Putting Teens to Work!
It seems that sometimes we (parents and professionals alike) can be so focused on teens achieving academically to get into college that we overlook the opportunities for teens to learn and grow in a work environment. Whether teens are self motivated high achievers or require a nudge to mobilize, it feels more important than ever, for many reasons, for us to help teens see the value in having a job, and doing what it takes to help them land one. As we approach summer, this is a great time to focus on encouraging teens to work.
Help Them See the Benefits
Gen Z (Zoomer) teens can be tough to mobilize. They are recovering from life during a pandemic, are lured by the ease and effortless entertainment of their devices, and have suffered from the tendency for overprotection by their Gen Xer parents. Those less motivated to achieve may cling to their bedrooms and the sofa while those who overachieve may be far too busy with extracurriculars and academics to make time for a job. There are benefits to working for the continuum of teen tendencies.
- Looking for a job helps them assess their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. What type of job might they appreciate (or dare I say enjoy)? Do they like fast paced or slower paced? An environment where there are lots of people or fewer people? Dealing with customers or doing things behind the scenes? Are they inclined to engage in their own business (babysitting, yardwork, etc)? If they are not able to commit to any regular job or may be too young, create jobs around the house or within the family/friends network as a pre-job opportunity.
- Applying for a job helps them learn how to navigate applications and the job search process in general, write a resume, look for, read, and respond to emails/texts from people other than peers.
- Interviewing for a job builds confidence, tolerance of feeling nervous, preparation for an interview, scheduling and arriving on time and presentable to an interview.
- Whether they are hired or not, putting themselves out there is something to be proud of and celebrated.
- Once hired, they have opportunities to earn their own money, demonstrate responsibility that earns the privilege of trust from parents and additional freedoms, and a sense they are contributing in some way to others or a larger effort or business. It also offers a way to spend less time at home with family (and on devices or being stagnant), and less time to be tempted into situations that can lead to trouble.
- Whether they like the job or not, there are valuable lessons on learning to assert one’s needs, communicate and resolve conflicts effectively with bosses or coworkers, and deal with different customers and hear appreciation and feedback.
Coach Them Through the Process
- Initially, parents and helping adults can introduce the idea of seeking a job and help with suggestions or ideas for jobs/places that may feel a good fit for that teen. If the teen is initially cold to the idea, introducing it and then coming back to it to talk through further may help. Helping them see the benefits and validating their concerns, hesitations and anxieties are also important. Caution: this does require patience.
- Make time to assist with answering application questions and if needed, help them prepare a resume. Negotiate a time when your full attention can be offered. Try to elicit answers from them first and help with the polishing of language or offer ideas for them to choose from. It is important for the process to feel theirs.
- Once they are granted an interview, offer congratulations and encouragement. Ask how they plan to prepare to interview and offer to talk through possible questions and answers. If they don’t want your help, sharing resources or short articles with tips may be better received.
- Ask what help they need from you to get to the interview (a ride, reminder, words of support?) For us parents it can also be useful to check emotions and tolerate any nervousness on their behalf.
- If they don’t get the job, give them credit for doing something new and uncomfortable and frame the experience as a practice opportunity. If they will entertain a debrief on what they thought went well or not, terrific (helping adults who are not the parent may have more success engaging the teen in this conversation).
- If they get offered the job, celebrate their success and let them know you are available to consult as challenges arise. Be honest about all jobs having pros and cons and help them anticipate and cope ahead for the parts they may not like.
Celebrate The Fruits of Their Labor
- When teens settle into their role and learn about the workplace, treat them as experts in their workspace and show interest in them teaching you about where they work and what they do. Be careful not to jump to criticism if you hear something you think may not be what is expected- it is important for them to learn to hear feedback from the source. Rather if something does not sound right, try asking more questions.
- Help them determine how they will manage their earnings. This is a great lesson in finance. Ideally, make a plan to save a portion and have the other portion for spending and help them determine at least a general budget and priorities for spending (gas, debts or helping to pay for other extras, eating out, etc). Once earnings go into savings, allow them to make their own spending decisions on the rest, even when they may not be choosing wisely (ie: if they ‘ save enough to fill the gas tank they can’t drive the car until the next payday).
- Express pride for effort, responsibility and new skills that are demonstrated over time. Continued positive reinforcement will help when they have a rough day at work and feel like quitting.
- Help them troubleshoot and advocate for themselves when either their rights are not being adhered to or a disability accommodation is not being honored. Encourage them to make attempts to work things out before deciding to leave a job and if their efforts do not result in an improved experience, help them determine when a different job may be a better fit (though continue to encourage engagement in a job).
For those teens interested in the particular benefits of working in a restaurant, this blogpost may be useful.
Happy Almost Summer!
Julie Baron, LCSW-C