Post Contributed by Covie Edwards-Pitt
Friend of the Foundation and Chief Wealth Advisory Officer of Ballentine Partners
A big part of my role with my clients is helping them to ensure that their wealth does not interfere with their children’s ability to launch successful and independent lives. In that vein, in my travels in the wealth advising industry, I’ve noticed that the traditional summer job is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by a wide array of enrichment, sports, and volunteer experiences tailored to provide maximum leadership experiences and resume impact.
That’s an unfortunate trend, and here’s why: when I interviewed successful inheritors – kids raised around wealth who grew up to be content, grateful, motivated, and engaged – for my book Raised Healthy, Wealthy & Wise, a startling number of them remember their high school summer jobs as formative to their identity and work ethic. It turns out that early work in the form of a real summer job – one where the child is held accountable on the basis of how they perform rather than who they are or where they come from – teaches affluent children key financial and life lessons they are hard pressed to learn elsewhere:
Another truth that came to light through my interviews with successful inheritors is that without their parents setting the expectation of them getting a “real job,” and making them believe they were capable of handling that responsibility, it would never have occurred to these wealthy kids to do so.
- How to earn their own money and the value of a dollar – It is through a summer job that kids first experience earning their own money and the satisfaction of buying something with money they earned. This is a thrilling, immensely satisfying and empowering experience for all kids, but especially for affluent children for whom money accumulation has always been their parents’ domain. The inheritors I spoke with all spoke to this phenomenon – no matter how many luxuries had been bought for them by their parents, the first thing they really appreciated was the thing they bought with money they themselves had earned. And then there’s the issue of the value of a dollar: There’s nothing like making $7/hour to show you how much that $500 skirt you bought on your parents’ credit card really cost. That is a perspective you can’t buy your child. They have to learn it for themselves.
- How to be a subordinate and work for someone else – Affluent kids spend a lot of their childhoods awash in expectations (implicit and explicit) that they are destined for career greatness and that they’ll be calling the shots at the top of whatever career ladder they choose. While aiming high is a good thing, the message that often gets missed is that this might take a while, and that in the meantime, they are going to be working for someone else. Someone they’ll need to impress. A summer job is often the first time a young adult experiences having a boss other than mom or dad. They need to learn how to take direction from, influence, and generally curry favor with a person who does not love them like a parent. This can be a sobering and instructive experience. And what about those parents who think none of this will matter because their child is destined for Zuckerberg-like entrepreneurial success right out of the gate and will never have to bother with being a “traditional” employee? The answer is there is nothing more instructive in how to be a good leader than having had to work for a boss – bad or good.
- How to navigate the world beyond your own socioeconomic bubble – A summer job may be the first time that an affluent teen meets people who live, work, and exist outside of their well-off social milieu; people who are living on the minimum wage versus just earning it for a couple of months over the summer. If your child has volunteered, they may have encountered people from different walks of life, but providing charity to someone is qualitatively different than interacting with them as a peer, on a level playing field, in a work setting where everyone needs to get along and cooperate to get the job done. This calls on your child to step outside their comfort zone and develop the emotional skills necessary to navigate a social interaction that may feel foreign. It also opens your child’s eyes and gives them a renewed perspective on their own life – suddenly they appreciate that there is a reality beyond what they thought was the norm and they have a much greater appreciation for the comforts and luxuries they routinely enjoy.
Be the one who sets that expectation for your child. It is the best enrichment experience that money can’t buy.