how can I prepare my teenager for the workforce?

A reader writes:

My daughter has just reached the minimum legal age to get a job (13 where we are) and she’s very eager.

I of course want her to do really well in any industry — both the ones she wants to be in for a lifetime and the ones she’s in short-term for the money and experience. What can I do as a mum to foster good work ethics and reasonable expectations? What would/do you and the readers to to prepare younger kids for the workforce?

I’m going to throw this out for readers to weigh in on, but here are some initial thoughts from me:

* Talk to her about your own job and workplace. Talk to her about other jobs you’ve had and what those workplaces were like, what you liked about them and didn’t like, and what your coworkers were like. (In general, I think it’s great for parents to do this from the time kids are small, so that work stuff isn’t such a mystery. And this old post has a ton of interesting discussion about how people are helped by what they absorb about work from their parents when they’re growing up.)

* Talk to her about what makes someone a good employee in any job, but especially the sorts of jobs she’s likely to have as a teenager: work ethic, pitching in, being friendly, being reliable, following through on commitments, using common sense.

* Brainstorm with her about what she’d want from her employees if she were running a business. Also, what wouldn’t she want?

* Talk to her about mistakes you’ve made at work — why they were mistakes, why you made them, and what you’d do differently now.

* Talk to her about what it means to commit to a work schedule and what it means for the people who will be counting on her … and how to handle it if she needs to call in sick, has an emergency, or otherwise needs to alter her schedule.

* Warn her that on some days work might suck, and that on those days it helps to remember that you are getting paid.

* Educate her about workers’ rights. Also educate her about the fact that many employers aren’t up to speed on labor law, and it’s not uncommon for them to have practices that Aren’t Quite Legal.

* Talk to her about how people get better and better jobs — helping her to see that doing well at early jobs can lead to better and better opportunities.

This is too much for one conversation, of course, or even one week. But lots of it can be woven in when you spot opportunities.

Readers, what advice do you have?

{ 214 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    I would add to this: Don’t rescue her. My eyes pop every time I read helicopter-parent stories on AAM or elsewhere, where a parent tried to talk the boss into having a higher opinion of Junior. Less egregious, but still not good, would be helping your child avoid the consequences of her actions by, say, offering to drive her to work because she’s overslept and missed the bus. Etc., etc., etc. Nothing teaches you how to behave like feeling the consequences of your own actions, and the teens are a perfect time to learn by occasionally failing. Better to get written up or fired now, when the kid is still a kid and doesn’t depend on the income, than to find out at your first job after graduation that you can’t get away with poor work habits or a bad attitude. (Though I bet, if your daughter is eager to work at such a young age, there won’t be an attitude problem!)

    1. Elizabeth*

      THIS. Let your child know that challenges they have at work are theirs to work through with their boss or coworkers. That isn’t to say they can’t talk to you about strategies to do so or ask for advice, but you cannot and should not be the parent who calls their boss to say “This was unfair to my child.”

      1. Bea W*

        This was probably the single most important thing my parents did for me. They would give advice but in the end, it was up to me to take the action. Luckily, I had a good manager and good co-workers. So my issues were limited to usual scheduling types of things and having to call in sick for myself. My parents dropped me off and picked me up, and that was the extent of their involvement in my actual work. I have never had any expectations they would jump in to do anything for me around working other than provide transportation and give advice.

      2. AnonAnon*

        But it’s also important to be there to rescue her if something really does go wrong and she needs your help. She’s 13. There’s a reason 13 year olds are still considered minors for another 5 years. They can’t handle EVERYTHING on their own. If her boss is sexually harassing her or bullying her beyond what is reasonable, be there with her if she needs to lodge a complaint, don’t tell her everything work related, she’s on her own. If a boss is doing something illegal, like underpaying her or making her work overtime without pay and she is too scared to talk to him because he has threatened her, like a lot of bosses to do their young employees, make a call to the department of fair work or whatever you have in your country yourself. Recognise the differences between things that need to be her battles and the things where a young girl still growing up needs the support of her parents.

    2. MaryMary*

      And, if you’re doing so right now, stop rescuing her in non-work related circumstances. If she’s responsible enough to get a job, she’s old enough to take responsibility for her school work and in her personal life.

      It’s like my mother says about learning to drive: before she’d trust her kids with a complicated machine like a car, we’d better have a solid understanding of how to use other complicated machines, like the washing machine, stove, oven, and dishwasher. Can’t remember to empty the dishwasher without being told? Mom would assume you won’t remember to put gas in the car. Keep losing your housekeys (or phone, for modern children)? Maybe you’re not responsible enough for a job.

        1. Bea W*

          Know your kids though. This totally did not work for me, probably not always appropriate for kids who struggle with attention and focus vs. kids who are just not getting the whole being responsible thing.

          I still can’t always remember to empty the dishwasher without being told, except I live alone and there’s no one around to remind me. It has nothing to do with my ability to drive or do my job well. There were few things more frustrating for me as a kid (and as an adult) than other people making assumptions about what I could well do based on what I couldn’t do well. They just had no connection to one another. So I’d insert that one caveat – know the child. They don’t all function the same way.

          1. Anx*

            This was my initial reaction to. If I had to wait until I never lost anything to get a job, I’d never had have one. And THAT is not responsible at all.

            I beat myself up for years for not feeling ‘responsible’ enough, despite rarely choosing to go have fun as a kid.

  2. Colleen*

    Talk with her about sexual harassment and what to do to stand up for herself. Too many teenage girls are subject to this type of harassment because they just don’t think they can stand up to an adult.

    1. alma*

      Wow. This is exactly what I came to say, but I wondered if it sounded too depressing. I went through some really relentless sexual harassment at my first job when I was 15 — both from customers and coworkers. On the coworker side, I was very fortunate that the business owner was willing to fire people when he found out. The customer side wasn’t as terrible, but it definitely is true that there’s a subset of guys who are perfectly willing to harass women they think “can’t” say no to them (being in a service position and being a younger girl is a double whammy).

      That said, I am glad I started working at a young age. I learned a lot of lessons about being reliable, navigating customer service and going the extra mile that stuck with me when I went into my “grown up” jobs. And earning my own paycheck was SUCH a great feeling.

      1. Sharon*

        “it definitely is true that there’s a subset of guys who are perfectly willing to harass women they think “can’t” say no to them”

        If the manager is an older man and all/most of the employees are very young pretty girls, tell her to proceed with caution before applying– there’s a good chance the manager belongs to that subset.

