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To work or not to work

‘Teenage unemployment is still at an unacceptable high of 18.5 per cent and above 20 per
cent in four out of 10 regions across Australia. In one in three regions over the past year
teenage unemployment has actually increased.’

I pulled this out of Labor’s Social Inclusion policy document because it seems to be based on the idea that we should have 100% teenage employment. I wonder about this. Is it appropriate that all people aged 13-19 should be employed? If you are struggling through school, should you be employed or use your time to study and get extra help? If you have other sort of development opportunities, such as volunteering or travel, should you be working instead? If you are caring for your siblings or a parent, should you be working? Should you be allowing yourself to be exploited in the subtle ways most multinational franchises exploit young people, which most adults would never let them get away with?

And I want to even question whether this idea that teenagers should be working is really about some Protestant work-ethic morality, or about pure consumerism, rather than the welfare of young people.

If a young person lives in a family able to economically support her well-being could it be nice and welcome and affirmative that she does not have to go to work. She’ll be working most of her life, why not start as late as possible? Is going to work a moral good compared to not going to work when you are a teenager? Or would it be unfair if some wealthier kids were able not to work while others have to?

Or is it that young people who work therefore buy lots of things and enable retail outlets to pay their staff low wages and treat them like shit?

I did work during my last couple of years of high school for a movie theatre. I liked it because I was managed by a nice young man who let us, you know, talk, relax, and sit down when there was nothing to do and I got to see all movies for free and I didn’t work that many hours per week, with shifts that were only four or five hours. But I would have hated having to work in a supermarket or McDonalds and probably wasn’t old enough to work in an office. I can’t remember why I worked: if I wanted more spending money, if my parents wanted me to, if it was just the thing to do. But if I were to have a child (which I won’t) I think I would encourage her not to work, to give her as much time in life to experience her freedom.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this matter. To work or not to work, that is the teenage question!

One thought on “To work or not to work

  1. Hey Rachel.
    Such an interesting topic.

    I’ve been working since I was about 14. At that age I dropped out of school to perform (which has been great – thankfully, I also recognised the need for education and later returned to complete it).
    At the same time was also already sexually active.

    My mother, a single mother of three and a relatively well-off author, was certainly able (finacially) to support me. She, however, had other ideas and gave me the same ultimatum she had given to my older brothers in years passed: ‘Go back to school, get a job or leave home’. She is extremely well-educated and had struggled very hard for many, many years to get where she was. She was simply not prepared to be the sole support of a drop-out who wanted to play grown-ups.
    When I protested she simply replied ‘You’re old enough to f**k, you’re old enough to feed yourself’ (as a symbol of adulthood rather than the actual act itself).

    I have been forever grateful for this as it instilled into me the idea that if I insisted on being treated as an adult, then I was going to have to act like one. If I was willing to go back to school, she would have been happy to support me entirely.
    It also taught me that yes, she did work for her money. It wasn’t just there. It helped me develop a respect for her as a woman in her own right rather than seeing her just as ‘my mum’.
    Working from my early teens helped me develop an independence that I cherish dearly. I developed an integrity and sense of self-worth that many of my peers had not yet even conceptualised.

    At the same time, I recognise that this path is not for every teen. I think that the boxes should always be removed so that the choices of the individual can be assessed according to the person, rather than a pigeon-hole created by society based solely on age…

    Again, Rachel, awesome topic for discussion!

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