Parents in UAE, put your teens to work
The government of the United Arab Emirates earlier this month announced work permits for teenagers, allowing children aged 15 and over to get part-time jobs. My teenage children think this is great news. Likewise, in my personal experience, I appreciate the valuable lessons that a part-time job can teach a child.
I was 15 when I got my first part-time job, helping out with a local screen printing company after school. Initially, I was responsible for washing the ink-stained screens after each print – the job no one else wanted. However, I later graduated for more sophisticated tasks such as hand printing corporate T-shirts and letterhead. I was even able to develop my designs and use the darkroom – skills that I retain to this day.
Thirty years have passed, but I still remember the names of my fellow printers: Steve the hippie, John Mac, and the two graphic designers everyone simply called the Beastie Boys. Beyond coworkers and workplace jokes, also etched in my memory, is that very first payday. I remember the overwhelming sense of empowerment he evoked: it’s my money, I’ve earned it, I can spend it however I want. I bought some very trendy pants from Topman.
However, not everyone is immediately convinced that child labor is such a good idea. For some people, any mention of children in the working world quickly conjures up Dickensian images of malnourished chimney sweeps. Or children from low-income countries, working in sweatshops, forced to drop out of education to make shoes.
However, the UAE’s plans fall far short of all of this. Instead, UAE teens are encouraged to take part-time jobs to gain real-world work experience, develop skills, and perhaps learn the value of money.
It should also be noted that the United Arab Emirates is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 32 of which states that children shall be: “protected against economic exploitation and against execution. any work likely to be dangerous or to interfere with the education of the child or to harm his health or his physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Along with these legal protections, children who work part-time jobs in the UAE can also expect to enjoy many psychological, social and educational benefits. For example, the workplace can help foster agency (responsibility) and autonomy (independence). For example, if a task is incomplete, there are real-world consequences, not just bad grades. Likewise, we may be assigned specific tasks, but it is often up to us to decide how and when we perform them.
In addition to agency and autonomy, there are many part-time jobs that will also help us develop social skills and a sense of belonging to the group. Students in my college classes always complain when they have group homework. I tell them over and over that the world of work is one big group project after another – better get used to. For teens, having the opportunity to learn the value of teamwork, collaboration and interdependence is invaluable. In many cases, working in a team also gives us a real sense of belonging. Decades of psychological research suggest that this sense of belonging (social identity) makes us more resilient and contributes greatly to our overall emotional well-being. Professor Alexander Haslam, an authority on social identity, writes: “Social identities and the notions of ‘we-being’ they embody and help create are central to health and well-being.”
Beyond the psychological and social benefits of part-time work, there are also educational benefits. Although time is a finite resource, employment does not necessarily compete with education; it can be free. Part-time work can add value to education, and often does, by contributing significantly to the development of a child’s personality, talents, physical and cognitive abilities.
There are also opportunities for employers and schools to come together to promote opportunities for collaboration. For example, this might involve employers contacting schools with a list of part-time positions and detailing the type of learning associated with each role. Likewise, schools can ask employers to offer part-time opportunities aligned with particular learning goals.
The potential benefits of children working part-time are immense. My own teenage workplace experiences prepared me well for life after college. I learned valuable skills, but more importantly, I learned how the world of work works: hierarchies, cliques and unwritten rules. My first experience of these things helped me navigate the wonderful and sometimes dismal world of work.
Posted: Sep 20, 2021, 8:00 AM