By Eric Braun
As the school year draws to a close, many teens supposedly look forward to taking on a summer job. But more likely, their parents are looking forward to it. Recent findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only about 40 percent of teens work during the summer, compared to 72 percent back in 1978.
Only part of the decline is due to the economy; actually, most teens say they don’t want to work. Summer school attendance and volunteering among teens is up, which of course are valuable activities, and look good on college applications. But working is valuable, too, and not only for the paycheck. Workplace experience helps prepare kids for the real world and instills a sense of independence. And paid work looks good on a college application, too.
In recognition of the fact that May is Teen CEO Month, here are a few stories of teens who took serious initiative and built their own businesses. Share them with the teens in your life—maybe they’ll be inspired.
- At age nine, Leanna Archer began bottling and selling hair products made from her great grandma’s recipe. She quickly expanded her line of all-natural products to include conditioners and treatments, and by the time she was fifteen, Leanna’s Hair was making more than $100,000 a year. Archer is the youngest person ever to ring the opening bell on the NASDAQ stock exchange, and she now speaks at business and leadership conventions. She’s even used her success to help others, founding the Leanna Archer Education Foundation to help provide opportunities for underprivileged children in Haiti.
- Food trucks have gotten trendy, but two kids are taking food truck love to a new level. In May 2011, Jaden Wheeler and Amaya Selmon started a sno-cone stand in their front yard in Memphis—Kool Kidz Sno Konez—after their mom urged them to make their own money instead of begging off her. Running a blender on an extension cord, the siblings did well enough to return the following summer, this time with a fancy “Kool Kidz Kart” and a real ice shaver. Over those two summers they earned about $1,000, so for the summer of 2013, they took the next logical step: They bought a truck (with help from their mom). The Kool Kidz Sno Konez truck is driven by their mom, and the business is operated by the kids. They serve 20 flavors of sno-cones, including Barack O’Bubblegum and Peace Out Peach, and have expanded their menu to include “Not yo Nachos” and “Hot Diggity Dawgs.”
- In December 2010, fourteen-year-old Robert Nay released his iPhone game, “Bubble Ball,” on the Apple App store. Within two weeks it had been downloaded 2 million times, briefly outpacing Angry Birds. Nay, who had no coding experience, taught himself to code by doing research at the public library—just one more reason libraries are awesome! Bubble Ball has been downloaded more than 16 million times to date, and Nay has released Bubble Ball Pro and another game, Sight Words and Spelling Practice, to help kids with literacy, all of which you can learn about at the Nay Games website.
- When she was ten years old, Maddie Bradshaw wanted to decorate her locker—in a unique way. What she came up with was Snap Caps bottle caps, colorful magnetized bottle caps. But that was just the beginning of something much bigger. As she says on her website, “Soon, I decided that it would be fun to wear and trade my bottle caps. Thus, Snap Caps, ‘the original interchangeable bottle cap necklace’ was created.” She hired her sister, Margot, and her mom, and named her company M3 Girl Designs. The company designs and sells thousands of Snap Caps, which can be worn as charms on necklaces, bracelets, and hairpins, and by 2009 Bradshaw had 25 employees and was making more than $1.5 million a year.
Of course, most teens won’t pull in $1.5 million selling bottle caps, but that doesn’t mean their summer jobs won’t be successes. Even entry-level jobs in fast food or cleaning services can be fulfilling, challenging, educational, and fun—and put a little money in the pocket.
What was your first job? How did it influence the person you are today?
Eric Braun is a writer and editor in Minneapolis. His first job was scooping ice cream for $3.35 an hour.
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