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."
Before you give the okay for your teenager to seek employment, Dr. Spero recommends that you get together with your spouse to make sure you are of a like mind.
"It's vital that both parents make this decision," says Dr. Spero. "The danger is when one parent thinks a job is fine, but the other doesn't agree. The child then will side with one parent against the other. It's called triangulation, and it should be avoided."
Once you and your spouse are in agreement, progress to the next step: a written, dated, and signed contract with your teenager.
"The three of you will discuss and agree to how many hours will be worked, what grade average must be maintained, which chores will still be done," he suggests. "Get into the real details, too." For example, if you all agree that a C average must be maintained, will you still allow working if your teenager fails in only a single subject, but manages a C average because of good marks in other subjects?
When your son or daughter actually lands a job, it's important for you and/or your spouse to check it out.
"Money," says Dr. Spero, "should not be the primary goal. The job has to be rewarding in itself, and not just a means to an end. A job should be a way to investigate areas that your child is interested in," he says.
The following represents the range of jobs your child might find during the summer or after school:
Teenagers have rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other laws. The U.S. Department of Labor offers the following guidelines for youngsters who work:
Your teen has the right to a fair and full day's pay for a fair and full day's work, to have hours of work properly recorded, and to be paid at least the federal minimum wage.
Your teen has the right to overtime pay (at least time and one half his or her regular rate of pay) for every hour worked beyond 40 hours a week. (Note: this right arises under the FLSA, which contains significant exemptions for some jobs that teen workers may perform.)
Your teen has the right to a safe workplace and the right to file a complaint if the job is unsafe. He or she has the right to required safety clothing, equipment, and training.
Note: Teens under age 18 are prohibited from certain tasks:
Limited exceptions apply for some apprentices and student learners. Additional restrictions apply to workers 15 and younger. If under 16, your child's employer is not permitted to have him or her work past 9 p.m. between Labor Day and June 1.
Your teen has the right to equal employment opportunity without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability in an environment free of sexual and physical harassment.
Some states have worker protections which exceed federal standards. Call your state labor department for more information.
Adapted from the U.S. Dept. of Labor's "The Teen Workers' Bill of Rights."