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Moms Talk: Helping Kids Get Jobs

As summer approaches, parents weigh in on helping kids find jobs -- and at what age it's appropriate for them to start working

Moms Talk is part of a Vienna Patch initiative to reach out to moms, parents and families in Vienna.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start the conversation today with a topic that is popular this time a year: summer jobs for pre-teens and teens.

Many people associate "first jobs" as gigs behind the icecream counter for teens that just turned 15. But there are many other creative opportunities out there, for kids even younger than that, to earn money and start learning the value of jobs and responsibility. (Especially when, as is often the case, all the retail opportunities are snatched up by older teens).

But parents have different ideas about when and how their kids should start working.

I was 10 when I had my first real paying job. Before you start thinking bad things about my mother, let me explain:  That summer, a childhood friend and I had the brilliant idea to run our own dance camp. We'd both taken dance lessons since we knew how to walk, and there were many young girls in the neighborhood who (we told ourselves) were just dying to learn how to twirl and play dress-up in tutus.

We sent out flyers to all the neighbors and had a crop of about 10 girls, aged 3 to 7, whose parents each paid $20 for a week of "dancing instruction" in my parents' basement and backyard. We had the girls for four hours each day, and  at the end, we (read: my mother) tied a tarp across the driveway to make a curtain for our big performance. Parents sat in the yard as a big black boom box played the soundtrack for our choreographed numbers. (In a move of desperation, I even convinced my younger brothers to dance to the "Men in Black" theme song. Thanks guys. And yes, I still have the video as blackmail).

While my mother still says it was really a job for both her and I, I earned $100 that summer and didn't even really realize I was working -- it kept me busy and let me do something I loved. I continued the camp for the next two summers, before handing it off to one of those little girls to run herself. It was a fun way for me to learn about earning money and see that I could do things on my own.

Helping kids identify a passion and turning it into a summer project that earns money can be rewarding for both kids and parents. While I had more traditional jobs as time went on (babysitter,waitress, and a one-year gig at Toys R Us that I tolerated only because it paid fully for my first car), I had a few other fun less traditional gigs too, including camp counselor, teaching music, helping the elderly learn computer skills and running a greeting card business. That last one wasn't so successful.

While I always had a job during the summer, it was hard to balance sometimes. As I got older, I had other obligations -- like sports camps and music lessons -- that were harder to meet while also holding a job. It can also complicate family vacations. (Just ask my family about the year I had to commute an hour and a half each way for four days of our vacation in Cape Cod to a suburb of Boston just to keep my waitressing job.)

For those reasons, parents of some of my friends who had the ability to pay for their children's cars and spending money wouldn't let them take full time jobs during the school year, or during the summer. They said it created unnecessary stress, and that they wanted to let kids be kids as long as they can.

Some of my other high school friends worked two jobs all throughout the school year, so they could prepare to pay for college.

As the summer season approaches, it'd be interesting to hear about how parents approach jobs with their kids. When did you let your kids start "working"? (Either an actual job, or just doing chores around the house?) Do you let your kids work during the school year? What are some resources you've found to help your kids earn money? Where have your kids found jobs in the past? What about "professional experience" for older kids? Let the conversation begin!

Katherine H. April 13, 2011 at 08:50 PM
My son started out with a lawn mowing business in high school (which he hated) and his customers were mostly neighbors, gained through word of mouth. Now that he is a theatre major in college, he works as a counselor at a local drama camp (which he loves). He got that job after making his professional acting debut with a small local theatre company. He was helpful with the younger actors and impressed the director, who also runs the summer camp. My daughter just turned 16 and babysits very regularly. She gets most of her clients through church, where she volunteers with children's ministries. The kids are her best publicity, because she is fun and they ask their parents if she can babysit them. She won't work a regular job this summer because of camp and a special trip. My advice to teens is to interact with the grown-ups in your life (neighbors, people at church, shopkeepers, etc.). A lot of teens never talk to adults, but they are the ones who do the hiring and they are impressed with well-spoken and engaging young people. For parents, it's fine to help your kids get a job by pointing out openings to them, practicing interview skills, etc. But once they get the job, back off and let them deal with it on their own. It doesn't look good for mom to intervene with a boss, even when the employee is still a teenager.
Christine Neff April 14, 2011 at 12:31 AM
The summer I turned 15, my mom (a college professor who was home during the summers) decided it was time for me to get a job. I think she was tired of the endless bickering between me and my sister! My dad helped me get an unpaid internship at the local paper, and I have been working in the publishing industry ever since. I loved working at a young age, and found the experience to be invaluable as I launched a real career many years later. I will encourage my daughter to do the same -- though she has quite a few more summers to relax before I ship her off to the workforce!
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