By Camila Webb, 18, Notre Dame HS (Sherman Oaks)
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Photo by Jasper Nahid, 15,
New Roads School (Santa Monica)

I was lying in bed on a Sunday morning when my phone rang. It was my boyfriend inviting me to go to Santa Monica for the day with a group of our friends. The plan was to go vintage clothes shopping followed by swimming at the beach. I started to get excited, until I remembered that I had to work all day. It’s been difficult having a job in high school because  I’ve missed hanging out with my friends.

My junior year I knew I had to get a job. Before then, I was always able to ask my mom for money for meals, movies and trips whenever I needed it. But when my mom lost a third of her income, she couldn’t afford to give me money anymore.

One Friday afternoon I asked her for $20 to go to a movie that night with my boyfriend. “Camila, I do not have the kind of money to hand out to you all the time.” she said. “Mom, what am I supposed to do without money?” She told me she was sorry and that I was going to need to figure it out (but after I begged some more she decided to give me $20 for the weekend). On top of needing money to eat out and spend time with my friends, I had just gotten my driver’s license and needed to find a way to help pay for gas. I decided to get a job.

Finding a job wasn’t easy

I applied for a job every place I saw a “hiring” sign in the window, including Robeks, Crossroads clothing store and a yogurt stand. The managers would smile at me and thank me for applying but nothing ever came of it. I felt like I was never going to get a job.

About a month into my job search, my mom told me that my little sister’s play place was hiring. It is an indoor playground for kids where they can play during the day or have birthday parties. I immediately went to fill out an application. The owner was so nice and told me I could train the following weekend and that if I did a good job I could start working. She told me it paid $10 an hour, and if I worked the birthday parties I could get great tips. I was so excited. I thought if I got the job my money problems would be over. She said the job was easy and that the schedule would be really flexible. It seemed like it was going to be the easiest job in the world. I thought I would just play with kids all day and make lots of money.

A week after training, I found out I got the job. It was a huge relief. My tasks were to handle the front desk, check parents and children in and answer the phone. Most of the job however involved cleaning—sweeping and mopping the floors, restocking the fridge and bathrooms and disinfecting the toys. They wanted me to be friendly with parents, who are required to stay to watch their children, but there was less interaction with the kids than I expected. I was hoping to be able to play with them but the owners said it would prevent me from doing my other responsibilities.

The first weekend I worked for 10 hours all in one Saturday and made $120. I was exhausted from the long day, but ecstatic, and eager to spend the money I had made. The next day I bought a shirt at Urban Outfitters and went out to an expensive dinner with my friends. I spent money on the things I wanted to do. In the beginning I worked only about one Saturday or Sunday a month, but made enough money to match what I used to get from my mom.

As junior year went on, my hours at work increased. One of my coworkers left and suddenly instead of working every once in a while, I was working every weekend and sometimes after school during the week. There were times I had to work 10-hour shifts both days of the weekend. In addition to more hours, I had more responsibility. I was given a key so that I could open and close. Instead of taking orders from my older coworkers, I was showing new employees the ropes, booking parties and handling more. I was feeling overwhelmed with all the hours, but I thought that if I asked for fewer my bosses might fire me. I did not want to miss out on all the money I was making.

Camila’s tips on how to not let work take over your life

1) Don’t work too much. Negotiate your hours so you have enough time for school, friends and family. Make time for yourself, it’s important to relax.

2) When you aren’t at work, don’t think or talk about work. Stress from work can seep into other parts of your life, but try not to let job problems bother you when you are spending time with friends and family.

3) When you need time off, politely talk to your boss about it in advance. You can say something like, “I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience but I have a school commitment on Saturday. Do you mind if I took this day off?” In most cases your boss should understand.

4) When your coworkers help you by covering your shifts, return the favor by covering a shift for them. People are more likely to help you in the future when you help them.

5) Do your best at work. Businesses do not want to lose good employees. If you are a hard worker your bosses are more likely to keep you on, regardless of how many hours you are able to work.

Hardly any time for homework

At first I tried to do it all, staying out late and coming into work at 9 a.m. on just a few hours of sleep, leaving all my homework for Sunday night. One day after going to work with little sleep, I came home to write a paper but passed out after writing only a few paragraphs. I woke up at five in the morning with my laptop squished next to me and yellow highlighter marks all over my blanket. I had to finish my paper in the morning and go to school late. When I got it back, I saw all the mistakes I had made. I had a low B because of really stupid errors like misspelling simple words and using poor grammar. I started to see that I had to make some sacrifices. I was going to have to skip some parties and fun nights out with my friends, if I wanted to keep my grades up and keep my job.

One night I was having so much fun at a small party with my best friends, but I had to leave around 10 o’clock to get some sleep because of work in the morning at 9. My friends were all discussing their plans for the next day. They were going to meet for breakfast and spend the whole day together; shopping, relaxing and studying. I started to pout and my friends said, “Camila, just skip work. Say you’re sick.” I wanted to but I knew that calling in sick was irresponsible and might cause me to lose my job. I was lucky to be working, and I needed the money, but I resented work for taking away time from my friends and family.

There was also a time when I had to work the same day as my little sister’s fifth birthday. While my family was at my house enjoying her birthday party, I was at work celebrating a stranger’s. I wanted so badly to be with my family, but I had to grin and bear it, singing happy birthday to other children. I had to remember how fortunate I was to have a job and make my own money. I reminded myself that I was helping make my mom’s life easier, and if I quit I was sure I would not be able to find a better job.

My boss is flexible with my hours

After more than a year of working, I have learned how to balance my social life, school and work. I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid to negotiate my schedule with my bosses. They have been generous about giving me days off when I need them, like when I needed a weekend off to visit colleges and when I wanted a day off for prom.

They understand, because I make up for it by covering other shifts when they need me to. Even so, my social life has taken a big hit. I try to work one day a weekend, leaving the other day for homework and studying. Sometimes I work after school, getting in my car as soon as my last class ends to make it to work on time at 2. Working after school is better for me because instead of working a 10-hour shift I work only five hours. I try to stay out late only one night a weekend when I do not have work the next day. And I try to get as much homework done as possible during the week.

At the end of my senior year, I can look back and see things a lot more clearly. My job helped me learn responsibility and how to prioritize, but more importantly it helped my family get through a difficult financial time. Without it I do not know how my mom would have been able to support me the last couple years. I have become self-sufficient, paying for my own clothes and meals, but I sometimes wonder if it has been worth missing out on time with my friends. In some ways I regret getting a job. Teenagers should be trying to enjoy every moment, not worrying about money and work. Once we are adults, we will probably be working the rest of our lives. We should take advantage of being teenagers while we still can.

Still, I have had wonderful experiences at my job and I really love being around kids. That is what has made work enjoyable.


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Looking for a job? Click here to see job search websites.

Click here to read Christina’s story about how working since age 13 has taught her a strong work ethic.

Click here to read Se’s story about learning the rewards of saving money and how to open a bank account.