By: Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner
Thinking about letting (or making) your child get a summer job this year? Having a summer job as a kid isn’t always meaningful and rewarding because of the work itself, but it does tend to be fairly significant in terms of personal growth and development.
My very first job, for example, was when I was 13. I cleaned the floors and counters at a veterinary hospital after hours. I loved the responsibility, the cash(!), and talking to the animals. My worst job was driving an ice cream truck four years later. It was hot, dirty work based on sales, not a salary. Boxelder bugs held a sit-in in the open cab of my converted mail delivery truck EVERY DAY! Parents complained that my bell woke their toddlers early from their naps. I hated it, but did learn a lot about business--and about myself.
Conversations between kids and parents about summer jobs tend to bring back lots of memories for the adults. You might want to check in with yourself first about your own experiences and biases before focusing on your child’s situation. Having this self-awareness can help give perspective without being the driver of any decisions. Then you can move on to focusing on the current realities for your kids and your family.
Here are some questions to explore together:
1. How young is too young? - There’s not a right answer to this question. There are laws about youth employment, but lots of companies, organizations, and individuals have informal ways of employing young people over the summer. The decision is really more about how ready you (and your child) are. This can be influenced by transportation options, your child’s physical and emotional maturity, the working conditions, and how well you know the potential employer. For more ideas on how to think about this question, see this link.
2. How can you find out what’s available? - The best way to gather information about part-time and summer jobs is word-of-mouth or networking. Ask around in your school and community; neighbors and parents of older youth might have suggestions; local business owners might have connections or even openings.
3. What kinds of jobs are acceptable? - Are there things you don’t want your child exposed to? Risks you are unwilling to have them take? You might want to write down a list of any deal-breakers in advance so you can easily explain them to your child.
4. How do you establish priorities? - This is especially important if everyone is already just scrambling to keep all the balls in the air. Some families have created contracts with kids regarding the criteria for being allowed to keep the job (e.g., continuing to do chores around the home, maintain school work if attending summer school, limits on number of nights a week out of the home).
5. .What will happen with the money? - This varies tremendously based on family values and circumstances. Some kids work to contribute to overall expenses. Some work exclusively for spending money. Many parenting and finance experts recommend a "Spend, Save, Share" approach. You can learn more about that here.