The Problem: Older Coworkers
As twentysomething workers continue to crowd adolescents out of an ever-tightening market, teens may labor alongside people old enough to smoke, drink, and do plenty of other things that send shivers up your spine.
The signs: Your teen asks to go out frequently after his shift, spends time with people you haven't met, and takes up interests and hobbies you don't approve of.
How to help: Warn your child in advance that he may be exposed to these things but that doesn't mean he has to partake. "Summer jobs can end up making teens feel very lonely, especially if everyone else is over 21 and likes to go out for drinks after work," says Nora E. Coon, author of Teen Dream Jobs (Beyond Words). She suggests making sure your child has at least one free day a week to have fun with friends his own age. Though the pressure to fit in can be overwhelming, remind your kid that he can always rely on school-related excuses like "I need to chip away at my summer reading list" to politely decline an invitation. (This also serves to remind his coworkers just how young he really is.)
When to get involved: When it's obvious your kid has fallen in with a bad older crowd, set a curfew and insist on meeting any colleagues he wants to hang out with. The prospect of introducing them to mom—how humiliating!—may squelch his desire to roll with grown-ups.
The Problem: Unfair Wages
Minimum wage is par for the course in the teen labor market, but parents and teens should be familiar with the rules of their home state.
The signs: Your teen was promised one wage but received another, is being paid off the books, isn't receiving enough in tips to subsidize a sub-minimum-wage income, or seems to be pulling crazy hours with no overtime compensation.
How to help: Outside of taking odd jobs like babysitting or mowing a neighbor's lawn, teens should avoid accepting under-the-table pay. "Any employment opportunity that doesn't follow the law in one area is particularly vulnerable to other workplace abuses," says Coon. When it comes to overtime, the law determines how long a teen can work, especially during the school year; in many cases, hourly workers of any age should be earning one and a half times their regular pay rate for overtime. And teens ages 14 and 15 are not permitted to clock in more than 40 hours during a nonschool week. Kids should also try to stay on top of sub-minimum wage situations like table waiting, which rely heavily on gratuities. "Tips could be pretty hard for a teenager to keep track of," says David Neumark, coauthor of Minimum Wages (The MIT Press). Some states offer a tip credit, which means that tips earned count toward the minimum wage owed; other states, like California, require that an employer pay the full minimum wage, regardless of how much the employee makes in tips. Your teen should know the law for her state, and declare her tips in full. (The IRS could be watching.)
When to get involved: If your kid believes her employer is violating a federal or state law, encourage her to file a complaint through the Department of Labor.