    2. OhNo*

      Oh, yes, absolutely. And make sure you address the line where “this customer/coworker is trying to be friendly” crosses over into “this customer/coworker is making me uncomfortable”. It’s never too late in the conversation to say that they are making you uncomfortable; just because you were having a good talk with them earlier doesn’t mean you have to continue the interaction once it moves into sexual harassment territory.

      And if nothing else, make sure she knows that you will always be on her side if she is uncomfortable or needs to make a complaint or needs to quit because of sexual harassment. That kind of support means a lot.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Really, I’d extend this to a general “have her back.” I mean, if she’s making unreasonable demands, definitely be honest with her, but it sucked when I was working as a teenager and I had a legit complaint and my mom would say stuff like “Well, that’s the way it is, and you probably shouldn’t complain because they might fire you.” I was able to understand a SUBTEXT of that without being told to abandon all hope!

    3. Sally*

      In addition, talk to her about workplace boundaries for relationships. Most adults know that dating coworkers is generally a risky idea, but when I was a teenager, I never thought twice about looking for a boyfriend at work.

    4. Colette*

      And in a similar vein, talk about what to do if she feels unsafe (either due to harassment or by being asked to do something that she hasn’t been trained or doesn’t have the proper safety equipment to do safely).

      1. Chinook*

        “And in a similar vein, talk about what to do if she feels unsafe (either due to harassment or by being asked to do something that she hasn’t been trained or doesn’t have the proper safety equipment to do safely).”

        This x100. She needs to know she has the right to say no to work she doesn’t feel safe to do and to tell people who are older than her to stop behavaiour that makes her uncomfortable and that you will have her back if she is truthful up front (ratehr than lieing to cover hew own mistakes, which is also been known to be done by humans)

        Also, the other side of dealing with harrassment is teaching her how to pick her battles and that not all worksites will have the same standards. There is a huge difference between a colleague asking you to pull his finger and another one patting her butt every time he walks by. Some you have to just actively ignore while others should be stopped verbally (or with a precise self-defense move). Also let her know that harrassment is not always from one gender and that she is allowed to feel uncomfortable about how women interact with her (and vice versa if it was your son).

    5. Livin' in a Box*

      This was my first thought, too.

      And when she comes home from her shift and tells you that her boss/coworker groped her, don’t tell her it was her fault.

      1. Career Counselorette*

        Or ask her what she was wearing when it happened. Best way for her to hate you for the rest of both your lives.

    6. Shell*

      Yes, this. This is so so important. My parents instilled in me a great sense of responsibility and ethics, but they so did not touch on the relationship part (maybe because they’ve never experienced it? I don’t know). I could’ve avoided some serious emotional trauma during my teenaged years if someone had schooled me on these things.

    7. AnonEMoose*

      To this, I would add that your talks need to go beyond the issue of harassment. Please, please be sure she knows that she can come to you, and that you will believe her and have her back if someone touches her inappropriately or, well, more. I hope it never happens, but it’s a terrible reality of living in this world. Please make sure she knows that if she is in a situation that is making her uncomfortable, she can call you and you will come and get her, no questions asked.

      1. Anon for this*

        I’ll add to this: that you will respect her privacy if she doesn’t want to tell you in full what happened but still wants to be able to quit her job or stop hanging out with the neighbor boy.

        I put up with something longer than I should because if I wanted to stop going, my parents would have wanted to know why and I just couldn’t tell them. I think it would be great for a parent to have a relationship with a child where they could say “there is inappropriate stuff going on, I don’t want to tell you more, do not ask, but let me leave.”

        I understand a parent has to protect their child and that the urge might be to call the police and get the child interrogated but that will just mean the child won’t tell the parent when something happens again. I don’t think “mandatory reporting” is always the right answer. It leaves many kids trapped who want something to quietly go away.

    8. Luckier*

      This, x1000. Teach her to recognize harassment and boundary-crossing, from customers as well as bosses and coworkers. And if she tells you that she or a coworker are being harassed or otherwise mistreated, believe her and step in to stop it.

    9. bridget*

      In one of my first jobs when I was a teenager (receptionist/front desk person at a car dealership) there was this one obnoxious sales guy who would always lean on my desk when he was bored and attempt to flirt, be weird, or otherwise just be too much in my space in a way that was vaguely icky. I still wouldn’t quite call it harassment, but it certainly made me uncomfortable and I wish I had been able to know what to say at the time, and how to tell someone calmly that I don’t appreciate whatever they’re doing. Especially when that person is an adult with hazy boundary issues.

    10. Anx*

      Same for not-quite-sexual gender harassment. That feeling you get when you pray no one pokes fun at you for being a girl but isn’t necessarily making you feel sexually violated. That can be devastating in the long term.

  3. PEBCAK*

    Let her know that she isn’t going to excel in every job, and that part of teenage work experience is exploring what a good fit might be. This isn’t an excuse to slack off or do a lousy job, but rather to look at what types of things she likes/dislikes and finds easy/challenging/impossible about each job she has, and to think about how that might inform her future career path.

    For example…my very first job was a retail mall job. I hated doing the selling, but loved doing eight straight hours behind the register. The lesson is that I’d rather deal with numbers all day than with people.

  4. OhNo*

    Make sure you have a conversation (or several, it might take a bit of talking) about deciding how many hours you can reasonably work and how much effort you have to spare for your various commitments. This is especially important if she is really excited about working – she might be so excited that she over-commits herself and starts slacking on other necessary things.

    Basically, talk about priorities. While working might be high on the list, and the check might be nice, do you really have the time and energy to work twenty hours a week while going to school, doing homework, participating in sports/activities, and spending time with friends and family? Help her figure out how to make those types of decisions.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Yep, this is a good point. If she’s so keen to get a job at 13 (which is awesome, by the way!) she might be the kind of person who really throws herself into work and other commitments. As one of those people myself, it’s an awesome quality to have as a mature(ish!) adult, but for a young teen, it’s important to remind her about time management

  5. Apple22over7*

    Explain to her that taxes etc will come out of her paycheck, and that the money she actually gets her hands on will be less than x . I know when I got my first proper paycheck, I was all excited – I’d done the maths, 35 hours at £4.80/hr was going to get me £168. I’d already mentally spent it.. until I opened my payslip to find that tax, insurance etc had been deducted and I actually received around £120. That was a huge shock.
    (I don’t know how it works in the US, she may not have to pay taxes if she’s under a certain age/earning less than a certain amount so it may not be relevant right now, but it will be relevant at some stage and it’s best to be prepared for it!)

