by Jenny Smedra
Getting my first summer job was always a rite of initiation in my family. On the other hand, my siblings and I never had to deal with social distancing concerns during a pandemic. We are now in an unusual situation and we are unsure what the best decision is. Although many companies are actively seeking help, is it safe for teenagers to find a summer job now?
How the pandemic affected the summer vacation
Both students and teachers are looking forward to the summer vacation. As a kid, I would spend my days playing with friends, cycling around the neighborhood, or relaxing from the heat at the nearest pool. It was a time to enjoy the freedom to study and make memories with friends. As I got older and beyond these activities, it was time to find a summer job and make some money.
But now that school is over it definitely feels different from the summer vacation I remember as a kid. Lots of people are out and about, but parks, swimming pools, and local sports fields remain relatively empty. There is no longer a sense of community, only individuals trying to survive. It almost feels like people are reluctant to interact with each other or even to go outside. Furthermore, if you venture out in public, all I see is empty stores and auxiliary search signs.
While I understand how we got here, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. While we all want to protect, I also fear my nieces will miss out on certain opportunities and experiences that meant so much to me. One of them was to gain independence and financial responsibility through my summer job. Not only did it provide basic lessons on how to manage my money, but it also served as a primary resource for my college fund. Although she has no immediate need for cash, there are only two years left to graduation and the upcoming tuition fees.
Adaptation to a summer job in the new normal
As things slowly start to normalize and people return to normal activities, my family has found different ways to adjust to this “new normal”. When the pandemic first broke out and spread like wildfire, we all agreed on some extreme measures to reduce our risk of exposure. My parents gave up volunteering, the girls switched to distance learning, and I started working from home. Since this wasn’t an option for my niece, she quit her job as a waitress at a local coffee shop.
Now, almost a year later, local numbers seem to be on the decline and there is hope. We have found ways to enjoy regular activities while limiting our risk of exposure. Also, all of the adults in our family received their vaccine. However, both girls decided to wait with hers until we knew more about how it affects children. Although we still practice the same safety precautions (wearing masks, washing hands, keeping social distance) in public, I think we all have a little more peace of mind.
Until the question of a vacation job arose, everyone was in agreement. When the owner of the cafe contacted her about returning, they all disagreed. My mother is fully supported as she feels that the most vulnerable people are protected from the virus. Her younger sister thinks she should find another job with less social interaction. My dad and I think it should be her choice, but it would be more convenient if she got her vaccine before going back to work.
My niece remains in conflict. On the one hand, she misses her job and her colleagues. It paid off really well and she really enjoyed the social interactions with the customers. She was also able to save a lot of money and maintain reduced hours during the school year. It offered the perfect balance of flexibility and pay that most teenage jobs can’t.
However, because many customers do not believe that COVID-19 is as serious as the CDC has made it out to be, they are not following security measures as strictly as we are. In fact, many customers and most employees have contracted the virus at some point. It makes her nervous about going back to an environment where she will come into contact with dozens more people every shift. In her mind, she must decide whether the need to pay college outweighs the risk of exposing herself and her family to the virus.
Finding the middle ground and the best summer job
Our family culture has evolved into one where all opinions count and are expressed. However, the girls understand that my parents will have the final say as they are legally responsible for their wellbeing. However, this situation feels a little different. We all agree that security is important, but we also want to give them some leeway to make their own decisions and to establish their independence.
There have been some promising suggestions, but each has its own drawbacks. First she could get her vaccine and go back to work. While it doesn’t completely protect them from the virus, it would greatly reduce their risk of infecting it or carrying it home. Second, she could find another job that would allow her to work from home or out of public. While it offers more security through social distancing, we don’t know if a new employer will be as flexible with their school schedule this fall. Third, she could remain unemployed and become more aggressive in finding scholarships and financial support. However, there are no guarantees that she will receive support.
So here we are faced with another big decision that affects everyone in our household. Additionally, we are in uncharted territory as we tackle problems and cope with life during a pandemic. How did you and your families deal with summer jobs with your children? While both sides have valid points, what’s the middle ground here?