One of the best ways to teach teenagers the life skills they will need as adults is to help them get a summer job. One of the silver linings of the current Great Resignation is that more employers than ever are willing to consider hiring teenagers. Now is a good time to help our teens take advantage of the job market and learn lessons that only a job can teach them.
Recognize the Benefits
It may be hard for our kids to fit a job into their schedules (and for us to fit chauffeuring duties into our schedules), but the experience will teach them adult skills that nothing else can. Those life lessons include
• The process of applying and interviewing
• Learning about different careers from the inside
• Time management
• The importance of showing up on time
• Real-world reasons for safety rules
• Dealing with difficult customers
• Managing money (including paying taxes)
Entry-level jobs are not glamorous, but that very fact makes them unparalleled opportunities for life lessons. After all, there aren’t many places that teens can learn that everyone has to take a turn at cleaning the bathroom.
Let Them Handle the Logistics
Our kids will only learn the more important adults skills if we stay out of the way. I have heard stories from clients about parents who actually accompany their teenagers to job interviews. Of course, my clients didn’t hire those applicants. As one friend said, “Why would I invite that parent to comment on my business every single day?” We may need to offer suggestions to our teens about filling out job applications or how to interview, but we should leave as much as possible up to them.
Those logistics include transportation. I have always been willing to drive my kids to work, or share the car with those who had license, but I never let them take it for granted. Your kids need to know that you are not a free taxi service, and that they have to coordinate their schedule with yours. I’ve known some parents to charge nominal gas fees, while others only charged for last minute schedule changes. Different techniques will work better with different kids; the important principle is to make it their responsibility, not yours, to get to work.
For your teen’s first job (or two or several), you may need to set healthy boundaries for them. If the job lasts into the school year, for example, you may need to insist that they work shorter hours so they get enough sleep. Some parents require kids to keep a certain level of grades. If your teen hasn’t had the experience of putting money into savings, now may be the last opportunity to teach them the benefits. Our children will need to eventually set these boundaries themselves, but when work is new to them, it’s part of our job to be sure they know what boundaries to set.
Offer Support and Back-up
Our teens need to learn how to navigate the workplace without us. But we have to be aware that big issues such as sexual harassment and bullying do exist. We need to be available to help our kids know how to deal with these problems and formulate an appropriate response. It is their job, not ours, but they may face challenges that are beyond their skill set. In those instances, we need to support them and offer whatever resources we have. I have the advantage of being able to write a letter as my kids’ lawyer, and not just their mother, but each of us needs to be prepared to marshall whatever resources we have to back up our kids when they are seriously out of their depth.
We also need to support our kids in the more common scenario where they simply screw up. Learning how to overcome mistakes is an important life lesson, and it is inevitable that our kids will need our support at some point. They need to know that we care about them and will be there to help them pick up the pieces and start over.
One drawback to part-time jobs is that teens may be drawn to whatever bad habits their coworkers have. It’s one of the unavoidable risks of having children old enough to function without us and make their own decisions. We need to stay in touch with what they are facing at their job and offer whatever advice they will accept. We have to intervene more strongly to keep them safe, but the only way to know what’s happening is to keep talking to them.
Summer and part-time jobs can be an unparalleled opportunity for our kids. There always are risks, but the benefits can be profound. It is an important step towards helping our teens become independent adults, and one that we should help them consider very carefully.