    Also, tell her that it’s fine to ask for help when she’s new on the job. No one will expect her to know everything, and that by speaking up and asking how to turn the fryers on/process a refund/whatever will do her much more good than trying to fumble about and work out how to do it herself. Again, my own experiences showed me this – my first job I thought I ought to know how to do everything after one training session and ended up causing a few problems because my guesses hadn’t been right.

    1. Sascha*

      They do take out taxes in the US for minors. I had my first job at 16 and my measly paycheck was nearly half what I thought I was going to get. :)

      1. Chinook*

        If they are taking taxes out of her paycheque, then walk her through filing her first return. I learned how to do this in a high school math class (which also taught us how to calculate compound interest) and I never looked back. Sure, I may one day pay someone else to do it but what I learned at a young age means that I know if it is worth the money.

        Also, point out to her what the taxes are being used for. Sometimes it feels like all we do is pay without realizing that that money pays for things like schools, fire departments, roads, police (and here in Canada) and healthcare. Knowing what she is also paying for may help take the sting out of it.

        1. Ezri*

          This, all of this. I filed my taxes for the first time in college and had no clue what I was doing or why. It goes beyond that too – why not open up a bank account and teach her the basics of checking your account balance, writing checks, etc. My dad co-signed on a low-limit credit card for me when I was in high school to teach me about credit. There are a lot of personal finance things that kids don’t know about until someone teaches them, and the earlier you learn the better.

          1. CherryScary*

            I’m just starting my first post-college job, and I STILL don’t know how to do taxes. I was supposed to get taught over spring break in my last year of college, but then i got the chance to perform in New York with the University Orchestra. So I’ll be making a trip home to learn come March next year… (at least dad’s willing to teach!)

          2. Nona*

            This is good advice. I’ve had a bank account since I was a kid through the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union’s programs for kids and teenagers. I’m so grateful for that – I learned to manage money very well before I was out of high school!

        2. Canadamber*

          In Ontario (don’t know about other provinces), they don’t take taxes out of your pay check if you make under a certain amount per year. :) It’s called the Ontario Opportunity Credit or something like that (I am probably horribly wrong about this, though, mind). Since I only make, like, $6k per year, I don’t get taxes deducted (well, I did once, but it was like $5 on a particularly large pay check and I’m pretty sure that I’ll get it back).

    2. Sabrina*

      It works the same in the states. If you file a return, you get your federal taxes back because you’re likely not making enough. However they will keep the FICA and all the other alphabet ones. I grew up in Illinois and had to have my mom write a check for state taxes because I actually owed them money as a teenager. I wrote “Don’t spend it all in one place” in the memo line. :)

    3. Career Counselorette*

      No, that’s a great point as well. I work with adults who don’t know how to read their paystubs, and are shocked when they see what their take-home pay is. The earlier you learn how to read a paystub, the better.

    4. Ann Furthermore*

      Yes. My stepdaughter worked a couple summer’s ago at my husband’s machine shop. When she got her first paycheck, she immediately asked, “If I make $10 an hour, and I worked 15 hours this week, then why isn’t my paycheck for $150?” And then we introduced her to the tax man.

      1. MaryMary*

        I used to work at a gift shop at a baseball stadium, and I introduced many youngsters to the tax man. “Yes, the souvenir baseball costs $5, but with tax it’s $5.35. So this $5 bill is not enough to buy the $5 baseball.” We took to keeping spare change so we could help out the really little ones trying to buy something with a crumpled dollar or two.

        1. Bea W*

          My parents introduced me to the tax man before allowing me to go buy anything. I didn’t quite understand it well, but I did understand that if I wanted to buy something that was $1 there would be something called taxes when I bought it, and it would really cost $1.05. I took this for granted!

    5. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Oh, goodness, and explain to her how the W-4 works! That might be a tall order, because most adults don’t seem to know how the W-4 works, but in my experience if you fill out the worksheet and answer the questions, you will almost certainly not get your correct allowances/withholding rate. At the very least, explain to her that if she wants more withheld (which means a bigger refund for a teenager) she should put 0 allowances, and if she wants to keep more in each paycheck and have less withheld (and possibly risk owing, especially for state rather than federal), she should put 1 allowance. That’s how it was explained to me the first time I ever filled one out, and it helped tremendously.

      (For adults, this gets more complicated, but that only ensures that so so few people fill out this form correctly!)

  6. LouG*

    Taxes! I was confused and disappointed when I got my first paycheck. Let her know what to expect to lessen the blow.

  7. YoungHR*

    When you are talking to your daughter about reliability please go over planning your schedule a head of time and the differences between times she does not feel like working and times she really cannot work.
    – Truly sick vs. just not feeling well
    – Letting her employer know she needs to cut back on shifts the next few weeks for finals vs. calling out that day because she needs to study.
    – Calling out because she “forgot” about something else she needed to do.

    These things should be common sense but I deal with adults on a regular basis that need reminders on this.

    1. Oryx*

      Add to this, make sure she actually calls out and doesn’t just not show up.

      I worked at a coffee shop and a co-worker younger than me (I was 26, she was about 20) went to California to visit her boyfriend and was supposed to return for her shift by Monday or whenever it was. When she didn’t show up, our manager called her. No answer. Called the alternative number, which was like her mom or whatever and turns out the girl just decided to stay in California for ever and just decided it wasn’t necessary to let her job know.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        Friend did that when she moved states to live with her internet boyfriend. NC/NS for three days, got fired, and got blacklisted from working at any of their locations. Unfortunately, where she moved to, that was one of the half dozen decent places to get hired (think chain grocery store), and they would have done a transfer and she was making above minimum there. It also made it impossible to find a job after, since it was the only one on her resume and she couldn’t list it for references, but she was old enough that it looked fishy if she didn’t have a job on applications.

  8. Colette*

    Expect her to honor her commitments. If she is part of a team or responsible for a chore around the house or makes plans with a friend but doesn’t want to do it for a trivial reason (e.g. another friend wants her to go to a movie), she needs to follow through with doing what she originally committed to do.

    Teach her what to do if something is overwhelming and she doesn’t know what to do. (Both when and how to ask and what to do before asking, or if the person she asks doesn’t know either.)

  9. SBL*

    Two contrary bits of advice:

    Be responsible for going to every shift and not blowing it off. That is the main thing I think to teach now, to be reliable.

