Alcorn: Enjoy the teenagers at businesses

Published 10:23 am Monday, May 20, 2013

I miss the teenage kids. I miss them from retail businesses each fall when they return to school, and they excite me when they return to work during breaks and vacations. I miss them when I am in those stodgy businesses that won’t hire them. There is a delight in teenagers just being teenagers while doing jobs they are learning. They’re fun.

I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t enjoy teenagers waiting on or serving me in businesses. My early failure is that when they misbehaved I was too easily disgusted and dismissed them impatiently. I learned to understand and, therefore, appreciate them as a scoutmaster, a junior high and high school teacher and as their pastor.

What made the substantial and fixed difference is going through teenage years with two boys and a girl in our home. We gained a second chance with our grandchildren, but the last is soon to pass beyond this delightful — however hectic — state. Consequently, I will take teenagers whenever and however I can. I will patronize the businesses kind enough to hire them.

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I don’t miss the kids because they are the most knowledgeable and skillful employees, although not a few do as good a job any adult and some better than most. But this is not the point. Of all the competent people who wait on me, they are the most fun. More profoundly, they give me opportunity to shape America’s future by how I respond to them.

It is not, of course, that teenagers who are good employees are so because they are teenagers, but because they are real people. No kidding. They are real people growing toward mature adulthood. I labor what should be self-evident, because I have seen more than a few adult customers act as if the kids were, if not other than persons then, a different species of person. Too often older employees are intolerant.

How can you not love a kid when one playfully asks older women to produce proof-of-age to claim the senior discount?

The supervisor can tell the young employees what to do, but it takes a mature adult working along side them to set a positive example and, especially, the right attitude. There is something almost magical about watching an older employee working on the same level. Tragically, however, some adults betray the opposite traits and ruin the kids before they can get started. They are well advised, as I was when a kid, “watch out for the old guys.”

A customer at a Mukwonago, Wis., place was giving a girl a hard time and had the confused kid in tears. I pushed my way in front of this woman, leaned over the counter to look right at the girl: Honey, this job is a lot more complicated than most of us on this side of the counter recognize. You’ll learn it. So, just relax and do the best you can right now. Other customers applauded and cheered. The shift manager came over and thanked me.

We rightly give credit to school teachers on all levels for how they not only teach students work skills but, at least as important, build character in them. But employers, work supervisors, and even other employees are on-the-job teachers as well. When a kid comes on the job, rather than seeing them as inconveniences and nuisances, they need to recognize the opportunity presented to make an important contribution to their developing lives.

I would like to see a business tax credit given employers who create spots for teenagers and intentionally take them under their wings.

Young people on their part should not look upon entry-level jobs as beneath them or not worth the trouble. The money earned might well be the least important thing you gain by part-time or temporary employment. If you learn early how to work, you are way ahead of your contemporaries.

The next time a teenager waits on you, be patient and show how much you respect him or her. And have fun.