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The Stinky Side of Summer Jobs

By Stephen C. Schultz


Throughout our lives, from the time we are infants to the transition to adulthood we are constantly moving about. As infants, we travel across the floor on our stomach. As kids we ride the bus to school. As adults we may ride the metro to work and drive our cars to the mall. As kids, we ride our bikes, long boards, skate boards, scooters and tricycles. In rural areas some kids still ride horses to school.
Some of us live in the city, others the suburbs and still some out in the country. Our chores may include doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, feeding the cows or moving pipe. These activities of daily living are often simply a part of everyday life. So much so that we may not even pay attention to the patterns and structure of the life we are living.

Habits are formed and our perception of our environment becomes numb as we navigate our everyday activities. I recal my mother giving me a ride to school one day. It was early in the morning and there was broken conversation mixed with blank stares out the window and songs on the radio. I snapped out of my trance-like stuper when my mother pulled in the parking lot of the Hospital. She is a nurse, and niether one of us noticed she was habitually driving to work as opposed to taking me to school.
When a perceptible stimulus does not change across time, then it is said that this constitutes habituation or adaptation. If a stimulus is constant, then the response becomes weaker and weaker across time.
Fisher, Bell & Baum share in their text entitled Environmental Psychology, an example of an individual who moved to a town located near a large cattle feed lot. This individual, when inquiring of the townspeople what they thought of the terrible smell, was surprised to have them answer; “What smell?” To the townspeople, habituation or adaptation had occurred. Yet, to the newcomer, the feed lot odor was quite appalling.
We have a similar thing happening in society that no one seems to notice. There is a subtle transition taking place in the United States economic and social landscape. Far fewer teenagers today have the proverbial “Summer Job” than in years past. More students are graduating high School and College without ever having been exposed to the rigors of the workplace. They have not experienced the drudgery, discipline, challenges and rewards of summertime employment.
Between 1948 and 1989, more than half of teenagers worked in a summer job; this according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2003 the percentage had dropped to 42 percent. Currently, the percentage of teens working at summer jobs is at it's all time lowest point of 30 percent.
What “adaptation” is taking place with the 70 percent of teens who do not have the opportunity to have a summer job? Work is a formative experience and provides education that cannot be obtained in the classroom. Having a boss, working with co-workers, learning of customer service and developing “work hardening” skills; setting an alarm, getting up and ready for work, day in and day out are all valuable life lessons. There is also the opportunity to experience what you are interested in for a career and what you just can’t stand doing. Students generally gain an appreciation for what it takes to earn a dollar. All of a sudden, the idea of mom and dad as the human ATM machine takes on new meaning. All of these are helpful life lessons that are better learned sooner than later. The modern day workplace can be a very unforgiving place if you are not prepared with marketable work and interpersonal skills.
Is there a negative cost to our society and economy when a 22 year old college graduate is learning these lessons that could have been learned at 15 years old? Is there an emotional or developmental delay that is inadvertently happening as more and more students don’t see value in a summer job? Could this situation be contributing to the many families struggling with young adults and the "Failure to Launch" phenomenon. What used to be an important stage of human development is quickly disappearing. As a society, are we becoming accustomed to the fact that the majority teens just don’t work in the summer anymore?
For me personally…that stinks!

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