MONEY-SMART KIDS


Four Rules for Working Teens

Janet Bodnar

It's important that kids learn the value of work, but parents need to establish guidelines to help them set reasonable hours and managing their earnings.



I'll begin by saying thanks to Michelle Singletary, personal-finance columnist for the Washington Post, for choosing my book, Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan), as the June selection for her Color of Money book club.

Singletary says the book is "an easy read, peppered with questions from parents and children" (that's you, the readers of this column). And she points out that she and I often agree about kids and money. For example, we both nix the idea of credit cards for teens.

She also appreciates the book's balanced point of view, such as on the issue of whether teens should get jobs, the subject of her recent column. Singletary is "increasingly frustrated" by the notion that children must be introduced to adult things so early in life (again, we agree). She puts working for pay in the same category as credit cards.

Singletary has a point. It's important that kids learn the value of work, plus the other virtues it brings: showing up on time, taking on responsibility, getting along with bosses and co-workers.

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The trouble is, a paying job can be a two-edged sword. If kids go to work just to earn money to buy more clothes and concert tickets, it's easy to create a generation of teenage werewolves, obsessed with feeding their ravenous spending appetites. And research shows that the more hours students work during the school year, the more their grades begin to suffer.

What's a parent to do? That's where the balance comes in. Yes, it's good for teens to work. But just because your kids are old enough to have a job doesn't mean they're grown up. They need guidance in how to land a job, set reasonable hours and manage their earnings. Follow these rules:

  • Start with a summer job, so there's no conflict with school.

  • Limit kids' hours if they want to continue working when school starts. Ten hours a week are plenty for high school sophomores, 15 for older teens.

  • Ask children to save a portion of their earnings. It's not unreasonable to expect them to set aside as much as half of their income to pay for the prom, class trip and other big-ticket senior-year expenses, or for college.

  • Encourage them to volunteer. Teens are often given more responsibility in unpaid positions than in paying jobs, and they're exposed to careers and life experiences that they might not normally experience.

Next week: Tips for teens on landing a job.



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