Thoughts and Tips on Teen Employment

I received an email a couple weeks ago that asked about my teens and our experience with jobs-what we require here, how they get jobs, school year vs. summer employment, etc. so I thought I'd do a post.

We require and desire deeply (for my sanity as well as theirs) for our teenagers to have employment as soon as they are able to work.

Jeff and I both grew up working from an early age, back when minimum wage was $2.65 an hour and we think we gained many skills and learned the value of a dollar this way. So this is what we wish for our children.  I know some parents have different rules and I would never say that my way is the right way. I know parents who don't want their kids to work in high school at all and to enjoy their summers while they can.  I don't think there is one right answer, a guarantee for success. There are probably kids who never work and go on to be hard workers when they graduate from college. There are probably kids who work since they are twelve, and aren't able to succeed well in the work place or keep a job. We just do what we think is best (more on why below) and please, please remember everything I have learned is through trial and error-we are learning as we go here, sometime easily, sometimes in hindsight, sometimes with joy, sometimes with frustration.

How To Find Teen Jobs:
It is not enough to say, (or yell), "Go get a job!"  How do they know how to do this if they've never done it before?  We have to teach them, guide them, sometimes really encourage them (see below about motivation.).  Teens (and adults?) are usually self-conscious and intimidated to walk into a place and ask for an application.  I have learned that they need encouragement, and step by step instructions.  Who to ask, what to say, what to wear, how to fill out the application, how to follow up, how to interview.

I have also helped them search for jobs-I keep my ears and eyes open.  Usually when summer jobs are opening up, the older kids have been in intense exam time, or sports involvement.  I have no qualms about helping search (because obviously they are the ones that have to "get" that job).

Here's how we have found jobs:
I have found that networking is the best.
For parents:
I ask other parents with older kids, "Where have your kids worked?" We can also find out how many hours were given, whether the other employees were decent enough to work with teenagers, whether the boss was flexible around sports and school, how much money was earned, how to go about applying, etc.

For teens: All of the above sometimes with the added bonus of having the influence of recommendation from a friend who is an employee.

For older teens-By May our oldest had a choice of five jobs, and three were found through websites-like Craigslist, Monster, snagajob, etc.  (We googled our city's name, summer jobs, internships, and then scrolled through.)  Also, more for girls interested in babysitting, sittercity and care.com usually have tons of jobs listed.  Yes, I was very cautious-if any listing isn't super descriptive, listing the company's name, local address, detailed job description and pay (especially on Craigslist) we would pass it over.  And I wouldn't let a teenage girl drive anywhere by herself to interview if using a website, even a babysitting job.

And then the old-fashioned way-Going into a business, that might have a sign in the window or not, and asking if they are hiring.  Or looking at a small local newspaper's help wanted ads.

1. We have learned to print out a sample application from the internet, fill it out together the first time, and then have it with them when go to ask for an application-that way the application can be filled out immediately at the counter or in the car and save an extra step of having to go back.  Added plus: I've learned to have them ask for the name of the person who does the hiring, so when they call back they can ask for the right person.  I have them prepared for an interview right away just in case that great scenario is offered.

2. Follow up-so important, they HAVE to call or stop back in. My kids have been told they got the job because they are the only ones who called back.  They hate to do this, it makes them nervous, but I force them to. :)

Notes about employment
-When they start with their first job they need tips about how to be a good employee.  They need to see themselves through the eyes of the boss, and imagine they were shelling out their money to hire someone.

-We really stress having them keep track of their own schedule, writing down work times, etc.  This is a huge part of "growing up" and being responsible.  (That does not mean I don't double check with them, until I'm confident they "get it".)

-There is a frustrating time before kids are able to find jobs-I have experienced it and have friends who are also experiencing it-every state has different laws about hiring ages etc, but the young teens are starting to want/need spending money.  For us here, it's sixteen-and just a few places around town hire sixteen year olds-that's when that networking comes in.  Meanwhile, they (and we parents) have to sit tight, or be lucky enough to find a mother's helper or babysitting job or lawn job for neighbors or be hired by family and friends, etc.  Sometimes volunteer work is an option.