    If you are miserable, you don’t have to stay. Be it bullying from coworkers or bosses or customers.

    Over time, you can add “Don’t do the minimum at work if you want to get ahead.”

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I think the way to balance your two contrary pieces of advice is that, if you leave, you should do it in a responsible way. Don’t just quit on the spot and walk out (barring something completely egregious, like your boss just slapped you). Give notice, or at least offer to, and keep showing up on time and engaged with your work until your notice period is up.

  10. Adam*

    Let her know that if she feels like the job is awful she IS allowed to respectfully quit and search for another one. Wish I’d known that, except I worked for my mother which is a whole other story….

    Yeah, try not to work for family members either. It’s good to expand your social skills and it makes home life much less awkward.

    1. BB*

      +1 for both pieces of advice.

      I think it is am important piece of advice to learn early on so that later, as an adult, she doesn’t make herself stay in a job which she is miserable at.

  11. louise*

    My parents both took me to work when they needed to. My dad was a pastor and a state highway worker–vastly different worlds (and he really couldn’t take me to the state job, but he’d invite those co-workers over and I saw some of the camaraderie and how he stayed above the fray there). Seeing him in action as a pastor taught be the value of being genuine and empathetic to everyone you encounter–even if you know someone is trying to take advantage of you or manipulate you.

    Mom taught me loads about how to be an amazing worker. She held low level positions, like bank teller and receptionist, and rocked them. I saw her call customers and patients by name whenever possible, answer the phone like a friendly professional, stay cool while multi-tasking (even while others around her were frustrated), and generally treat everyone with the respect she’d give the President–from her bosses and peers to the janitors and mail carriers. We couldn’t go to the grocery without someone coming up to say hi–she always remembered their name and would greet them warmly, no matter the hurry she was in. I’d ask how she knew them and she say “oh, that was a customer from the bank” or “a patient from Dr so-and-so’s office” and it would be years since she had worked there!

    Her attitude toward people definitely shaped what I take for granted as common sense. I wasn’t even a month into the full-time work force before I realized she’d given me a tremendous gift. My natural personality is vastly different from hers and I would not naturally behave that way–but thanks to her, I never thought about it, I just thought that’s how you’re supposed to act at work, and I always have. :)

  12. Steve*

    I agree that teens, younger people, and people who are not in a great financial position are sometimes treated horribly. There is sometimes a mentality that the employer can bully these people into doing anything because they’re afraid of losing their income (in my college years I had a manager who actually said “you NEED this job so you pretty much have to do anything I tell you to.” I resigned – with notice – the next morning.)

    I would want to instill in a child or younger worker that they need to find a good balance of maintaining their dignity and declining to do something that they feel is wrong or something that they feel is completely outside the scope of what they were hired for. Yes, sometimes we all have to do things in a job we don’t want to do, but being treated like dirt while having to do it shouldn’t be one of those things.

    Hmm … I’m re-reading this before posting it and I don’t feel like I’ve expressed this thought very well. But I’m posting anyway since maybe another commenter can build upon this idea.

    1. Adam*

      “…(in my college years I had a manager who actually said “you NEED this job so you pretty much have to do anything I tell you to.” I resigned – with notice – the next morning.)”

      God, I can’t stand the power trippers. I always want to scream “Who died and made you king?”

      But it is good to know: if a job is consistently awful, you can leave it. Getting another job at any level may be difficult today, but there ARE other jobs out there. When you’re in high school they aren’t likely to be glamorous, but it’s not indentured servitude. So don’t stay if the environment truly is a hell hole.

    2. Nerd Girl*

      I worked in a retail store years ago. Here are some examples I came up with.
      Within the scope of my job: keeping the store neat, take out trash nightly, sweeping the floor.
      Outside of the scope of my job: cleaning out the mouse traps that were completely full of dead mice.

      Within the scope of my job: helping difficult customers and occasionally having someone be snippy with me.
      Outside the scope of my job: Having a difficult customer scream obscenities at me for not giving her discounted or free items (which could get me fired).

      Within the scope of my job: occasionally running to the food court to fetch lunch for the manager who can’t leave the store.
      Outside the scope of my job: driving my car, leaving the property, or using my money to fetch lunch for the manager.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    Tell her to keep complaints to a minimum, and be constructive with them (suggest a solution). But even constructive complaints should be kept to a minimum, especially in the first 6 months.

    1. Hare*

      It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn this one. /o\ I wish someone had taken me aside with some helpful advice.

  14. fposte*

    Aside from taxes, I think it’s worth talking about the money generally. Is some of it going into savings? Would you be willing to match an amount that she puts away for later as opposed to just spending currently?

  15. BritCred*

    Talk to her about suitable responses to situations she will face at work – eg. being told off or asked to amend how she’s doing something. Its going to happen. And knowing how to stay calm, be respectful to everyone around about it and not to whinge back at the person telling you off will help a lot. Its something I see to often even in people who have been working quite a long time – that they then sulk, feel like they are being got at etc. when its not the case.

    Tell her to expect the inane Health and Safety and office work rule talks – Its not the boss treating you like an idiot when he has to give you a “using a stepladder talk”. He knows you can probably do it but some workplaces have rules set up that mean they have to give safety talks to everyone about basic things. (One that was a laugh though – a friend who works in a factory with a mezzanne floor recently had a ‘all employee’ “walking up and down the stairs properly” talk…. They weren’t impressed).

    It may not apply at first but discuss with her how people dress make them look and what she can wear to look “more professional”. Some places won’t need discretion if they have uniforms but later on knowing how certain outfits come across will help. For me as a late teenager I was very much into wearing beige shirt and slacks and it didn’t look as professional as black trousers did.

    1. Nashira*

      I work for a worker’s comp insurer, and I must admit: sometimes the adjusters would give their left arms to teach certain businesses a “how to use stairs safely” class.

      1. MaryMary*

        Ha, I never got the “how to use a stepladder” talk at my retail jobs, which might have contributed to our tendency to climb the shelves in the back room like monkeys when we needed something off the top shelf. One of the youthful memories that now makes me shudder.

  16. Laulena Loves Hawaii*

    Great advice Alison and readers! Might have to save some of these suggestions for when I have a teenager! Don’t have a baby yet, though.

