Proud of my boys

Having a job isn’t always easy, which I suppose is why they call it “work.” However, you can’t deny the importance of good work ethic. There isn’t any reliable recipe for life success that doesn’t involve a mountain of hard work.

One of the reasons I am proud of my two oldest sons is their strong work ethic. Like many teens, they’re involved in a variety of summer activities. In addition to those activities, my boys work summer jobs—unlike many American teens.

This is the fourth summer that 17-year-old Max has worked at the World’s Only Corn Palace giving tours and working in the gift shop. I recently snuck in to one of his tour groups and was impressed with how good he was. He was funny, confident, and knowledgeable. No matter what questions the group asked, Max was never stumped. If only Washington, D.C. had those kinds of reliable answers.

My 14-year-old Ben spent his first summer working at a fast-food restaurant selling butter burgers near the interstate. Plenty of friends tell me Ben has waited on them or has brought them their food. When I hear he is working hard and wearing a smile on his face, I couldn’t be prouder. He also remembers to tell me what the frozen custard flavor of the day is, which helps me decide whether I want to pick him up from work or ask his mother to do it.

When I was growing up, almost 60% of American teens had summer jobs. In recent years, that number is closer to 30%. While there are a tremendous number of competing priorities demanding time from America’s youth, I can’t help but feel that those who never work during the summer are missing out.

My early work experience at the bowling alley snack bar, as a retail clerk on Main Street, and washing cars at a car dealership brought me skills and leadership lessons I still use. Minimum wage was only $4.25 an hour, but the value of those experiences was priceless.

There are a number of ways in which our federal government makes it harder for young people to work. For example, 15-year-olds can play video games until well after midnight, but it’s against the law for them to work past 7 p.m. on a school night. I understand why there are limits on how many hours they can work and the type of positions, but current federal rules are too restrictive.

I’m working on legislation that would right-size some of these regulations. It seems to me that some in the bureaucracy view work as punishment, something we need to protect our children from. But they have it wrong. Work is opportunity. Work is a chance to learn important lessons and build a better life.

I’m proud of my sons and their hard work. I know it will put them ahead in their classes at school, their future jobs, and their life. And I look forward to making it easier for other American teens to do the same. Our children have the opportunity to have a better life than us, but that can’t happen if they don’t have the opportunity to value hard work.

—U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson is a Republican from South Dakota and a member of the House Agriculture Committee.