Watch for signs of sexual harassment. Does your teen seem worried or exhausted? Does she get agitated or secretive when you ask about work? In a recent study of 393 teen boys and girls conducted by the University of Southern Maine in Portland, 35 percent (two-thirds of whom were female) said they had been sexually harassed on the job. Tell your teen about this study and ask, "Has anybody at work asked you out repeatedly after you'd already said no? Has anyone ever made crude comments about your appearance or touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?"
Practice some good responses together. To a crude remark, she could say, "That's gross. Don't say things like that to me." If things don't improve quickly, she may need your help writing a complaint to the manager (or the next person up the ladder, if the harasser is the manager, as happens in 19 percent of cases). If your teen feels seriously threatened, it might be best for her to quit the job and file a complaint, either alone or with other employees, with the local chapter of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or even with the police. You and your teen can log on to the EEOC's Web site to read about sexual harassment laws and get the answers to common questions teens have at youth.eeoc.gov/harass.html.
Empower your teen to speak up. Unlike adults, who prefer to feel autonomous by learning tasks for themselves, teens are happiest when their responsibilities are clearly spelled out. "Teens often hesitate to ask questions of their bosses because they feel like they should already know the answers or simply because they're not used to talking to adults," says Runyan. "As a parent, you can help by pretending to be your teen's boss and letting him practice the best ways to get information." For instance, if your teen isn't sure he's doing something correctly, he could say, "Mr. Smith, I want to get this right. Is this the way I'm supposed to do it?"
Help your teen decide when to act. There will be times when your teen has to stand up for himself. But it's hard. "Most teens aren't used to challenging adults, and they often feel that if they don't do what the manager asks them to do, they'll get fired," says Runyan. Help your child by role-playing possible responses to a problem he's encountering. Say your teen is being pressured to work at a time that's not legal for his age. He should say, "Mrs. Smith, I'm 15 so I'm not allowed to work past 7 p.m. on a school night. But once I turn 16, I'd be glad to talk about working longer." In cases where the manager is breaking the law, your teen's best course of action may be to quit and find another job, then report the manager or the organization to your state's Department of Labor. Go to usa.gov and click on the State Government link.