Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

The First Job
Encouraging your teen to find summer work

by Sarah McCosham

April 01, 2012

It’s barely spring, but your teen’s likely already looking ahead to summer vacation. With the summer comes a break from school – but not necessarily a break from work. Finding a summer job is a great way for your teen to learn responsibility, real-world job skills, and financial independence. On top of all that, a summer job looks great on college applications, and will likely provide your teen with more than enough fodder for the all-important college essay.

But at the same time, doesn’t your kid deserve a break from work? After all, they will likely be spending the next several decades working at some job or another. How do you know if your teen is ready for a summer job; where should you begin the job search; what kind of balance should you seek to establish between work and play; and, finally, what kind of jobs are best for teens?

When you first sit down with your teen to have a conversation about finding a summer job, you should be well-informed and armed with some basic information – and lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place!

Where to Begin

Teens generally start their first summer job between ages 14 and 16. While you may be tempted to “wait until your teen seems responsible enough,” it’s actually better to throw them in the deep end. Having a summer job will actually help your teen reach a certain level of maturity, said Patty Haskett, job readiness coordinator at Indianapolis’ Arsenal Technical High School.

While the prospective of seeking out a job may be daunting, it’s actually fairly simple – especially during the summer. Teens should start “in their own backyards – the local community, school, church, and around their neighborhood,” said Haskett. “Actively and verbally asking people that teens regularly see often produce job leads,” she concluded.

Teens should also seek out job fairs, which are often held in the spring. Job fairs provide a comprehensive and accessible approach to finding a job, and can be a less intimidating setting for young people.

In addition to job fairs, local organizations such as the Community Center and Indianapolis Parks Department generally have a range of available job postings for teens. Jennifer McGilvray, public information officer for Indy Parks and Recreation, suggested logging on to for a list of available positions.

“There are a variety of positions from day camp staff, cashiers and lifeguards” with the Parks Department, she said. Sites like this can take some of the stress out of looking for a job, since there is usually a range of postings – some of which can even be applied for online.

What to Look For

According to Haskett, job-seeking teenagers should first start with their interests, but remain open to anything. Teens should also be aware of the limitations that come with age and experience. Haskett explained, “Since this is probably their first real job, teens should also seek out the types of jobs that do not require years of prerequisite experience. Teens should look for entry level positions – generally those that don't require special certification or qualification,” she said.

However, after landing that first summer job, a lot of doors will open up for teens, since they’ll now have that all-important work experience. Haskett added that the summer job will actually give teens job skills that can help “build a solid resume,” as well as experiences helpful for the critical college application.

Lessons Learned

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the learning stops. Summer jobs teach teens valuable vocational skills, such as working within an organization, interacting with adults, and operating under organizational leadership. A summer job essentially gives teens a direction for the future.

Haskett explained that, “as well as teaching the real-world application of many employability skills, having a summer job shows the teen the art of being responsible and accountable for his time, his money, and [as a result] often begins to realize the amount of time and effort it takes to earn that dollar.” This might result in quite a powerful "Ah-Ha!" moment regarding the value of money.

This last lesson – financial literacy – is extremely important, especially in the current economic climate. Measuring their time and labor in a paycheck is often a humbling experience for teens, especially if they are used to reaching into dad’s wallet when they want to see a movie! Along the same lines, a summer job is a great opportunity for your teen to open their own checking account and learn about direct deposit, saving money, and managing their finances.

However, a summer job teaches your teen more than just money smarts – it’s the first step your teen will take toward becoming a responsible adult, which is something you can’t quantify. A summer job “will give a teen valuable lessons to instill in all aspects of life, including the value of responsibility and developing good judgment,” concluded McGilvray.