Experts explain how to introduce tweens and teens to their first job.
“The Rules” is a Moneyish series where we define the rules around sticky money or workplace topics like giving an allowance, who pays on a date, combining finances with your partner, and more.
School’s out — which is the perfect time for kids to get to work.
Yet as the summer job season hits full swing, fewer teens are finding employment. Just one-third of people ages 16 to 19 had a job last June (the numbers are almost identical for last month), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to more than half of teens (51.2%) hustling at the same age in June 1997.
The BLS notes that’s likely because many teens and their parents have put more emphasis on education over the past two decades. So kids aren’t just lazing about playing video games and binge-watching Netflix; many are spending their free time on extracurricular activities, tutoring and college prep classes.
Or they’re ditching traditional junior positions like slinging hamburgers and checking movie tickets to work off-the-books as software developers, professional drone flyers and budding entrepreneurs in the gig economy. A new study from the finance experts at OppLoans finds 63% of surveyed teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 have a job lined up for the summer, and they expect to make $4,037 over the next couple of months on average.
Gregory, 14, has been earning about $250 a week for the past two summers as a computer programmer at a kids’ tutoring company run by a family friend. He goes to a small office 10 blocks from his Manhattan home from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week, where he can work on independent projects in his spare time. “Programming is something that I’m interested in,” the Manhattan eighth grader told Moneyish. He’s keeping the few thousand dollars he’s earned in savings, and he’s toying with buying a computer. “I had a lot of time to spare, so I might as well do something I like and get paid for it,” he said.
“It’s been wonderful for him on so many levels,” his mother Alina Adams, 48, told Moneyish. “The most important one being that he knows this isn’t some ‘everybody gets a trophy’ or busywork self-esteem builder, but that he is truly doing something worthwhile which is appreciated by adults outside of his family.”
But convincing a kid to work, finding a gig that is a good fit and deciding what they should do with their money gets tricky. So Moneyish chatted with child development experts, parents and working teens for tips on making a summer job work for your kid.
Your kid will hustle if you make them start paying for things. Three in five parents told Upromise, a college savings service, that they expect their teenagers to have after-school or summer jobs in high school. But not every kid is so motivated to find employment. Wendy Snyder, a certified parent educator, has a 10-year-old daughter who’s been an entrepreneur since she started selling sparkly rocks that she found for $6 a pop when she was four — but Snyders 7-year-old son doesn’t share the same drive. And that’s normal.
“If you have a kid who’s not motivated to get a job or to work at all, a lot of times (not always, but often) it’s because we are providing so much,” said Snyder. “Help them understand the reality that in order to buy things or get things, you do have to work for the money get them.”
Snyder has some tips for broaching that conversation with your kid, especially when they’re old enough for working papers at around 15: “I’m not OK with providing all of the gas money and shopping money and things that you ask for, because it’s important for you to learn what it’s like to have a job, and to contribute to your own lifestyle. And I also want you to experience what it feels like not to have to count on me for everything, and how good it feels to get a paycheck.”
Find a position related to something they’re passionate about. Tweens and teens will also be more motivated to work if the job is tied to their interests. “If you’re kid’s athletic, try looking for an assistant coaching job, or working at a local sports equipment store. If your kid loves fashion, see if a favorite clothing store is hiring,” suggested Snyder. “This gets kids going down a path of not working just to make money, but also because it’s a joyful pursuit.”
Wickham has always loved building websites, and he wants to be a computer programmer when he grows up, so his gig doesn’t feel like work. “If you’re going to be doing a summer job, it should be something that you actually like doing,,” he said.
It’s their money — but encourage them to save it. The parents and experts Moneyish spoke with said their kids get to decide what to do with their own dough, although many are told they’re responsible for their own discretionary spending, like going out with friends. Snyder suggests getting kids to put 10% toward giving, 10% into savings and 80% toward spending. “Then when the child starts working as an adult, it’s not that surprising for them to save some of their paycheck, and to give some to help someone,” she said.
And they might surprise you with how responsible they are. Wright Esposito, who just turned 18 on Wednesday, began flying drones professionally for construction sites for two or three hours a week in Raleigh, N.C., when he was 15. “At end of month, I’d get a check for like $600 or $700,” he said. “But there was an understanding with my parents like, ‘Don’t come to us asking for money when you and your friends want to go to the movies.’ So I was paying for my own things, like hanging out with friends, but I also saved a lot of it.”
Encourage them to stick with it. Even if a teen is working in his or her chosen field, there will probably be plenty of things they dislike about their job. That’s why it’s called work. “But if they committed to working through August 10, they should honor that commitment,” said Snyder. “Tell them, ‘I get it. Work is hard. And I’m here to support you through the next few weeks, but what can we learn from this for next summer? What could you ask an employer next time that would clue you in that you may not enjoy this job? Or if you don’t like working outside and getting sweaty, what kinds of jobs might you apply for next summer instead?”
But watch out for warning signs that this job is toxic. There’s a difference between a teen dragging his feet sometimes because he wants to sleep in or hang out with his friends, and one who dreads going to work every day. Ask about work over breakfast or dinner daily. “Are they being taken advantage of, like overtime that is not being paid? Are they working the hours that were originally agreed upon?” asked Snyder. And scope out your child’s workplace when you pick him up or drop him off, or visit the restaurant or theater while they’re working occasionally. If you get a really bad vibe, pull them out of there. The same goes for if their grades slip, they’re not getting enough sleep, or you notice a change in their mood or personality.
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