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What parent hasn’t heard their teenager say so at least once a summer? The eight weeks that make up summer vacation might seem like the longest ones of the year if your teen is idle, without schoolwork or constant peer companionship to keep them occupied.
So if they’re too old for summer camp, it might just be time to send them off in search of a summer job. After all, it’s a great way to keep them out of trouble while building character and responsibility, earning some spending money, and potentially learning something new along the way. If that’s not enough, consider this: Summer employment may look attractive to recruiters on future college applications!
Decide where to look
Besides the traditional employment gigs, such as mowing lawns, walking dogs, and babysitting, summer might be the perfect time for your teenager to provide a friend’s or family member’s business with extra help during a busy season, or to seek out a local store or office hoping to find coverage for regular employees’ vacation time. Seasonal businesses, like ice cream shops, zoos, or community pools are always looking for reliable summer help to carry them through the season.
But rather than pursuing the first job that comes to mind, be it at the local burger joint or their favorite store at the mall, encourage your teen to identify businesses in an industry that might be of particular interest for their future career, so that they can get exposure to that type of environment early on. For example, a teen interested in a career in finance might seek out a local financial planner or accounting firm in order to see what working there is really like. Young people interested in a career in medicine might work in a nearby hospital or doctor’s office to see what interacting with patients is all about. Kids interested in teaching could find opportunities to supervise young children, such as in summer camps.
And as they begin their search, talk to your teenager about making good first impressions. Explain to them that, while the actual work environment may very well be casual and relaxed, those doing the hiring may frown upon potential applicants showing up in halter tops, frayed shorts, or flip flops. Further, work with your teen to practice articulating answers to commonly asked questions, such as those about their schoolwork or extracurricular activities, so they’re not caught off-guard.
As a minor, there’s more to applying for a job than meets the eye. First, all teens under 18 years of age are required to complete a work permit application and obtain a work permit before starting a new job. Further, federal and state child labor laws set limits on the number of hours that teens may work, including which hours of the day. According to the Massachusetts Youth Employment Laws, (M.G.L., Ch. 149, § 56-105), 14- and 15- year olds may work no more than 40 hours per week during the summer, at a maximum of eight hours per day and/or six days per week, and only between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. For 16- and 17-year-olds, the maximum is 48 hours per week for nine hours per day and/or six days per week, between 6:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. (as late as midnight in restaurants).
In addition, the laws outright prohibit youth from certain occupations deemed too hazardous, such as working around certain cooking appliances, on ladders or scaffolding, and other restrictions. To help you and your teen navigate the rules, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General have developed The Massachusetts Guide for Working Teens: Protect Your Health, Know Your Rights. Download it on the Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development website at www.mass.gov/lwd/labor-standards/dls/youth-employment.
Make it a teaching moment
While it seems like it should be obvious, once they’ve secured employment, it’s important to talk openly with your teen about proper on-the-job conduct, such as showing up on time and ready to work, limiting personal phone calls and texting to break periods, and treating customers well. For many kids, it’ll be the first time they’re exposed to such an environment, so the typical employer’s expectations should be made very clear.
Finally, talk about your expectations for what they’ll do with the money they earn, in order to help them develop good financial habits. Requiring them to save a portion will teach them the responsibility of planning for the future or for a specific goal, like college or a car. Allowing them the freedom and independence to spend the rest will teach them how to make good choices about what to spend it on, now that they see how hard they’ve had to work to get it.