Baby-sitting is the granddaddy of all tween jobs; the key is finding families who need intermittent help and proving your child's reliability. Above, a teen helps with homework during a Red Cross baby sitter's training class at the American Red Cross Arlington County chapter in Virginia.
Parents can help youngsters prepare for the world of work
MONTCLAIR, N.J. » It's a "tween" dilemma: Just as these preteens' need for cool clothes, cell phones, iPods, laptops and other gear soars, gas prices, food costs and mortgage woes are sending Mom and Dad into apoplexy.
What's a tween to do?
Find that first job, of course. And since job skills are made, not born, parents' help is crucial in laying the groundwork.
"Most young kids have chores, but once you have a job, there's a completely different dynamic,"
High school senior, Montclair, N.J.
"A first job often sets the tone for a young person's perception of work, and presents a wonderful opportunity for parents to teach kids that work does not have to be drudgery," says Georgia Boothe, associate executive director of Covenant House New York, who helps at-risk teens find jobs. "Instead, doing your best at something often feels good, and can bring personal and financial rewards."
Parents can start the at-home training by assigning chores and enforcing consequences if they are not done. While it may be easier to pick up clothes yourself than to nag a child to do it, teaching them how to complete an assignment is important.
Besides, the real world is going to be harsher than you are.
"Most young kids have chores, but once you have a job, there's a completely different dynamic," says Jeremy Schneider, a Montclair High senior who began working years ago at an ice cream shop. "The earlier you are introduced to a work environment where you actually have superiors and have to take orders from someone, regardless of how ridiculous they may be, the earlier you accept it and learn to do well."
Employers may have a lot of negative stereotypes about young peoples' work ethic, Boothe says, so first-timers must try extra hard to overcome that. Pet peeves
include excessive texting or phone calls; being late, unreliable or unprepared; dressing inappropriately; faking illness; and not taking the job seriously.
"Younger kids can be extremely enthusiastic about a job when it is new, but lose interest over time," she says. "They also may not fully understand the responsibilities they'll have."
Parents can help by not tolerating lateness for school, sports, church or other activities, and by being on time themselves.
Since swearing, fooling around or wearing inappropriate clothing are not acceptable, those lessons need to begin early as well.
Many tweens - a group roughly defined as 9-12 years old - don't know where to start looking for a job. Parents can help them jump-start the search by making a list of neighbors, friends, relatives or teachers who would recommend or hire them, and having them tell those people what jobs they are looking for.
Baby-sitting is the granddaddy of all tween jobs; the key is finding families who need intermittent help and proving your child's utter reliability. To exercise that "good judgment" muscle, parents should role play with their tween: What should he do if the power goes out or a dog bites a child? Whom should she call if she can't reach the parents? Go over a checklist of phone numbers for parents, neighbors, doctors and other contacts.
Other good tween jobs include taking care of pets or helping elderly neighbors with light household chores.
Sometimes parents can help most by encouraging tweens to look ahead and develop the skills needed for future jobs, before they hit the pressure cooker of high school. That means taking the YMCA baby-sitting class, the Red Cross First Aid class, the junior lifesaving class or the scuba certification class. Getting a state boating license or ATV driving safety certificate. Passing the first-level umpire or referee tests for baseball, soccer, football or other sports.
There's plenty of demand for seventh- and eighth-grade referees for youth soccer or Little League games - and refs get paid in cash. No town pool will hire a 13-year-old lifeguard - but if your child is a good swimmer, he or she could police a backyard pool during a birthday party or baby-sit for families who live near the water.
Computer-savvy parents can help their teens find work on the Internet. Stephan Spencer of Madison, Wis., founder of the Web agency Netconcepts, helped his 15-year-old daughter, Chloe, turn her obsession with Neopets - virtual pets - into a blog that rakes in hundreds of dollars a month with Google ads, he said.
For tweens and teens who want to be outdoors, there's no end to the amount of work needed on suburban lawns or rural farms. The trick is connecting with farms that have seasonal demands or with homeowners who need help.
Also, manual labor can be dangerous, so parents must impress on kids the importance of safety. Last year alone, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says, 16,200 children needed medical treatment after using a lawnmower.
Federal labor laws generally allow anyone 14 or older to work on a farm, and 12-year-olds are permitted do some farm work with parental consent. State laws vary in specifics: In Illinois, the minimum age for farm workers is 10 - also the minimum age for coffee harvesters in Hawaii.