  17. Nerd Girl*

    One of the best pieces of advice my mom gave me at that age was ” This isn’t your “forever” job and if you are truly miserable and have done everything you can to make it better, there’s no shame in quitting. Just make sure you’ve tried everything before doing that.”
    I was working a job at our public library and my supervisor was this negative, nasty, mean woman. She worked in the children’s department and hated it and it flowed down to everyone and everything she did at work – that included me! I tried everything I could to make it work, but I was a 14 year old kid and didn’t really have a lot of clout to make things better. I gave my notice after my mom gave me her words of wisdom and it felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I’ve tweaked the advice as an adult, because there are very few cases I would quit with nothing lined up, but I still think of that advice when I’ve left a bad position. :)

    1. Adam*

      For sure. I worked in the school library for a couple years during college and while it has its quirks (leaking ceiling directly over the oldest books in the collection…AAACCK!!!), overall it’s a wonderful job for a student. But it’s a shame how even great jobs can be spoiled by one rotten apple in the bunch.

    2. JMegan*


      I once quit a job in the middle of a shift – obviously not the most professional thing I’ve ever done, but I had really had it. Then once the adrenaline wore off and I went into “oh no, what have I done?” mode, I called my parents.

      My father said “Good for you. I did that once too, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.” There was no reproach, no questioning my judgement, no speculating on what I could have done differently. He assumed that I was acting in my own best interest, and he supported my decision, and that was it. And when my mother got home from work and called me later that day, she had the same message.

      Obviously when you’re talking to your daughter, I wouldn’t lead with “It’s okay to quit in the middle of a shift if you need to.” But if she does get to that point, and ends up walking out, for whatever reason, tell her you have her back. After all, she won’t be able to change her decision by then, so there’s no point in rehashing the past. You can support her, and her right to make decisions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the decision itself. When she’s ready, help her see what led her to that breaking point, and give her some strategies for avoiding it in the future.

    3. chewbecca*

      My fiance worked at Long John Silver’s during high school and was miserable. His mom sat him down one day and told him that he was too young to have a job he hated that much, and that she supported him if he wanted to quit. If I remember correctly, he said his last day was the day before Lent started. I don’t think his former coworkers were too pleased about that.

    4. Mike B.*

      That’s an excellent point, though I’d buttress it with a talk about taking her work seriously and understanding that it’s a big deal to quit a job.

      On a related note, warn her about MLM scams and other such “jobs” that prey on desperate people. They have clear warning flags that are visible to the trained eye from far away.

  18. Career Counselorette*

    I would also suggest not to create a polarization between work and academic achievement. I know way too many teens who have essentially been forbidden from working because they have parents who can afford to support them and would die if their GPA dropped and it would affect college. That’s nonsense. The sooner you start working, the sooner you learn about effective time management and accountability, and the less stressful it is to have to ask your parents for any financial assistance in an emergency because you’ve been able to make your own. My own mother meant well, but she would get up in arms about the idea of me working while I was in school and expressly forbade it except during the summer, even when I lived at home again while taking post-baccalaureate courses, because I guess she thought I was some kind of delicate flower who couldn’t handle it.

    1. Daria*

      I was one of those kids, too. My parents told me all the time that school was my job. Which meant very good things for my academic achievement. However, I graduated from college with almost zero job (or job search) experience. It was awful.

      Kudos to the OP for trying to prepare her daughter for her work life!!

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      On the other hand, if the OP can afford it, try not to let the child become too reliant on their job for spending money.

      I started working young so I could afford a car and save for college. It wasn’t long before I was paying for a lot of things my parents had previously paid for (clothes, spending money, etc). I don’t think my parents made a conscious decision about it, but the refrain became, “Oh, you want money for X? What happened to your paycheck?” That only led me to work more hours, which soon left no time for extracurriculars and dwindling time for academics.

      1. Bea W*

        My mother pretty much pulled the rug out from under me when I got a job. She refused to buy me basic things kids need like clothing and school supplies. I paid for everything I needed for myself except the food in refrigerator and the roof over my head. The thing is she was a SAHM and my dad was the one who called the financial shots, but my mother is the one who did all the shopping for necessities. I don’t think he ever knew my mother did this. He didn’t do the same to me when they split and I lived with him.

        That’s not a bad thing per se, but I wasn’t warned before hand how much financial responsibility I would have to shoulder, and the way she delivered the news was kind of nasty. I sucked it up, but inside I was hurt and confused why my mother would just refuse on that level to provide for a child. I was 15. It wasn’t like she was refusing to foot the bill to give me my own car. It was clothing, school supplies, and meals!

        1. Career Counselorette*

          Oh, agreed, absolutely. I think it’s insane to expect a child to pay for their own school supplies and toothpaste and stuff like that. (I’ve met parents who have their children do that and their children all have serious anxiety issues.) But if you are in school and working and you can afford to do something like get your hair done professionally or go on a school trip that costs money without having to ask your parents, that only does good things for your self-efficacy.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            When I was in high school, I mentioned to my mother (who was a single parent) that a family up the street made their kids pay for their own stuff with the Baby Bonus, a welfare stipend here in Canada. I was shocked that parents could do something like that to their kids and had thought that she would agree with me that that was a terrible thing foist on your children. But what I didn’t know at that time was that those kids also had other jobs, their mother didn’t work outside the home so she probably drove them/picked them up — there was no public transportation where we lived. Anyway, once my mother heard that, she got more excited than I had ever seen her before — it was like I had given her the best Xmas present ever — and instantly said that she was going to do that, too, and I got to be shocked again because I did not see that coming.

            While I was still allowed to use the toothpaste, shampoo etc. from that point on I was expected to pay for my school supplies, clothes, presents for family, haircuts, food that wasn’t at home (such as buying a chocolate bar at a store). The Baby Bonus at that time was $20 a month, it went up to $3o by the time I was 18 and could no longer receive it. Given that my mother worked and made it very clear that she would brook no nonsense of picking me up from an after school job (I used to have to take the bus from my school to go to a doctor’s appointment, for example) and there were no jobs in the neighbourhood (no children to babysit, everyone was young enough to cut their own grass), I had to learn how to get by on nothing. And it totally sucked. I’m not saying that parents should give their children everything they demand but what my mother did to me was cruel. She had a serious lack of empathy and had no idea about what was a reasonable expectation for a child based on age or circumstances. She also did not want me driving her car, which made getting a weekend job impossible — but that was OK as far as she was concerned because then I could do house and yard work to “earn” my Baby Bonus. All of this left me extremely unprepared for the experience of how to look for, apply for, interview and land a job.

