If you have tried to get a teen-ager to mow your lawn and have not heard the going rate, you are in for a surprise.

A 12- to 15-minute job can cost the lawn-owner anywhere from $10 to $20. Considering the skills and training needed, the $40- to $60-an-hour rate makes mowing one of the highest paid free-lance jobs in the United States.

As a retired college instructor who occasionally teaches a course at a major university, I receive $60 for each three-hour session. I just wonder where I fit in on the compensation-for-services-rendered scale. In addition, my $20-an-hour rate is subject to Social Security and federal tax deductions. The teen-ager operates on a cash basis, no records kept.

Starting early in the spring with several good contacts, a young person mowing lawns could by summer have enough money to buy a round-trip ticket to Paris.

It goes without saying that I am annoyed by the fact that I shall soon have to start mowing my own lawn because I cannot afford to pay a teen-age American worker (my plumber now seems a bargain). However, I am more disturbed by the concepts of money this new generation is going to have: easy to come by, thoughtlessly spent. How will it view years of demanding study and hard work for a career pursued out of love rather than the chase after cash?

I asked the mother of a 13-year-old girl what her daughter does with the money she earns by mowing lawns. "Oh, she buys designer jeans! I don't buy them for her," answered this affluent suburban matron.

And so it all becomes a question of values. How many of these young people will save some of the money they are so lucky to earn so easily for bettering their minds, skills or talents? Are they simply going to buy things (perhaps even drugs?) that they do not have to have or should not have? If so, then I worry about what will happen when they are ready for the real job market. How will they survive on a salary that allows for few luxuries after rent, food bills, college loans and car payments? They might just have to think about mowing lawns in their spare time, a job which, by then, might hit well over the $100-an-hour mark.

Rita Belateche