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5 Things Teens Learn From Their First Jobs

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Whether you mopped the floors at the local steak house or manned a cash register at the mall, you learned a lot about life—and people—from your very first job. My college kid's first job was at a fast food restaurant and my daughter just landed her first retail job. And oh, the life lessons they've learned.

1. Politeness matters

Sure, I've taught my kids to say please and thank you, to be polite and respectful of others. But plop a teenager in front of a cash register and he will quickly learn the true value of being polite. Customers aren't always nice to store employees, and some can be downright rude over a cold burger or a long wait in line. Or maybe a customer is just having a bad day, but their general rudeness just brings everyone down. So that teen who sulks around the house in a bad mood once in a while is getting a taste of her own medicine. Ouch. Another lesson here is that by continuing to be polite to someone, often their rudeness is diffused.

2. Money doesn't grow on trees

It's like a light comes on when your teen scores her first paycheck, earned from hours and hours of actual work.

One of the best things about being a kid? You just get stuff from other people. Food, clothes, toys—whatever you need, it appears. Then sometime around the tween years, the stakes are raised a bit higher. Movie tickets, Starbucks drinks and iTunes purchases become a constant ask, and parents are faced with deciding whether or not they continue to be a "bank" for their kid. One mom friend remembers the day she realized that her 12-year-old didn't have a clue that money from the ATM was actually earned with hard work. It's like a light comes on when your teen scores her first paycheck, earned from hours and hours of actual work, and realizes that she can't support a pricey Starbucks habit. Want a manicure at the salon? That's about three hours of work folding shirts—which suddenly makes pretty nails seem not so important after all.

3. Messy people are annoying

If you've got teens, you know they're messy. More often than not, they have to be asked (and reminded) to clean their rooms, put away the clean clothes and move dirty clothes to the hamper. Again and again. I can complain about it until my voice cracks, but the impact is minimal. At my daughter's job, newbies are in charge of folding clothes and making displays tidy. So imagine my daughter's surprise when she saw how incredibly messy retail shoppers can be, tossing aside every tee from the stack until they find their size. Usually on the bottom. It only takes one four-hour session of folding all the things—then refolding them—to realize what a pain it is to pick up after other people. Which is what I've been trying to say all along.

4. Making mistakes

Making mistakes at home is a great way to learn valuable lessons. But the first time your teen oversleeps and misses a shift at the car wash he will feel the full impact of what his mistake meant to others. A missed shift means a manager has to scramble around to fill the spot, which also impacts customers and coworkers. Mistakes made while manning a cash register have an impact on store bank deposits. Having to take ownership of a mistake outside the comfort zone of their family makes a big impression on a teen—and teaches them it's not the end of the world.

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5. Teamwork

I know—your teen knows plenty about teamwork from soccer, lacrosse or track. But the type of teamwork learned from the working world is different. They aren't just hanging out with like-minded peers, but also forming bonds with different kinds of people in order to reach a common goal. It's a lesson in patience, cooperation and maturity—and might even help at home the next time a sibling squabble erupts. OK, who are we kidding?

So get that teen a job—it's a lot easier than nagging.

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