            So, if I had to give any parent a suggestion it would be this: you do not do your child any favours by not encouraging them to learn how to work and the process of applying for jobs. You will not be around forever and one day that kid is going to have to make their own money. That may mean that you do have to drive them to the mall to apply and you may have to drive them to their job or pick them up at night if it’s late or there’s no public transit in your area. They don’t know how to work, they are going to make mistakes so don’t punish them too harshly, don’t expect them to start paying for all their things because it will make things easier for you. As some of the other posters have commented, let your child experience the consequences if they sleep in or don’t inform of a shift change. They should work at a crappy job because then they will appreciate that earning money is not always easy and appreciate good jobs when they have them. Not to mention develop some appreciation for all the things you provide for them — one parent I know made her children save up for one half of expensive items like GameBoys so that they would have appreciation for the price of things and how long it took to save/earn the money for them and then they would treat the items better, too. Operating a cash register, waiting tables (good service is a skill!) may not be jobs you can brag about to your friends, but they are skills that allow someone to work in a wide variety of locations and are better than not having a clue about anything like that. It doesn’t have to be forever, and it may help light a fire under their arse to develop ambition to go to college or learn a trade that will (hopefully) be more interesting to them, have better conditions and wages.

  19. Samantha*

    I think these (in the post and the comments) are all awesome suggestions. I would also add that you remember (and remind her) that she only gets to be a kid once, and while work might be fun, social and provide income, that she shouldn’t feel pressured to continue to work once she starts. And ensure that she doesn’t give up fun, kid activities just for work. We all have to do it at some point, but if she can hold onto a few more years of fun, I think that will serve her well in the long term.

    (And by not giving up activities, I mean limiting work days to 1 or 3 a week so that there is time to take part in fun activities, and scheduling work around them, not blowing off work for fun. Reliability and responsibility, as noted above, is also a super important skill.)

    1. Nerd Girl*

      “I would also add that you remember (and remind her) that she only gets to be a kid once,”

      I tell my kids this: Most people live to about 80 years old. Of those 80 years, there are only 18 where you are allowed to be a kid, without the responsibility of life pulling at you. Enjoy those years. Take advantage of them. Be silly. Be goofy. Have fun.

      I pull that little piece of advice out every time my 9 year old tries to do something older girls do. She wants to wear heels. She wants to wear make-up. She wants to wear clothes that are on the revealing side. I want to keep her a kid as long as possible so I trot this piece of advice out and she rolls her eyes at me, but I notice that she jumps back into things that moments earlier she had told me were for babies. LOL! See? Moms know things!!!

    2. Sticky Fingers*

      Yes, this! I said something similar above. Do chores, babysit, mow the neighbor’s yard if you want to earn money. But at 13 she should be playing! She can work when she’s an adult!

      1. Livin' in a Box*

        I don’t think her mum is trying to get her a full time job. If she works a couple of days a week, she’ll have lots of time to play.

        1. Samantha*

          Perhaps, but if you only work on the weekends and you go to school all day, when can you play? I’m just saying that putting a value on a Saturday at an amusement park with friends (or something like that) is just as important as earning a paycheck when you’re only 13.

      2. HumbleOnion*

        Well, talking about these things now helps them become ingrained for when she’s an adult. Begin as you mean to continue & so forth.

  20. Diet Coke Addict*

    Talk to her about what’s reasonable and what’s not. For a teenager, it would be reasonable (to a point) to have a manager micromanaging you (even if it’s annoying!), to correct your errors, to chastise you when you’ve screwed up and point out the correct thing to do in the first place. It would not be reasonable to have a manager reducing employees to tears or screaming obscenities, asking them to do things that are illegal or unethical, or otherwise taking advantage of a young and relatively undereducated workforce.

    A lot of this will come up once she’s actually found a job, so talk to her about it. All of it. Talk her through things that are happening at work with her boss, her coworkers, her customers, etc., and help her realize the boundaries between reasonable-if-irritating and insane-and-quit-worthy.

  21. Realistic*

    I have had foster children (teenagers) and now exchange students (teenagers) that I will allow to do chores to earn money. I am ALWAYS fighting the idea that they don’t have to do the job if they don’t need money. Weekly vaccuuming? Not going to a movie or Chipotle this week, don’t feel like doing it. Nope, sorry — job needs to be done when it needs to be done, not just when you feel like doing it/want the money. Didn’t get it done by deadine? Still have to do it, only now your pay has been cut. (can they sue for that? LOL)

  22. Hous*

    This is getting ahead a bit, but one of the problems I had in my early jobs was that I didn’t really think at all about references. Not in the “not doing a good job” way, but in the “I don’t know how to contact this person when other jobs ask” way. Assuming she leaves on good terms, I think it’s not a bad idea to ask her manager what procedure to follow for getting a reference in the future. That was something that really stressed me out in my early career, because I had no idea who to use/how to contact them to ask.

  23. Janis*

    If she ever has to borrow money from a coworker — for lunch or bus fare or to buy gas — make her sign an actual paper IOU for the amount. My mother did that to me when someone bought me dinner (take out) because it was the Christmas rush and we all had to work longer hours. I probably was lucky to have 25 cebts on me at the time. I was embarrassed at the time, but I sure remembered to pay the lady back, and everyone else who ever helped me out along the way. (Thanks, Angie P., wherever you are, for not allowing a 14 year old to starve!)

    1. Chinook*

      Following on Janis’ bit about signing IOUs – point out that paperwork is important and that any job offer needs to be in writing (even if it is on the back of a napkin). Ditto for getting paid – she needs to ensure that she has any proof of deductions.

      The flip side is that, no matter how inane or repetative the paperwork may seem in a job, if you are being asked to do it, you do it even if you don’t know why. It is only when you get higher up the food chain that you get to decide that the paperwork is irrelevant or redudant (and then it is at a policy level and not a personal one). And, is she does the paperwork as she goes, it will be a lot less work in the long run.

      1. fposte*

        I wouldn’t hold out for a job offer in writing, though–that’s not inviolable at any level, and it’s really not the norm at teenage-level jobs.

  24. Mena*

    Hopefully she’s observed a responsible work ethic in the adults in her life. And working is being part of a team … being late or not showing up leaves other stuck with more to do. Be part of the team.

  25. SJP*

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this but the OP mentioned that her daughter was extremely eager – So I’d say just to make sure she does come across as ‘an excited puppy’ and is so excited that the things her boss tells her when training her don’t go completely go over her head. I still sometimes get told this on occasion and i’m 26!
    JUst make sure that even though she is excited that she listen, engage when being trained by any of her colleagues and if she really doesn’t understand something then ask for it to be explained again.
    When I was younger I was far too nervous to say “I know you told me this already but I didn’t quite understand, can you complain again” and then stuff up the task, for a colleague or senior get frustrated that I got it wrong and didn’t ask.
    Being eager is great! Just needs to make sure she takes in what she is told.

