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For some families, this question is a no-brainer. “Yes, my kid should get a job because our family has to have the extra income.”  In the perilous economy of the past several years, many hard-working parents rely on their equally hard-working teens to make ends meet. Kids who can shoulder this sort of responsibility without resentment deserve a lot of credit.

But for many families, teen income is spent only on teen desires. And for these families, taking a job to support teens’ purchasing power can be an issue. On the one hand, parents want to be able to say, “If you want that, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.” On the other hand, parents know that to do a good job in school and be prepared for a good-paying job in the future, teens need to devote only the minimum time now to minimum-wage jobs.

What’s the answer?

The answer is that it pays to pay attention to your teen’s job choices. Here are some discouraging facts about teen work:

  1. Most teen workers are supervised by other teens. They’re not being mentored by role-model adults.
  2. Many teen jobs encourage slacker behavior instead of good work habits. Ways to look busy without doing anything, how to take long breaks and even how to sabotage an employer are part of the teen job scene.
  3. Many teen jobs are dangerous. Jobs operating machinery, construction jobs, and delivery jobs are actually prohibited for teens but are among the jobs teens take.
  4. Teens who work tend to get less sleep than other kids and do less well in school.
  5. Most income earned by teens is spent on consumer goods and entertainment. National studies show that only a very small percentage of teen income is saved for college.
  6. To make enough after-tax income to buy the things teens crave requires more minimum-wage hours than can be fit into the end of a school day.

But summertime work can be valuable if chosen carefully. Here are some ideas for guiding your teen in finding work this summer.

  1. Try to find work that is more an apprenticeship than just a job. A position in a computer firm, law office, special education unit, or design company may add to your kid’s education instead of interfering with it.
  2. Choose work that plays to a teen’s strengths. Everyone else might be working at the mall but thinking beyond what’s conventional might lead to work that is more interesting to your teen (and easier to get out of bed for).
  3. Find work that fits your teen’s lifestyle. How many hours a week does she want to work and does she want to work later in the day or earlier? Indoors or outdoors? Does she want to walk to work, take the bus, or will she need a ride (or a car)? What sort of clothes or equipment will she need for the job she’s thinking of?
  4. How much money does your teen want to make and what will he use it for? Having clear goals will help make the work more tolerable and will help him stay focused, and will help him see what sort of work and how many hours will get him to those goals.
  5. If your teen can’t find the work she wants, can she find an unpaid volunteer position? Or can she start a mini-business of her own? These sorts of jobs can give her valuable experience and provide great ways to organize the summer. And both will look good on a college application.

Real-life experience is valuable and can give a teen a great view of the adult world. But help your kid to choose wisely. Finding a summer job can be a good idea for your teen, but only if the job builds character and develops useful life skills.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

With summer nearly here, and your teen perhaps itching to start a summer job, it’s a good time to consider just how much your kid knows about money.  Now is the time to start practicing the sorts of financial planning that will serve him well when he’s out on his own in just a few years.

Here are seven conversations to have this summer, when money might seem to grow on trees and ways to spend it grow even faster.

  1. Figure out what gets taken out of a paycheck. Before your child gets his first paycheck from that summer job, give him a heads-up about why his take-home pay will be different from a simple hours-worked-times-hourly-wage calculation. You may even want to have this discussion before he decides to take the job.
  2. Calculate how many hours of work are required to… Buy a pizza? Go to a concert? Buy some new shoes? Help your child see how an hour of work translates into the purchases she makes. Remember to include sales tax in the purchase prices.
  3. Read the fine print on a credit card agreement. This will alarm and amaze your teen if it doesn’t bore her first. But kids need to know. What interest rate is charged and how can the rate go up? Can the rate ever go down? What is the minimum monthly payment and what happens if it’s not paid on time? Long before your child asks for a credit card (or goes off to college and is pursued by credit card companies), make sure she knows that this privilege isn’t free.
  4. Plan for ten thousand dollars. Imagine that your kid will make $150 a week at her job this summer and that she puts a third of that in a savings account at 2% interest compounded annually. If she keeps up this rate every month from June until forever, and never makes a withdrawal, when will she have $10,000 in the bank? Read some back and credit union ads and see what the best interest rate is in your area.
  5. Figure out how much it costs to drive the car to the movies and back. For this, you’ll need the round-trip distance to the theater and your average miles driven per month. Divide round-trip-mileage by total-monthly-mileage to get a percentage of the total. Then figure out the portion of the car payment, insurance, auto club, repairs and oil changes, car washes and whatever else your car needs each month that gets used by that trip to the movies.
  6. Figure out how much it costs to run your household for a month. This can be an eye-opener for Mom and Dad too! Sit down with your teen and one month’s stack of bills. Start by estimating how much is spent every thirty days. It helps to break this down into categories, like rent or mortgage, insurance of every sort, utilities, groceries, gasoline and so on. Then break out the calculator or a spreadsheet program and add everything up. How close was the estimate?
  7. Go apartment shopping. Not for real, of course. But if your child were to move out on his own, what would he look for in an apartment and how much would that cost? Take a Sunday afternoon or two to actually visit apartment complexes after reading their advertisements in the newspaper or online. You can do this same exercise with other big purchases, if your kid is more interested in those: a big wedding, a trip to Europe, a new car, four years at a top-tier college.

Every teen needs to know how money is earned and where it all goes. Teaching this now, before your kid goes off on his own, is an idea that will pay dividends in the future.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.