-For college kids-I've learned to start early!  I feel like it's race when all these colleges are getting out at different times-last summer our oldest really had a harder time getting a job because he waited too long, and ended up working part-time instead of full-time.  This time I made sure he was on the ball in April/early May.  It made a huge difference.

-I have learned too, that it is important for the teens to ask how many hours are typically given per week. We've found that a few times this is over-promised and under-delivered.  Both of my older kids are combining two part-time jobs to make 40+ hours a week.  Very few places hire seasonal or teen full-time employees anymore.  Another tip is to have them spread the word, or hang a note, that they will pick up anyone's shift.  They have both added many hours this summer by subbing in for someone.

-School year vs. summer:  For us, school always trumps work of course, and if teens are involved in a high intensity sport, or have AP classes etc, likely they will not have the time to work. If not, then yes they have a weekend day or evening available.  So far we've required a job in college-it's a great way to meet people, and be active on campus.

Thoughts about motivation;

Do we require motivation?  No, that comes from within, but we do require a job. I know it's frustrating, I get it, but I am not against extremely strong encouragement either.  As in "you will be working full-time this summer, plus some, so let's get going on this now because you have this and this and this to pay for and boy will it be miserable without a cent of money."  I have found that once my teens have gotten over the hump of being apathetic, nervous about applications and learning new work (this is daunting!), that first pay check keeps the motivation in high gear.

And sometimes we need to ask ourselves-what do they have to be motivated for?  If they are living in a comfy home, with computers, a smartphone, cable TV, a full gas tank and and a free vehicle, and have all their needs and wants gifted to them, why would they be motivated to work?   For some kids it has to "hurt" and parents have to decide, sometimes by necessity, sometimes because they want to teach responsibility, what degree of motivation it might take.  That might mean they have to pay for their cell phone portion, or their clothes or movie tickets, or buy their own car and insurance, and books for college and every ounce of spending money. Sometimes it takes sitting down and talking about how important college is, and how much it costs, and how it must be done with their help too. Again, all parents have different financial spending/savings requirements for their kids.

Here are some of my personal thoughts (and they are based only on my experiences with my children, and I'm still learning):

The teenage and college years are about teaching these kids to be completely independent, functional, contributing adults.  A gradual handing off of responsibilities needs to take place.  Again, it depends on how much they are able to work.  Eventually they need to learn that unfortunately the bulk of a paycheck usually goes towards things that aren't fun at all-that's the "real world" isn't it?  When they graduate and are able to work full-time it won't be a shocker because they have handled paying for some of these "not fun" items.  I also discuss how it's a matter of respect, if we are supporting them in any way, not to spend their own earnings frivolously.

Approaching working as a chore, a pain, and terrible thing is the wrong attitude.  My kids have met great friends at their jobs, and have had fun-no, maybe not every hour or every day, but work can be fun, especially with peers, or at least a little more than drudgery.  And what are they going to do anyways all day or on weekends?  Better to have purposeful work, and be earning money than wasting time scrolling through Instagram or watching You Tube videos.

They have learned so so much-more than in any classroom. I'll tell you this-my daughter will never ever be a rude customer, and will not raise bratty kids.  Why?  Because she sees both every day when serving ice cream.  One son will never shun off his work on some other employee because he knows what that feels like.  My other son will appreciate everything he has had as a child, because he is working with kids from the housing projects the bulk of every day.  And he will always tip the pizza delivery guy. They all have learned what a good boss and bad boss looks like and if they are in that role one day I am sure they have learned how to properly manage.  I can go on and on lesson after lesson after lesson about being a kind, responsible, contributing, helpful, polite member of society.

They learn how to be good employees, so many skills, a good resume, that's pretty obvious.

They learn the value of a dollar or how far one doesn't go in this day and age.  Isn't it amazing how much better one takes care of a car when it's their own hard earned cash, or how much more appealing TJMaxx looks vs. the mall when trying to stretch $50 dollars that took eight hours to make, or how much it really ads up to eat out vs. make a quick sandwich at home?  They learn how necessary savings are for emergencies, and to always be cautious about spending.  They learn how to keep track of their spending and manage their own savings/checking account.  This is sometimes a frustrating lesson to learn for them and for us, but a necessary one.  Again, real life.  But as parent, I'll tell you, when you see it start to click it's an encouraging feeling.

