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Santa Fe teen Brisa Hitt helps serve a group of French tourists last month at Freshies Juices on the Plaza.

For our generation, the decisions about when, why and where someone starts working are varying and personal. Whether working to support family, accumulate savings, or for social camaraderie or general experience, work fills a diverse set of important desires and necessities depending on the individual. A common, collective benefit can be found across many youth employment experiences, though: finding self-worth and purpose.

Whether they’re scooping ice cream on the Plaza, working a cash register at McDonald’s or helping run a family construction business, teens are finding something intrinsically rewarding in having a job, especially during the summer. We’re at an age where independence is blossoming within us, so going through the process of working and getting rewarded, through pay or otherwise, brings a sense of self-worth and responsibility, and of making a real-world contribution and difference.

This ability to see the results of our work in an immediate fashion stands in contrast to other experiences such as school. In a classroom, we acquire information in a sort of cycle, rarely getting a concrete path to branch off from the loop and apply learned content to the next societal level, at least in the short term. On the other hand, in the work environment, gained knowledge is almost instantly put to use in consequential situations. The benefit is twofold: pride and satisfaction on an individual level and also on a community level, both of which are rewarding and necessary for teens’ overall well-being.

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