Getting Your Teen Off the Couch and Off to Work This Summer

All year, my 17-year-old son Nathan juggled homework with band practice, film and music competitions, his part-time job at Chick Fil A and playing chauffeur for his younger sister. The first day of summer after he brought home that final report card with a 4.2 GPA, it wasn’t the right time to have the “what are you going to do with your summer besides sitting on the couch and binge-watch reruns of “The Office’” talk. The first week I decided to “be chill” and turn a blind eye when he stayed up late and slept until noon, but I knew I was not going to allow this pattern to continue all summer long. Even though it has been “his pleasure” to work at Chick Fil A, his hours will most likely drop considerably during the summer when so many other teens are looking for work.

Kids may be under enormous pressure during the school year but going from one extreme of having too many responsibilities, to the other, isn’t healthy either. Summer can hold many significant opportunities for teens, whether that be obtaining their first job, learning entrepreneurial skills, or observing or interning in a field of interest.

Their First Traditional Job

Many kids are anxious to start making “bank” and getting their first traditional job. However, according to federal law, a teenager must be at least 14 years old to work. Those who are 14 or 15 cannot work past 9 pm in the summer and not past 7 pm during the school year. And unless their place of employment is close enough for a walk or bike ride, transportation can be a challenging issue. The only reason my 15-year-old daughter was able to get a job waitressing at a nearby retirement community restaurant was that she had an older brother with a driver’s license.

If your teenager is 16 or 17, they may be employed for unlimited hours in almost any occupation except those declared hazardous and they are usually able to drive themselves to work. However, according to the predictions from the Drexel University Center for Labor Markets and Policy in Philadelphia researchers expect that only around 30 percent of teens will have a summer job this year, according to a 2018 study.

Experts believe that teen labor force participation has plummeted for a variety of reasons.  Participation in school activities, such as sports has become far more intense and competitive. Often, summer conditioning programs can consume just as much time as after-school sports. Other factors include rising minimum wages and an increase in older and foreign workers taking jobs traditionally filled by younger and less-experienced employees. Some other things to consider may be:

  1. Making sure your teen has a Social Security card. They will need this to legally apply for a job and to set up a bank account to deposit their checks. Children ages 12 and up are eligible for a Social Security number.
  2. Helping your teen put together their first resume and learn some basic interviewing skills. There are many online resources with sample interview questions and first-time resume examples.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers web-based student resources that match job categories to skills and interests.
  3. Encouraging your teen to get any certifications that may help them find work such as a CPR or babysitting safety course through the Red Cross, or lifeguard certification training.

Creating Their Own Employment

If finding that traditional job seems elusive, have your teen look around the neighborhood for ways they can earn money. Mowing lawns, weeding gardens, babysitting, pet sitting, tutoring or computer assistance are just a few possibilities. Take inventory of any special skills your teen may have that they can capitalize upon. My son posted an ad for his skill of converting photos to videos. He used the “Nextdoor” social media platform to advertise and was able to land a few customers. Some other things to consider may be:

  1. Creating flyers and passing them around to neighbors.
  2. Making phone calls and getting referrals from friends and family.
  3. Making a simple list or business plan, considering costs, materials and competitive pricing.

Unpaid Shadowing or Experiential Learning

Shadowing someone for a few hours a week is a good way to gain future experience. A student interested in medicine, for example, could arrange to shadow a doctor or nurse. If your teenager is interested in health care and shadowing is not an option, he can contact local hospitals or health-oriented organizations such as the American Red Cross to see if there are any volunteer opportunities.

Through our church, my son and daughter worked hard to raise enough money to go to South Africa for a two-week mission trip where they worked in refugee camps, schools and orphanages. This experience opened their eyes to the world around them and taught them important lessons that will follow them throughout their lives. Although it wasn’t a traditional job, they had to adhere to a rigorous schedule each day, learn to be independent, problem solvers and interact with people from all walks of life.

Karen Coburn, assistant vice chancellor for students at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the book, Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, states: “A summer job is a good way to learn discipline and skills different from those you learn going to school. The basics of showing up every day, arriving on time, taking responsibility, and learning from other people are important skills. The job doesn’t have to be in a professional environment, because students get a dose of reality when they interact with people who haven’t gone to college. It’s a real eye-opener.

“It’s good to have a combination of work experience and be exposed to different professions and work environments. A lot of students don’t have any idea what type of work environment they ultimately want, and summer jobs can help them to keep their eyes open to different professions and work environments”.

Even a crappy work experience can teach valuable lessons! My son was beyond excited when he got his first job at age 15. It didn’t take long for his excitement to wane, however, as he experienced what turned out to be a toxic work environment. This experience was still valuable because it helped him see the kind of environment he doesn’t want so that he is one step closer to knowing what he does want.

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