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Working Teenagers Are Undervalued

From scooping ice cream to cleaning up suspicious stains in movie theaters, working teens provide a substantial amount of grunt work to various businesses around town, so why do so many teens feel underappreciated by their employers?

I interviewed four students to get their insight on this issue, and all of them requested to remain anonymous in the interest of keeping their jobs. 

At school, students are expected to act like adults. We are trusted to drive, pay taxes,  treat people with respect, and yet of the four students interviewed, all of them expressed the sentiment that their bosses do not trust them with their jobs as much as their older coworkers. 

One particular student who worked in an ice cream shop said, “I never gave them a reason not to trust me… I was a good employee, I did more than what was expected of me” yet this student was accused of stealing and never received bonuses that were regularly given out to her older coworkers. 

A movie theater employee expressed that his employer will trust less experienced, older employees over him, even when they consistently mess up paperwork. One higher-up in particular “genuinely doesn’t know how to do so many of the things we do in the office. He does whatever he wants… my manager favorites him, they even have nicknames for each other,” and expressed that he does all the same work as his coworkers in promoted positions, but never actually received the promotion.

A hostess noticed that one adult employee gets away with speaking to and about her– a minor– in an inappropriate way without repercussions. In addition to the harassment that has been brought up to management and left unresolved, this older employee “comps” all of his food, essentially stealing from the restaurant. 

“The only reason he hasn’t been fired yet is because he’s friends with the manager and he’s next up for a promotion,” she said.

A common assumption is that teenagers make bad employees because they’re lazy and have poor work ethic, when in reality, teenagers are usually hard working, especially with money as an incentive. One student working at a popular coffee chain works five days a week, dealing with working in an unsafe area, insane rushes, and “crazy rude” or “really violent” customers, but is committed to her demanding job. She said, “There’s a lot on my plate at work, but I really like working there.”

Working most of the week while in school is tough, and it takes dedication and time management skills to make it work. Students with jobs are forced to make their schedules work, like one student who is  “taking 4 AP classes right now,” and works “from right after school until 10 or 11 at night.” 

Reasons for students to be working varies, as well. Some students financially support their parents, some are saving for college, and some work in order to have their own spending money. Employers neglecting to value teenagers as employees financially affect students’ home lives and futures.

All four students reported that they were satisfied with their jobs and enjoy having money, but had some advice for employers looking to hire teens.

The coffee shop employee warns employers to not let their first impression of them be that they’re a teenager and recommends judging them on their work ethic and personality. The ice cream shop employee asks that employers remember that outside of work, teenagers are students first. The restaurant hostess hopes that employers will try to create a safe environment for their young employees, and the movie theater employee advises employers to understand that students can do just as good of a job as older employees and not to use age as an excuse to deny opportunities.

For teens, leaving a job can seem terrifying, but teenagers shouldn’t be afraid to call out inappropriate behavior or prejudice against younger workers. If you are being treated truly unfairly, there are plenty of businesses in Santa Barbara eager to hire a hardworking student. 

Scooping Money [Image Credit: Charley Raymond]


  • Kelly Meeder

    Kelly Meeder is a junior at Santa Barbara High and the Managing Editor of the Forge. She hopes to bring creative and unorthodox content to the paper. Outside of The Forge, she loves art and reading.

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