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  • Writer's pictureMark Olivito

Old School Rant: Choices, Teenagers & Parents

Updated: Jul 3, 2022

Alexa always gives me some interesting factoids. Today’s report on the plummeting teenager labor force participation caused me to stop and look it up. Here’s the article, and below the stat.

“The teen labor force participation rate reached a peak of almost 58 percent in 1979. By 2015, the most recent year of data provided by the BLS, that rate had declined to about 34 percent, which is lower than the Great Recession’s 40 percent rate.” So What? We can give plenty of reasons for WHY this is going on and I’m sure there are good ones. No doubt more kids are going to summer school as they prepare for college and are likely putting a higher value on that over the long term than a minimum wage job. I get it.

But it’s awfully hard to imagine our country in a better position with massively fewer teens participating in WORK. This is not to make a value judgment on education vs experience, it’s to ponder CHOICES that our future producers seem to be making.

Seems like you really only have 3 types of CHOICES Teenagers make. Work. Study. Play. 3 distinct teens making 3 different choices.

  • 1) Teen Timmy makes the choice to pass up on the minimum wage job to attend “summer school” or pre-college prep. Timmy has his sights on a scholarship at a prestigious university. Timmy is clearly trying to hone those classroom “muscles” and I can envision his first year in college perhaps even being more successful in college as a result of this choice. Timmy is on his way.

  • 2) Teen Tara, an “average” high school student scores a job at the local Starbucks. So much for sleeping in, store opens at 5am and she needs to open at least 3 days a week, and Tara isn’t a morning person so this doesn’t feel fun. But slightly better than school for Tara, she just can’t seem to get motivated by the classroom.

  • 3) Teen Tiffany. She’s doing neither. By golly it’s the summer and she’s going “Down the shore” DTS (NJ saying for hanging out on the beach) to work on her tan. School and jobs will always be there and her bestie is joining her, it will be a blast.

I suppose there are all kinds of cross-overs between Tiffany, Tara and Tim. Who’s to say you can’t do a little DTS, hold a job, and take a course or 2. Our society seems to be obsessed with “balance” so one could argue this approach would kind of feel pretty darn smart? Regardless, all could be massive successes, and all could be grade A loafers in life too. There’s also a VERY powerful force in a Teenager’s Life: Their Parents. One thing is hard not to notice about Parents and business leaders? People are AWFULLY proud of their alma matter. Their college experience shaped them, who their friends are and there is usually a tremendous sense of pride in their college. I have a healthy degree for my college experience too. Do yo think this rubs off on Junior? You betcha. Do you think Junior’s Parents vision may be a tad biased in their own hiring decisions when trying to get talent for their companies? How can it not?

When student loan debt crosses the trillion dollar mark in the USA and countless young adults are graduating without “experience” and consider themselves “under-employed,” maybe, just maybe parents and leaders need to step back and ask themselves if we live in a different day?

Again, I’m not advocating education vs NO education. But it’s hard not to at least challenge the underlying assumptions and recognize that the world we live in now is not our Grandparents world. Everything should be questioned. There are multiple paths to a fulfilled life, but listening to many of them talk about plans for junior, there only seems to be one. Employers still want the sheepskin. Some won’t even interview the non-degreed applicant. That means there’s tremendous talent not even being considered in the market for talent, and that spells opportunity.

You know what employers really want MORE than the sheepskin? Results. Difference makers. For the record, I had a HELL of a teenage life. I helped run a liquor store, and is there any cooler job for a teenager than that? I had tons of fun, but I also remember plenty of weekends my friends going DTS while I worked at the store and locked it up at night. The pride of being entrusted with a key to that store and locking it up, in great shape to start the next day was a responsibility I wouldn’t screw up for anything. I think of my Uncle and Cousin often with a tremendous amount of gratitude for their trust.

Sometimes in life, success isn’t a matter of distinct choices, to work or to study or to play. Success sometimes means, who are you trying to please? Your parents? Your buddies? Or……yourself? Coming of age usually means you get this clearly, and sometimes people take a lifetime with this struggle….

For teenagers, these are awfully tough choices. I just hope it’s the teenager that makes the call, not their parents. BTW, don’t miss the video on Raven Osborne, got here college degree BEFORE her high school degree. For free. That’s HUSTLE, and I’d love to hire her.

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