    By the way I think it’s awesome that she is so excited to start working, too many young people today are lazy and don’t want to work and hold off as long as possible before they have to work. It’s refreshing (I know I’m only 26, but i’m an old soul inside and get a bit annoyed when people have barely any work experience once they’ve finished college/university and wonder why they struggle getting jobs)

  26. Serin*

    Fantastic topic!

    One work-life lesson I was embarrassingly late in learning was: If you have a problem, talk to someone sooner rather than later.

    “Someone” might be her manager (if the problem is that she’s made a mistake or doesn’t understand an instruction), but it might also be her parents (if she’s facing bullying or harrassment or unsafe working conditions, or has just figured out that the job doesn’t suit her and she wants out).

    My kid, at 15, seems willing to do anything to avoid “awkwardness.” I’m trying to tell her (and show her) that a little awkward now can sometimes save you a metric shit-ton of awkward a month from now.

  27. Fabulously Anonymous*

    I would advise against retail and food service, unless those are her long-term goals (own a restaurant, etc.). My first job at 16 was office support at a veterinary hospital, which really helped me learn how to work in an office and business environment. There was also no harassement, unless you counted the old ladies that came in and demanded to know how old I was because I looked to young to work.

    1. Elysian*

      I disagree – you never know how food/retail type jobs will come back to be helpful. Our lives aren’t always so linear. I was a hostess, waitress and factory worker (never had an office job!) before I eventually became a lawyer. I am a much, much better lawyer because I can relate to my clients, who are largely in food service and factory work. I don’t think its important at 13-18 to get a job that helps become a “stepping stone” or that teaches you directly the skills you think you’ll need. Any kind of job will probably teach you important things that you didn’t know before you had it.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*


        Lives take strange courses sometimes and it’s asking an awful lot of a 13-year-old to determine long-term goals in any case. Basic entry level jobs can come back to help us in ways we never really thought about before.

      2. Julia*

        My first jobs were retail and food service and I think they teach you valuable lessons…working with people, working with the public, working in a high pressure environment, maintaining standards, etc. I hire entry level people and I love to see food service or retail on an application. Usually, that means they know how to work hard.

    2. LBK*

      I disagree completely. If you can score an office job at a young age, go for it, but there’s no harm in working in the service industry if you can’t.

      1. Fabulously Anonymous*

        I’m not bashing those types of jobs, rather: consider your long-term goals and if it is possible try to find positions that align with those. And yes, of course it’s okay if your goals change. In fact, working in positions that expose you to those industries may help a young person realize the job isn’t what she thought it was. I believe it’s a lot easier to change before you’ve invested in years of college-level education. Does the 13 year old want to be a doctor? Then try to find something in a hospital as opposed to chopping vegetables at a restaurant. Want to be a chef? Then try to find somewhere you can chop vegetables as opposed to working in a hospital. (Assuming the hospital job isn’t in food services). There is no shame working in the service industry, but if there are other options that better align with your long-term goals, try to pursue those.

        1. Melissa*

          Mm, I’m not sure that she has to be thinking about her long-term goals at 13-14. It would be nice, of course, but in my town it was very difficult to find office work in middle/high school unless you knew someone (or your parents knew someone) who worked in an office. Most of the unrelated people who got office jobs were college students.

          1. Fabulously Anonymous*

            That is my advice and the advice I would give my child. I tried to demonstrate in my responses that I understand it is not always possible and that goals may change. I don’t believe that should negate my advice however.

          2. Bea W*

            Yeh, I think that is too much to ask of a teenager. At that age they are still figuring out what they want to do. They often have no idea or they think they know but it changes as they gain more experience. I also think limiting like this fails to teach kids that sometimes as an adult you just have to take what you can get even if it’s not your dream job or your life goal. As an adult, you have to get up and go to work even if you’re not excited about it, and sometimes you have to flip burgers to pay the bills if that’s what it takes. You don’t want a kid who grows up and then ends up unemployed because they think they should only take jobs that align with their long term career goals.

            1. Bea W*

              A better what to approach it maybe is to talk with the kid about what kinds of things they are interested in doing, and you can certainly look for a job that will expose them to careers that they think they might be interested in, but if the options are limited, it’s just as good to take any job whether or not it serves some specific future career path goal. It’s valuable in and of itself to learn what working is and to experience having a job. There are a lot of general work habits and ethics to be learned that will set a kid up to succeed in an adult career.

        2. LBK*

          Okay, that makes more sense. It came off as more of a dig at working in the service industry, as if that would somehow hold you back.

      2. Anx*

        Go for it. I’m, well, much older than 13. I can’t get an office job now, I can’t imagine turning down the opportunity as a teen.

    3. Shortie*

      I agree with this. I know many have to choose retail or food service if options are limited where they are, but at least try to do something different if you have different long-term goals . . . don’t just assume that retail and food service are all you can do. When I was in my teens (less than 20 years ago), I applied for and got jobs filling in for local receptionists during their summer vacations as well as seasonal jobs with plant nurseries or landscapers. After I graduated high school–but still in my teens–I worked as a full time receptionist, which I parlayed into a more prestigious backoffice job in very short order. I stayed in that job for several years, into my twenties.

    4. CheeryO*

      It depends on the kid. Working food service was so good for me as a painfully shy teenager. Interacting with people for hours a day shoved me really far outside of my comfort zone and forced a lot of growth. I wouldn’t have gotten that experience in an office.

      1. Hare*

        Same! I have become a lot better at faking being outgoing and confident after several years of working in retail.

      2. LBK*

        Yes! I definitely think working retail made me more sociable and more comfortable interacting with strangers.

    5. JCC*

      Great advice in this economy. When companies want 10 years of employment history and “pigeon-holing” is an acceptable hiring practice, those early jobs can make a big difference. It also hedges bets against poor college performance — a college drop-out with clerical experience is in a better position for career growth than one without it.

