Well-off kids who don’t have to work or look after a sibling through the summer can embark on complex journeys to find or foster their enthusiasm. They are able to volunteer for an HIV program in Africa, research health care in the Caribbean, or immerse themselves in Mandarin in China. Or, they could get a job. “The lessons are huge,” said Richard Weissbourd, a researcher and lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate College of Education. “It’s a real lesson in how to treat people,” he added. Weissbourd, who published a report about how to improve the college-admissions process to stem the insanity it breeds, said that lots of parents think that high-profile internships broaden horizons.
Not so: “For many well-off kids, we are narrowing their options,” he countered. Does it help or harm with schools? Starting in high school, many parents question how to structure their kids’ summers. The iterations are endless: educational enrichment or sports? Hip hop or gaming? Should parents let kids free-range it and have a break from their amped-up school-year schedules?
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Or as long as they hone up on biochemistry while prepping for the SAT and training the oboe? And beneath all that: What do colleges value? “Colleges will permanently find holding employment more attractive and significantly sexier than going to Costa Rica to build houses and surf in the afternoons,” said Susan Warner, an unbiased college counselor in New York City.
Irena Smith, a previous Stanford admissions official who now runs a private college-consulting practice in Palo Alto, recalled a learning pupil whose stand-out article was about her summers working in fast-food. “Given the populace of students I see, she shone like a diamond in the applicant pool at Harvard probably,” the Atlantic was told by her. The learning student was accepted at many Ivy League schools-not because of the work, but because of just how she viewed the world and captured it in her writing. But the job helped her develop the perspective.
“Kids think summers are area of the community service Olympics, that it’s about finding a high-profile, impressive activity,” said Weissbourd. Colleges want kids who know who they are and what they want. Jobs can help with that. Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Flourish in Our All-About Me World argues that empathy develops resilience, but that empathy is a verb, not a worksheet: we have to work for it.
She interviewed 500 kids on her behalf book to ask them what helped them most in becoming more empathetic-the bulk reported it was exposure to different views. “We are more likely to empathize with those in our own social hub,” Borba said. More privileged kids live in more privileged hubs; the greater exposure they get to variations, the better. “Exposure helps them see that others have the same loves or emotions or needs,” she said.
Kids with careers have benefits for parents too. Teens often hate parents’ rules. But good luck to them if they try to task or defy a manager managing a sizable staff of people living on the minimum wage. “Any way you turn it, holding a job is one of the most important things an adolescent can do,” Warner said. They need to get up in the morning, manage their time and money, pay taxes, and become responsible to a routine that neither child nor the mother or father designed.