Do your homework. Before your teen says "yes" to a job, find out as much as you can about the potential employer and the workplace. "Ideally teens will work with friends so they can ask about the environment ahead of time," says Darlene Adkins Kerr, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, an organization that works to strengthen child labor laws and encourage their enforcement. "In addition, you should casually drop by once in a while. If it's a restaurant, stop in for dinner or lunch; if it's a supermarket, shop there occasionally. Take note of how the manager treats the employees and whether safety precautions are being followed."
Know the laws. Explain child labor regulations to your teen so she'll know if she's asked to do anything inappropriate (like serving alcohol in a restaurant or working beyond allowed hours). Go to youthrules.dol.gov/states.htm for the specifics in your state.
Establish your own ground rules. "Don't just rely on the laws," advises Carol W. Runyan, PhD, director of the Injury Prevention Research Center at UNC at Chapel Hill. "You may need to be stricter." Even if it's legal for your teen to work until 7 p.m. on a school night, for instance, you may want him home by 6 p.m. so he's not driving after dark.
Ask leading questions. Your teen may not tell you how things are going -- you'll have to pull it out of her. "How was work today?" is likely to yield an unenlightening, "Fine." Instead, inquire, "Does the manager ever ask you to work after you clock out?" Or, "How closely does your supervisor watch to make sure you do things the right way?" Or, "Do you feel comfortable asking your boss questions if you don't understand something?" One of the most important things a parent can ask is, "Have your responsibilities changed since you started the job?" You need to know whether a kid who was hired to do something innocuous may have graduated to something riskier. "We've heard tragic stories from parents who say, 'When my teen got this job, she was hired to bus tables. I didn't know they'd put her in the back using a slicing machine,'" says Kerr.