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It was a story that was alarming and encouraging at the same time.

Last week, The York Dispatch ran in-depth report on the trend of teenagers abandoning a rite of passage into adulthood — the part-time or summer job.

Food service businesses, grocery stores and retail shops —  the places where teens typically get their first employment experiences — are finding it harder to find young help.

Apparently, the 16-19-year-old crowd is increasingly choosing other opportunities over work, such as summer classes.

They are often choosing learning over earning.

The basic premise in that choice is encouraging. After all, the teen years are supposed to be a time of discovery and growth. Education must play a pivotal role during that period. That’s why the kids are in school nine months out of the year.

Still, it’s also slightly alarming that some teens are shutting the door to the valuable practical training that comes from part-time work.

Nothing prepares a person for work like actually getting a job and earning a paycheck. 

Yes, it’s not always fun. In fact, quite often, part-time jobs are pure drudgery. It’s low-paying, grunt work.

But there can be a lesson in the drudgery. Teens can learn that, without a quality education and proper training, the grunt-work, low-paying jobs are the only ones that will be available to them in adulthood. That can be a great motivator when it comes time to get back to the schoolwork.

In addition to the work experience and the paycheck, part-time jobs also offer the opportunity to encounter folks of different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds. It’s a chance for the teens to break out of their own little high school cocoons. That’s something that will be truly valuable throughout their adult lives, both at work and in the community at large.

In should be noted, however, that for many poor families, there simply is no option. The teens must work for the family to survive. 

So what is the bottom line here? If a family is blessed with the financial flexibility to choose learning or earning, what choice should be made?

Well, like most things in life, a proper balance must be struck.

If a teen wants to give up earning for learning for a summer, parents and caregivers must make sure that the kids are using that free time productively, such as summer classes, volunteering or educational trips. The teens can’t be allowed to simply goof away the entire summer, although there must always be a time and place for some fun, too.

Additionally, if a teen uses one summer for learning, it would seem prudent to use the next summer for earning. The job benefits will extend far beyond the paltry paychecks that will be cashed.

The key here, no matter the option picked, is to keep the teens active and engaged.

If you do that, there is no wrong choice.

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