Repeating it, my job record reads more like a Dickensian novel.
A round of papers at 12, sweeping budgie cages at 13, a job at a bakery at 14 (the bakery in question didn’t have a digital register and we had to add up all the sales on slips of paper), a role as a supermarket cashier on Fridays and Saturdays from 16 and a waitress from 18 until I mean got his first “real job”.
Simply put, I’ve worked my entire teenage life.
Of course, I did these jobs alongside my education. I graduated from school with good GCSEs, went to college for my A-levels and then to university.
And all of this has put me firmly in the camp of people who don’t think school-age children should work.
The other day I saw a young newspaper boy around 13, delivering newspapers on his bike at 7am – a rare sight, because hardly anyone gets their news like that anymore.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this little boy.
Suddenly, I was catapulted back to my 12-year-old self, a giant orange bag of newspapers slung onto my shoulder, pacing up and down a giant hill to deliver them, the bag cutting more and more into my shoulder blades.
It’s not a sad story – back then, many children my age had jobs. I’ve known teenage glass collectors dodging stumbling drunk men in bars collecting glasses for half minimum wage, other newspaper deliverers like me, friends who worked behind the cash register in gas stations – so there was a whole world of kid’s activities it wasn’t uncommon .
But that doesn’t mean it was right.
I remember being conscious of money, saving my pennies. I remember wanting a pair of Levi’s jeans which cost around £35 back in 1994 – which is around £85 today.
Working throughout my childhood taught me the value of money, but it also taught me how far to go
I have saved and saved my paper money for months. Eventually I had enough and bought my jeans. I left the store shaking like I’d just got myself a Fabergé egg.
Yes, working my whole childhood taught me the value of money, but it also taught me how far it doesn’t go.
Working for hours and delivering papers for pennies barely got me a pack of gum by the end of the week. After blowing my entire year’s salary on a pair of Levi’s, I was back to square one.
Of course, the fancier kids didn’t make paper rounds. As I got a little older, I remember the shame of walking around delivering papers and praying that no one in my year saw me. But the idea of giving it up was impossible – I wanted the money.
But far from wanting to pass this cloak of martyrdom on to my own children, it has made me want exactly the opposite.
I didn’t get my 13-year-old son to get a job, and I won’t either. I’m not going to put my eight year old into it either, when she’s old enough to work.
The reason? I think it teaches far too young children the drudgery of working for little or no pay.
You’ve toiled and toiled for a lifetime, only to probably not be able to get up the property ladder without help. They’ve saved and saved for years, only to be sneered at by older generations saying they could afford a house if they’d just stop “eating avocados and ordering coffee.”
You don’t have to worry about skimping just yet. I want to keep her childhood longer.
I don’t want my daughter lugging a sack of newspapers up a hill when people can check their news online.
I don’t want my son to work in the kitchen of a pub.
When I was 20, I worked as a waitress in a pizzeria. I had exams at university the next day, but accepted a 10-hour shift because I needed the money.
A wealthy family walked in – a couple with their son my age who was clearly a student.
When the pizza was late, my mother called me over. “Can you hurry her up, he has exams tomorrow!” she hissed at her dearest son.
I walked away mumbling that I also had exams tomorrow – but I wasn’t being taken to dinner by my parents, I was serving other people.
It made me realize that jobs are fine for kids if they come from rich backgrounds. Then it can be fun, make a little extra money and act as a “lifetime experience”.
As a child, I came from a less affluent background and therefore felt the need to earn and save early on. I fully appreciate that many children today have to work to support themselves – as I do – and I sympathize with them.
But if you really need the money, it’s no fun or life experience – it’s real drudgery, way too young.
I am fortunate to be able to give my children money for clothes, music, phones and trips.
So no, I’m not going to sign my kids up for newspaper rounds or side jobs in pubs. I will not encourage them to go to the job center to look for “child jobs” from the age of 14.
For me, childhood is short. They may worry about money when they are 18.
And if that means spoiling her, so be it.
The truth is…
Metro.co.uk’s weekly series The Truth Is… seeks to explore everything and everyone when it comes to life’s unspoken truths and long-kept secrets. Contributors will question common misconceptions about a topic close to their hearts, confess a deeply personal secret, or reveal their wisdom from experience – good and bad – when it comes to love or family relationships.
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