Prepare Your Child for the Real World

Prepare your child for the real world. When kids work during their Second Decade—the critical, formative years between the ages of ten and twenty—they become motivated and inspired to find meaningful work, which is a skill that can last a lifetime and lead them to happiness and self-sufficiency as adults. The Second Decade: Raising Kids to be Happy, Self-Sufficient Adults through Work is based on my many years of research and observation …  — Eugene M. Helveston, MD

Between the ages of ten and twenty—otherwise known as the Second Decade—children chart the course that will profoundly influence the rest of their lives. The Second Decade is when children are ready to take on more responsibility while making important decisions that can have far-reaching and everlasting consequences.

There is no time when it is more important for effective and informed parental involvement—because this decade holds the key to your child’s future.

During these formative years, the cognitive skills youth gain from a formal academic education are essential. But to complete the road to success, these cognitive skills must be augmented by acquiring savvy, which has been called “executive skills,” to better navigate in society; and grit, which is defined as courage, resolve, and strength of character.

There is no better way to acquire executive skills and grit than by working at a job. Working at a meaningful job beyond the confines of family life adds value to what is already being learned at home and in school. Yes, social activities and extracurricular programs, including athletics, are important; but they are not all-encompassing.

If you want to help children build a foundation for happiness and success, encourage them to find a suitable job to fill the void of free time. 

By doing this, you will introduce youth to the “real world” at a time when they can learn from their experiences in a safe and controlled environment; learning lessons that will be with them for a lifetime. Exposing your sons and daughters to the benefits of work—earning money and gaining independence while taking on responsibility and embracing accountability—will inspire them to find their own jobs, which is a knack that can last a lifetime and will lead to happiness and self-sufficiency as adults.

Help from a parent in obtaining a first job in no way diminishes the value a child can receive from the experience. Once at work, your child is on her own, earning money for the work being accomplished, and as a bonus learning practical skills and lessons that will add to and complement what she is being taught in school.

The combination of formal education and life lessons from meaningful work can have a positive and far-reaching effect on your child’s future. 

However, when it comes to hours spent at a job while attending high school, there should be limits. Working too many hours can put a student at risk for lower grades—studies show that between 15 and 20 hours of work per week should not interfere with schoolwork or adversely affect grades. Moreover, a job should not rule out extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.

It takes a resourceful and motivated person to do well at both school and work—which is also what it takes to be a success in life. 

Work helps teens gain experience interacting with people who may be quite different from those they typically encounter. They will also be required to follow directions from a boss, learn how to cooperate and function effectively with fellow employees, interact with customers, and develop problem-solving strategies. The varied interpersonal relationships your child will develop on the job will be different than those he confronts elsewhere, including at school and in social interactions at home and with friends.

Children who have the benefit of working at a job will learn new skills, develop confidence, assume responsibility, and gain maturity faster. There is a wide range of safe, simple, informal (freelance) work opportunities for kids in the first half of their Second Decade. Common jobs include: babysitting, pet care (walking, sitting, and feeding), yard maintenance, shoveling snow, washing cars, handyman’s helper, etc.

Additionally, learning the value of money is priceless. 

This tandem of school and work during the Second Decade provides children with an academic fund of knowledge and important practical skills and responsible behavior. Helping your child attain success, both in her educational pursuits and at meaningful work, is the best gift you can give as she prepares for a productive and self-sustaining life in the inclusive middle class.

In order to best prepare children for success, the following are some basic life skills they should achieve by the age of twenty. Of course, these are not everything kids should know, but rather the minimal and reasonable expectations:

  • Communicate Effectively
  • Wear Suitable Attire
  • Proper Table Manners
  • Basic Knowledge of U.S. History and U.S. Government
  • Ethical Behavior

Lastly, no accomplishment is more emblematic of success than achieving a high school education. A high school diploma gives youth the opportunity to start making decisions that shape the course of their own lives. And, when it comes to earning power, the importance of education is tangible.

The single most important (but not the only) factor determining the wages people are likely to earn as adults is the level of education achieved before starting their life’s work.

During the Second Decade, change is happening fast. It is reasonable to say that what a young person achieves during this period portends the life he is likely to pursue.


Excerpt from The Second Decade: Raising Kids to be Happy, Self-Sufficient Adults through Work by Eugene M. Helveston, MD. ISBN 978-0-9972230-0-2. Paperback: $17.95 /E-book: $9.95 available on and

Indy's Child
Indy's Child
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