teens Lessons to be learned with on-the-job training :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.
With all the free time summer affords, it's the perfect season to introduce your teen to the world of employment. Nearly all kids of this age have some degree of work capability and having a job can be a great way to teach responsibility while bolstering self-esteem.
Some teens are ready for a "real" job but others may do best at family or neighborhood work. You can help your child learn what is best for him by looking at his past experiences in school and extracurricular activities, assessing his ability to handle responsibility and making a realistic decision about his summer schedule.
It may be tempting to just go out and find a job for your teen but remember that your child will learn most when he does things himself.
If he is apprehensive at first, give him a chance to overcome his fears by showing him he can handle things on his own, rather than doing the work for him. For example, if he hesitates to make a phone call about a job, don't pick up the phone and make the call yourself. Instead, talk to him about what he's afraid of, respect and address his fears and then let him rehearse the call with you so he can get practice and gain confidence. When he is ready, have him make the call himself. This is as valuable a part of the learning process as working at the job itself.
Before you get to that point, however, you have to help your teen figure out what type of work is right. The following are a few things to consider: • The job should take up a part of the summer, not all of it. Kids need free time during summer to rest from the past school year and recharge for the next one. Ideally, a summer job will give your child an enriching experience while bringing her some extra spending money, or helping her save for a special goal. At this time in her life, a child should not be responsible for paying household bills (except in dire straits.) Do not expect your child to work a 40-hour week on her first job. Even five hours on a regular basis affords a good start. • Help him choose a job he will excel at. If he has a hard time sitting still, don't expect him to do desk work or telemarketing. If he has trouble multi-tasking or becomes nervous easily, babysitting would not be the place to start. Help your child think about his strengths and try to find a job where he can use them. Then he can feel good when he does well. • Encourage over-achievers to hold back and under-achievers to push harder. Encourage your do-everything teen to walk five dogs a week instead of 25. Help your do-nothing child to learn he can walk five dogs a week and still have time to relax. • Decide if a real job or "neighborhood" work is best. If your child is under 16, you will have to sign a work permit before he can be employed in a business. Talk with your child about his capacity for responsibility before you allow him to do this. Instead of getting in over his head, suggest he choose a starter job such as pet sitting, lawn mowing, house cleaning or babysitting. These jobs require your child to be dependable, but there is usually less pressure when working for neighbors. • See his first job as a learning experience. While it should be clear that once he makes a commitment, he must follow through, try to help your child view this job as another step along his growing path, rather than pressure to be perfect, get a raise or out-sell every other kid. Instead of focusing on how much money he is making, help him make a list of the things he is learning and the ways in which he is growing. Maybe he is gaining self-confidence, discovering skills he never knew he had or learning that he works better early in the morning. Help him see the value in the experience, not just the end result. If the summer job goes well and you are wondering whether to continue into the fall, remember that school should come first. Your child may like his job or the spending money it provides and want to keep working even after school starts. This can be a good idea-or not. If she struggles in school, is not responsible about homework or isn't good at managing her time, she may not be able to keep up with her homework and maintain good grades if she's working as well. If she insists, suggest that she keep the job on a trial basis, give up another activity or cut back to working only a few hours a week. Many kids actually do better in school when they have other activities going on too, since it forces them to keep a stricter schedule and the structure keeps them on track.
Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.