Should Your Child Get a Job This Summer?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Experts say a little responsibility and financial solvency can be great for kids of all ages, but is it realistic for parents to encourage their child to work this summer? Here's how to navigate the balance between work and play.

Consider the age of the child

Regardless of how responsible your child may be, you have to follow the law, says Deborah Gilboa, known as "Doctor G," a board-certified family physician and parenting expert.

"You can't officially work until you are 16, but before then there are all kinds of things you can do to earn money," Gilboa says. "I wouldn't let a 10-year-old babysit without an adult in the house, but they could work as a parent helper or a dog walker."

Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent's Guide series, says it's good for tweens to clock in for a few hours to earn money for summer activities, movies and more.

"An honest day's labor for an honest day's pay is one of the most important building blocks of successful individuals," Steinberg says. "Most parents don't think younger kids need to be rushed into working, but in most cases it's certainly better than loafing around watching TV."

For older kids, jobs lifeguarding, landscaping or at summer camps are all viable options, says Julie Ross, founder and director of Parenting Horizons in New York.

"Whether they're setting up a lemonade stand or a working for a fast food establishment, kids who are working have the opportunity to learn about net income vs. gross income, taxes, responsibility, teamwork and budgeting," she says.

Define balance

You don't want a younger child working 40 hours a week, but there is nothing wrong with someone over 16 who is a go-getter working full-time during the summer, Steinberg says.

"Yes, your kid should be allowed to be a kid, but if they're really interested in a job or dedicated to getting a promotion, it's OK for them to work hard," he says.

With that said, parents need to encourage kids to pursue their interests as well as a paycheck, Steinberg says. Don't pull them out of activities they enjoy so they can work; as long as they have structure in their day and are exploring their interests, that should be enough.

"Parents shouldn't come in and say, 'Sorry, you're going to be working instead of exploring this hobby or interest that you have,'" he says. "Let them pursue the activities they most enjoy, but let them know at some point it's not all sparkles and rainbows."

In other words, let your kids have a childhood, but remember that part of childhood is learning how to grow up into a responsible adult, he says.

When deciding whether to encourage your child to work, remember that kids today generally have more schoolwork than those of previous generations and are often more stressed, Ross says.

"I believe that if you have a child who is enrolled in a competitive school, who is overscheduled during the year with team sports, dance, gymnastics and the like, then it's probably better in the long run to give your child the summer off for fun and relaxation," she says. "If, on the other hand, you have a kid who is not in a competitive school environment and does not seem overly stressed during the school year, then they will clearly benefit from being in a work environment during the summer."

For teenagers, there is a lot to be said for having a week or two to spend decompressing and relaxing after the school year ends, but there is very little that's useful about having 12 to 13 unstructured weeks, Gilboa says.

"It's totally reasonable to say to a child who has finished half of high school, 'You need to earn a little money this summer,' 'You need to contribute to your cellphone bill.'"

Consider what they're learning

For teenagers, it's great to get advice from an adult other than their parents, Gilboa says.

"You can't get fired from home if you don't do your chores well, but you can get fired if you don't do your job," she says.

As much as a parent can underline the need for punctuality and responsibility, the advice is sometimes has more impact coming from someone else, such as a boss or supervisor.

"The high school schedule model is not a great life lesson in that it's not sustainable in most careers — work hard for a few months, then do nothing for a few months. Kids need structured activity year-round," she says.

Whatever you want your child to do this summer, the important thing is that you set expectations. Let your child know that if they want you to stop treating them like a kid, having a job or taking on some additional responsibilities around the house is a great way for them to prove to you that they are an adult.

"It's great for kids to see what it's like to have to go somewhere every morning and earn a paycheck," says Barbara Greenberg, parenting expert and author of Teenage as a Second Language.

"It may be the first time they get a real sense of money. They see that a lot of work goes into that $100 top at Abercrombie," she says.

If your teen really enjoys working — or at least the paycheck that comes with it — make sure you lay ground rules early for when school starts back.

"There's nothing wrong with working full time in the summer, but if teenagers work more than 20 hours per week during the school year, it can negatively affect their schoolwork," Greenberg says.

If once you discuss the summer with your child you find they really don't want to work in a traditional job, take a look at what they're going to be doing with their time, Steinberg suggests. It may be worth more than you think.

"Would it be better for your kid to work at a cash register or sit around teaching themselves computer programming? Many parents miss how much learning can be accessed online that may be far more valuable than the $7 an hour they may get paid."

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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