Childhood jobs: traumatising or character developing?
Every time I carry a mildly heavy bag on my shoulder, it sends shivers down my spine. When I see the pamphlets soaking in my flat’s letter box, it triggers a surge of emotions from dread to misery.
When I was nine, my family picked up not one but two pamphlet runs. My parents framed it in a way that was supposed to make me feel grateful that they had found a way for me to earn some pocket money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful that the worst parts of my childhood are paper runs. However, their “earning pocket money” message was a straight-up scam that I bought for the five years of paper-running—I didn’t see a cent of that approximately $1.50 an hour paycheck. I stopped asking after a while since their response was always along the same lines—“do you want to keep doing x after-school activity?” In reality, I just didn’t understand that my parents were doing far more good with that money than I would have—I mean, I was dreaming about the day when I would finally have enough cash to buy some sparkly Heelys.
It’s not even the pamphlets run’s lack of profitability that activates my stress response. It’s the fact that twice a week, we spent hours folding the pamphlets together. Then an equal amount of time walking the equivalent of a marathon with an elevation gain of approximately Mt Everest while carrying those plastic red-checkered bags brimming with pamphlets. I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently damaged the nerves in my shoulder as a result. Because my parents worked full-time, we were often out delivering the pamphlets at night, and for someone who was scared of the dark, I spent the majority of the run praying something wasn’t going to snatch me into the bushes.
Nothing about this scenario is actually traumatic, but it’s fun to be dramatic about it. Looking back, delivering pamphlets did teach me a lot—resilience and the fact that I can push my body further than I think, to name a couple. It also was capital bonding time; my mum and I got through about six seasons of Grey’s Anatomy folding those things. Even though my dad probably wished he didn’t have to listen to me moan about how many more houses we had left, I liked that we were a team.
So, where do Craccum readers’ and Editors’ childhood job experiences sit on the spectrum of trauma to character development?
Beatrix*: It was embarrassing doing a paper round; I became the weird girl at school ‘cause of it.
Phillip*: [It was] character developing because I learned about self-responsibility and working to a deadline.
Alyssa*: Traumatising! I was 11 doing my paper run when I got catcalled every time I walked up an ally
Katherine*: [It was] character developing (worked at an olive grove) because I was surrounded by nature and inspirational women.
Steven*: [It was] character developing because I got used to having to do something I didn’t want to in the short term, in order to get things I wanted in the long term.
Gabbie: Traumatising, but I guess both. I started working every summer when I was nine, doing things like filing at my dad’s firm or waiting tables at my uncle’s restaurant. It was kinda lame. I never had a ‘normal’ summer, but I guess it always made me eager to work hard and save.
Nancy: When I was a wee lad, I had a paper run that paid me $13.50 a week. At the time, I thought I was getting a steal of a deal because I didn’t get pocket money growing up, so I was willing to walk 5 km every week, putting newspapers in the letterboxes of four streets. This took me roughly two hours, maybe one hour 45 minutes if I Sonic the Hedgehog-ed it. So really, I was getting ripped off, being paid $6.75 an hour for very sweaty labour and black inky hands. I do remember one time I got $40 because the company shoved so many pamphlets in the newspapers that I had to get my parents to drop them off in bundles on each street corner because they were way too heavy. Did I think the job taught me important ~life lessons~ about hard work and being a girlboss? Probably. I found my next job to be such a breeze in comparison, despite it being at an op shop, where I had to scrub old dirty shoes that likely were contaminated with Athlete’s Foot. I was so desperate for spending money that no amount of foot fungus or heavy paper-cut-inducing pamphlets could stand in my way of giving my (child) labour up for pennies.
All in all, childhood jobs have the great potential of teaching us things that better prepare us for the real world. What? From exploitation and the importance of written contracts to how to ball on a budget, who wouldn’t sign their child up for a paper run?
*Students’ names have been changed for privacy reasons