March-April 2008 Selected Content
Preparing Your Teen for His First Job - Carol J. Alexander
In our home, education means life preparation. Everything we do with our children prepares them for the next stage of life. We potty train our toddlers so they graduate out of diapers. We teach them to read to enable them to learn more than we can show them. We teach them to count so they can balance their checkbooks. So how does one prepare a teen for his first job in the real world? One step at a time.
When our oldest turned 13, I suggested he volunteer at the public library. When he turned 14, he applied to a teen volunteer program at a local living history museum working as a blacksmith's apprentice. Although both jobs were volunteer positions, when he later applied for his first paying job dipping ice cream, he had something to include on a resume and job application.
However, the preparation went farther back still. Before your teen begins looking for that initial summer employment, you need to develop in them certain academic, social and practical life skills. To work in the library, Drew needed to be able to alphabetize, understand the Dewey Decimal System and use the card catalog. These academic skills he learned as part of our language arts studies. The museum had a rigorous application process. He had to fill out an application. He needed to know how to read a form and understand what it asked of him. That may sound trivial to those of us who have been filling out forms since we were 14, but this skill requires practice.
To fill out forms, the teen must know, or have on his person, his social security number. He must know how to spell the names of his parents, his street address and state abbreviations. He also needs to spell accurately the names of his references. I recommend practicing at home on forms of various kinds. You can find an assortment of sample forms on the Internet to download free.
The museum also required an essay that explained why Drew wanted the job. College applications, and now the SAT, also require a written essay. If you ever teach your child how to write anything, it should be a formal letter and an essay.
Besides academic skills, your child will need certain social skills before plunging into the working world. At the library, Drew needed to feel comfortable reading to little children. Since he has younger siblings, this came naturally. For the museum, he needed letters of reference--not just names and phone numbers. By the time your child is looking for employment, he should have interacted with adults other than Mom and Dad. Drew asked a man in our church who knew him well and his basketball coach to write letters for him. He then had to endure the interview process, gracefully and confidently.
Up until this point in his life, Drew was shy around strangers, making the interview a challenge. The job, too, required him to interact with the public and give interpretations of what they did in the 1700s blacksmith shop. Because Drew wanted to learn blacksmithing so desperately, he overcame his fear of people and grew socially from the experience.
Also remember that your teen needs to have certain disciplines before he begins a job. If your child struggles to get up by 9:00 am to begin his schoolwork, don't think a summer job requiring him to be on site at 6:00 am will teach him to get out of bed on time. It will only frustrate him, your household and his employer. Just because he is only 14 or 15 doesn't excuse poor work habits. Poor work habits on that first job will write his reputation for a long time to come. And if you are responsible to deliver your child to work on time, and you do not, his reputation suffers, not yours.
Our second son first worked for a building contractor on his farm, putting up board fencing. A friend who already worked for the man recommended Shea for the job. When the man called my husband to ask permission to hire him and discuss the details, he quoted a certain hourly wage. However, after one day of work, and seeing what Shea could do, the man immediately upped his wage by $3 per hour.
Allowing your kids to learn practical life skills early will pay off. Shea has worked for two other builders since then--doing more than fencing. So, when he filled out his first application for a job in a hardware store, he could honestly say he had experience in running power tools, hanging doors, laying laminate flooring, felling trees, operating all types of lawn equipment, and making furniture. He never got that job at the hardware store, but that's okay. He gets calls regularly from someone needing something done for which he came highly recommended. That's the reputation at work again. A neighbor tells another neighbor who tells another, "I know a responsible young man who can do that for you." The work that Shea is too busy to do, he trains his 13-year-old brother to do. Thus preparing him for his first job.
So give it some thought when your child is about 12 years old. What academic, social or practical life skills does he need to develop? Steer him in that direction; provide the opportunities for him to learn. Live such that, in your home education, life is preparation.
© 2008, Carol J. Alexander