Teens today want jobs for many of the same reasons you did when you were their age: money, freedom, responsibility, and a desire to be treated like an adult. Though the number of employment opportunities continues to decline, nearly 80 percent of teens say they want to work, and some 1.9 million 15- to 17-year-olds actually held gigs in 2009. For those lucky (and cunning) enough to find work, it can mean so much more than a paycheck. "Your child will begin to interact with coworkers, and possibly customers, and as a result, gain knowledge about how the workplace operates," says Beverly F. Slomka, author of Teens and the Job Game (iUniverse). "It's important that kids take their first job seriously and understand that it's a stepping stone to bigger things later on." Anticipating the problems that a kid might run into in a new venture—and taking preventive measures to avoid them—will help your young worker get off on the right foot.
The Problem: New Job Jitters
The beginning can be scary—the pressure to perform can turn a laid-back teen into a ball of nerves.
The signs: Your child is quieter than usual and complains of a stomachache or loss of appetite before her first day.
How to help: Assure your teen that it's normal to feel anxious. Remind her that the biggest challenge is already behind her (getting hired), and that she may make a mistake but it won't be the end of the world. "Nobody expects perfection on the first day, or even the first week," says parent coach Susan Epstein. When your teen messes up, encourage her to admit it immediately and to ask her employer how she can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Her new boss should admire her honesty and be impressed with her desire for self-improvement. Helping teens practice basic skills—like making eye contact and firming up their handshake—will also give them more confidence from the get-go.
When to get involved: If your teen is still nervous after a few weeks, it may be a sign of a deeper issue, like a lousy manager or overwhelming responsibilities. Talk it out until you uncover the real issue.
The Problem: Immaturity
It's easy for teens to let "little things" like personal hygiene or a bad attitude damage their workplace rep. Teaching them to behave professionally sets an example for life.
The signs: They're dressing sloppily, arriving late to work, asking to leave early and relaying anecdotes about goofing off.
How to help: Reiterate the long-term impact of taking employment seriously: Good behavior now means a strong reference later, which can lead to a better, higher-paying job in the future. "Give them a sense of how important first impressions are," advises Karen Hinds, author of A Teenager's Guide to the Workplace (New Books). "They should dress for the job they want, not the one they have."
When to get involved: Angelica L. Kloos, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., says that "it is best for teens to experience for themselves the natural consequences of their behaviors," such as answering to a supervisor about why they're late. If your kid is fired as a result, help him process what happened and why, and discuss what he can do in the future to ensure it doesn't happen again. Moreover, resist the urge to give him money while he searches for new work. Warns Dr. Kloos, "If you provide for him what he planned on earning through a job, you may inadvertently take away his motivation to succeed in the workplace." Instead, suggest chores he can do to earn money while hunting for another job. Refusing to pay for extras like a cell phone or the latest video game will also teach him to take that position more seriously.