips, surfing trips (often coupled with a mandatory service project helping poor kids who conveniently live near Costa Rican resorts), not to mention the more traditional student activities of binge TV watching and underage drinking at unchaperoned parties. But somehow in between that photo safari in Tanzania and SAT prep, there never seems to be time left for bagging groceries at the Giant. That’s a pity.
I believe internships and travel are enriching and can help young people build their visions of the world and place in it, and my children have experienced both. But they aren’t a substitute for a grubby job with an unreasonable boss and an inflexible schedule. This too is part of the real world. Nobody wants to hire an attorney or brain surgeon and find out their case is his first real job.
A minimum wage job also teaches humility. It can be a good thing for a child who has been told he’s special since birth to learn he’s not too special to clean the fryer. A 2013 New York Times article on a new private school opening in Manhattan said educators’ research had shown that top colleges found New York City applicants lacking in humility. The parents’ answer: teach humility at a private school for upwards of $40,000 per year. I can’t help but picture the Dalai Lama being flown in on a dad’s Netjet for an afternoon seminar. Wouldn’t a shift at the Yogi Berry be simpler and more cost effective?