I also remind them constantly (I am sure they are sometimes rolling their eyes behind my back) about how lucky they are to live when and where they are living.  Are they the sole bread winner, bringing food home for their little siblings?  Are they working in a steamy factory for twelve hours a day with no breaks, instead of attending school?  Do they have a roof over their heads and food in the pantry? Do we support their education?  I have several great "talks" (let's not call them lectures) about Ellis Island immigrants, the Depression, Third World existence, and how hard their grandparents and great grandparents worked.  In other words, they have it easy compared to most in history, and compared to many others on this planet. Appreciation and gratitude is taught (I hope.:)


  1. Thanks for writing Sarah - it is like water to this mother's soul! Appreciate your sharing your thoughts and experiences and the gift you have of wisdom and articulating it through writing.

  2. My oldest will be sixteen jn a month and we are just starting to navigate the waters of teen employment. Thank you for sharing your advice and experience--- this is extremely helpful!

  3. We have dipped our toes into searching for employment for my teen, and it really was a learning experience. Having to fill out an application, me learning you email them, not snail mail them, when it is done online, going into a local business "cold" and asking for an application (and being told "we'll call you"), interviewing, rejection....it's not easy but so important. Thank you so much for sharing your approach, your thoughts, and ideas to those of us just starting this journey into teen employment. I wanted to suggest that boys make great babysitters - especially for little boys who seem to respond so we'll to a teen boy! And local camps usually have counselors in training(unpaid - actually parents pay a reduced camp fee) but will lead to paying camp counselor jobs which may not be the best paying jobs but are great opportunities (and often lead to babysitting). House sitting or pet sitting/pet care is another easy money maker (people you know, of course, and if your older teen is trustworthy and comfortable being alone in another home).

  4. You are an awesome Mom! My parents did the same as you and let us work early on in our teenage years and before (I started babysitting every day after school when I was 10) and it has made me be the successful attorney I am today. I know some reminders may be nagging to your kids, but they will absolutely appreciate it later in life. I worked in the service industry for years and worked full time while going to school, including law school at night, and I know I was successful because of my parents and yours will be too. Well done!

  5. This is a great post, I wish it had been at the beginning of summer:), as I will read it to my "old enough" teens. My big kids, those older 4, found jobs and worked hard, but my younger ones seem less motivated, fearful of rejection, and overwhelmed with the prospect. I need to be more engaged in helping them, Thanks for the tips for parents.

  6. This is such a helpful post and so relevant to our family at the moment. With two teenage boys, one at University and one at college, it is good to read some advice on approaching this situation. They both have jobs but are only prepared to do the bare minimum of hours. I have been thinking about giving them a little motivation and this has helped me decide how and what to do . Thank you Sarah, I always look to your blog for advice and I always find it.

  7. Thank you for this post! My oldest is only 10 years old, but I'm already thinking about this subject as she has earned a little money here and there. I'm glad you're back to some regular posting!

  8. Hi Sarah! What a great post! Thank you so much for the advice! You are an amazing mom!!!!

  9. Thank you for sharing the wisdom you've gained through your years of parenting. My oldest is only 10 but we will be where you are in no time flat. I enjoy reading your blog and "picking" your mind. :)

  10. Great tips that I will file away for when my children are teens. Having spent most of the last 10 years in academia (in grad school and as a researcher), I will add that there are many great college jobs to be found working with professors. Yes, it depends on the institution (you're probably more likely to find such a position at a large university versus a smaller college) and the student (this may not appeal to everyone), but many faculty have funding to hire undergraduate research assistants, and I'm not sure how many students are aware of this and/or are too intimidated by their professors to ask. It's a terrific opportunity to learn more about a particular field (especially if you're considering graduate school) and to forge a closer relationship with a professor (helpful for obtaining letters of recommendation later on for whatever you're planning to do) while also getting paid.

  11. I loved the experiences I had as a working teenager and that I learned to find a job early on. I was actually a lifeguard for a few summers which I will encourage my kids to do since it is the perfect summer job when it is hard to work during the school year and usually pays a little better than some too! :)