Out of the blue, your teenaged Ben or Jeri announces the desire to get a job. Ben saw a help-wanted sign at the sneaker shop in the mall. He's particularly enticed by the fact that, as an employee, he can get a 10 percent discount on all those fabulously expensive, gotta-have-'em sneaks.
Jeri would like to work as a cashier at 7-11. She wants to start saving for a car.
It's a big step for a kid, because that world has attitudes and expectations your teen previously may not have experienced.
"Parents and teachers don't fire teenagers, whereas employers sometimes do," says Mitch Spero, PsyD, director of Child and Family Psychologists and a licensed psychologist in Plantation, Florida. "Often, good work in the 'real' world isn't given proper acknowledgment. And, the working world isn't always fair."
How can you judge whether your son or daughter will give a job the commitment, even enthusiasm, that the working world expects of employees? How can you decide whether a job is an enhancement or a distraction in your teen's life?
If your teenager is getting good grades, is meeting household curfews, doing chores -- in other words, if your teen is basically a decent kid -- a job will enhance his or her life, says Dr. Spero.
"For one thing, a job teaches the work ethic," he says. "And these entry-level jobs are certainly a way that teenagers can pay their dues to enter and belong to the working world.
"But it's important for the child to know that working is a privilege. Earning money outside the household is fine, but it must never become a priority above, or go against, the family's values."
Dr. Spero believes that a job can be both a learning experience and a life experience for a teen.
If your teenager gets a job at minimum wage, he or she will soon learn that certain goals can't be reached without first earning a higher education. "That's a learning experience," he says.
But if a teenager wants to explore different areas of employment in order to prepare for the future, that's a life experience, he explains.
"When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a veterinarian. So I took a job in a pet shop, where I earned $2 an hour," Dr. Spero remembers. "I quickly came to the conclusion that I would not have a satisfying future in that level of job, but I might be happy if I earned a doctoral degree, learned business skills, and eventually owned a string of animal hospitals. That was a life experience."
Continued on page 2: Make a United Front