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Teens and Jobs

Can kids juggle school studies and a part-time job? Here's a plan that ties grades, a job, and driving privileges into a valuable lesson on managing time and money.

Pass the Car Keys, Dad

Working can help your teen learn self-reliance and adult realities.

When Eric turned 16, he couldn't wait to gain more independence. His ticket to freedom: the family car.

A few potholes formed in Eric's plan after his parents brought up the subject of paying for his share of the insurance and gas. Not surprisingly, he wasn't quite prepared for such details. He was somewhat startled to discover that use of a car was not a right, but a privilege. And like all privileges, his parents reminded him, it has a price -- one that he would have to shoulder, for the most part.

If Eric wanted to drive the family car, he had to buy his own gas and pay the difference in the insurance premium. With his allowance earmarked for clothes and recreation, that meant getting a job, which raised a potential problem -- a job might take away from his study time. His father and mother felt, however, that a good plan and guidance from them would help him steer clear of any trouble.

Eric's parents decided that, initially at least, he could not work more than 15 hours a week. They also gave him a two-month grace period, during which they paid his insurance while he looked for a part-time job. After that, he would have to find a job if he wanted to drive.

About a month later, he was stocking shelves in a drug store. Working for minimum wage meant that after he kicked in his share of the insurance, he had slightly less than half his paycheck left to do with as he pleased.

Making the Grade

At that point his parents added an item to the equation by telling Eric that he could keep his job only if he managed to keep his grades up. "We'll let you have one grading period to adjust," they said. "If your grades go down, you'll go on 'probation' until the next report card comes out. If your grades haven't come back up by then, you'll have to quit your job, which means you won't be able to pay your insurance," they explained. "And that means, unfortunately, that you'll have to forget about driving for a while."

If your teen's grades are already suffering, tell your child that when they come up, you'll let him or her get a job. Then, as grades improve, allow the teen to work a certain number of hours per week. As the child shows further improvement, you might increase the hours worked to a certain maximum. Such a case presents you with a chance to turn your child's motivation for doing one thing (getting a job) into motivation for something else (better grades).

Spending a Paycheck

Once your teen begins earning a paycheck, don't be afraid to put limits on how that money gets spent. Just remember to choose your battles carefully.

It's reasonable to restrict purchases that put the child in danger (a motorcycle, for example) or are in direct conflict with the family's values. However, you'll cause more problems than you solve by trying to enforce restrictions that are arbitrary and capricious. For instance, don't bother trying to control such things as the youngster's tastes in music and clothing.

Attempts to restrict such purchases are likely to fail, creating problems in the parent-child relationship. Ask yourself, "Is forcing a confrontation over a black leather jacket worth the conflict, communication problems, and even deceit that are likely to result?" Usually the answer is no.

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