When spring is in the air, summer can't be far behind, and you're probably already making plans for your kids. A break from the rigors of the academic year is important, and camps and travel are good ways for your children to spend part of their summer vacation. But I hope you'll consider another possibility for your older children this summer - getting a job. I always worked during my teenage summers, and I think it's one of the best learning experiences a young person can have.
First, know the rules as established by the Department of Labor; some states may have even stricter regulations: Teens who are 16 and 17 can do essentially any job (except hazardous ones, as defined by your state) for any number of hours per week. Those age 14 and 15 can work up to three hours on school days and up to eight hours on non-school days to a maximum 40 hours during a non-school week; 18 hours per week during the school year. Children under 14 have fewer choices - they can legally have jobs like delivering papers, baby-sitting or working in a family business. Realize, of course, that these are the limits; I don't advocate pushing your child to work the maximum number of hours.
WHAT THEY'LL LEARN
Entering the work force for the first time represents a tremendous challenge and a great opportunity. Teens with jobs get firsthand experience of what it means to have a work ethic - the importance of showing up on time, (possibly having negotiated public transportation) ready to work and sticking to it. They'll learn a lot about responsibility, about the reality of abstract concepts like interpersonal skills and initiative and, in most jobs, the ideas of teamwork and customer service.
No matter how menial the actual work might be, a summer job is great preparation for the grown-up world of work. Rising to this challenge can instill a powerful sense of personal confidence. And every teenager I've ever known enjoys having some extra cash - to say nothing of the feeling of accomplishment that goes with learning it.
I believe it's important for parents to help their kids become good employees. Assist them by getting ready for work and arriving to work on time. Ask them about what they're doing and what's expected of them. And if there are problems, help them figure out possible solutions.
When your child starts to earn his or her own money, you also have a great opportunity to teach them something about personal finance. That first paycheck can be the starting point for a discussion about taxes, now they'll understand what the phrase "take home" pay really means. It's an ideal opportunity to help them create a budget and learn to save.
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