  28. SA*

    Sorry to be negative, but I’m going to point out a couple of potential downsides here…

    1) Research indicates that teens who work often end up with a LOWER level of skill with handling money than their peers who do other activities. They get used to working for pocket money, since their basic expenses are taken care of, and even if they get that difference intellectually they don’t really understand it on a deeper level and so things like saving don’t come as naturally to them later on. (Don’t stop paying for your 13-year-old’s food or something though! Just have a good talk with her about this as part of the broader conversation. Maybe have her draw up a monthly budget of what it would look like if she was paying for all of those expenses, just as a practical exercise.)

    2) Just because she can make money now at a grocery store/retail/food service environment doesn’t necessarily mean it will increase her long-term earning potential. It sucks, but the way it is right now, it takes impressive extracurriculars as well as grades and SAT scores to get into a good college, which impacts your ability to get strong internships, which impacts your ability to get good jobs in your chosen field with good growth potential after you graduate college. (And colleges don’t always see working at Dairy Queen or whatever as a good extracurricular activity, much as I think they should.)

    3) Working a retail or food service type job has very little in common with working in an office environment. It uses different skills (so you might thrive in an office but be a really mediocre retail employee – which was my personal experience – or vice versa) and has different social/cultural norms as well. That’s not to say one is inherently better than the other, but don’t assume that working a retail job, for instance, will necessarily help you to secure or to do well at an office-type job down the line (if that’s what she’s interested in long-term).

    None of this is to say that your daughter shouldn’t work or that it won’t be an overall positive experience for her, but please don’t ignore these factors in your conversations about the work world.

    1. Melissa*

      The first one might be due to the fact that teens who work for money are probably more likely to be children of blue-collar/lower-income parents, who are demonstrably less likely to talk to their children about budgeting and managing money (often because they themselves are unlikely to to save much money). OP talking to her daughter about budgeting and saving is very likely to counteract that effect. I’ve definitely seen this happen in both ways – my brother worked early and learned to budget his money very, very well, but my sister started working young also and was not practically able to advance from “my earnings pay for pocket money” to “my earnings pay for living expenses” until recently.

      Also, research does show that working in adolescence does improve long-term employability – but it’s not clear for what kinds of jobs, and whether the effect is only for the sort of non-office kind of work she may or may not want to get into. I think you do learn some basic interpersonal skills from working retail that could be transferred into office environments, though – like going to work even when you don’t really want to, dealing with coworkers you don’t really like, etc.

    2. Cat*

      I think Melissa makes a great point about class differences, but I also think that there’s a good general point there. I didn’t work for money until I was 18 and obviously I was very privileged to be able to do non-paying internships and activities instead. But, looking at it among a set of kids who were similarly privileged to me, I was not used to having much in the way spending money whereas those who had regular part time jobs were. As it turned out, getting used to the concept of sacrificing immediate discretionary spending ability in favor of something that would further your long term goals instead was pretty useful to me over the next decade.

    3. Student*

      On the other side of the coin, working at a job like this imparts some empathy for other people in these jobs, and insight into their lives. While that isn’t a requirement for getting a white-collar job, I think we’d all be better off if it was.

      Treating your waitstaff, cashiers, and others like them with dignity (not contempt, and not pity) is important for a high-functioning society, and it’s a hard lesson to teach in any other way. It will pay off if the student goes into any type of management later in life, or if she works directly with people in these kinds of positions, or even if she’s trying to make a basic budget. There’s nothing that brings home reality to a budget like seeing a single cashier with two kids manage to keep her life going and her kids taken care of – it really teaches you that you don’t “need” a lot of the expensive things that more well-off people take for granted.

      1. SA*

        Oh, absolutely agreed. I like to think I was always nice to shop workers, but I’m way more conscious of it after working in a retail position (and seeing some of my coworkers support their families, as you say) and my mom worked as a waitress for a while and always impressed on me the importance of tipping well, etc. (Random, but something she told me that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise: always over-tip when you eat out for breakfast, because breakfast is cheaper than other meals but the waiter/waitress does just as much work – possibly more, with coffee refills – so a typical 15-20% is really too little for the amount of work they do.)

  29. nonners for this*

    thirteen seems horribly young to do anything beyond doing odd jobs for neighbors/family members and babysitting. She has her whole life to work, I don’t see why you should be encouraging her to start at the minimum age to get one now, even if she’s excited to do it. There are way to instill good work ethics and the value of money in your child without pushing them out to do retail work while still in middle school (!!!)

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking this too. When I was 13, I did not have the social skills…not even close. It would have been bad if I was working with a shift of mature/immature 18 year olds.
      But I’m guessing the jobs the OP is talking about are lifeguarding, snowcone stand, assistant at day camp, general entry jobs for younger teens.

    2. LBK*

      If the kid wants to do it, why say no? That seems silly. It’s not really any different than doing a million after school activities or clubs or whatever. The people I’ve met at work are some of my closest friends, so it’s not like she’s missing out socially either.

    3. Melissa*

      Some kids like to work. My younger brother was always anxious to make money, and when he was 11 or 12 he started raking leaves and mowing lawns to rake in some cash. He started working food service practically the minute he was able to do so (in our state it was 14, so he was a freshman in high school). He would’ve rather worked after school than done anything else, but even though he worked he still had time to play in the marching band and hang out with his friends almost as much as he wanted.

      Honestly, I think the steady work history – he held some of those early food service jobs for far longer than most kids did – helped him in the long run, as he decided not to go to college and did a training program to be an electrical line worker. He was only about 19 when he finished it, but he was 19 with about 5 years’ worth of solid work history – even if most of it was food service – and glowing reports from previous employers (he was the kind of kid who would work 20 hours a day if it was allowed), so he got hired before he was even finished with the training program.

      Plus, all those years of working gave him experience managing his own money, and he had been squirreling away money for quite some time. So he was able to buy a (nice!) house when he was like 20 years old, and benefited from the tax credit in the early years of the Obama administration. I hate him, lmao.

      1. Bea W*

        I always preferred working (paid or unpaid) to school or most other things. Other kids are more focused on extra-curricular activities and social life. I learn best through doing, and working was mentally stimulating for me and I felt like I was accomplishing something which made me feel good. While back at school I struggled and was bored and there weren’t options of extracurricular activities I was interested in. This is where you really have to know your child.

    4. Nerd Girl*

      I think everyone is assuming that she’s going to be working for some fast food restaurant or grocery store. We should remember that there are other jobs that can offer a paycheck and are not keeping her glued to a fryer. A lot of local after school programs hire that age group to be helpers. They help younger kids with homework, play games, and are responsible for helping with clean-up of equipment and supplies. My first job was as a library page and all I did was re-shelve books and help the patrons in the children’s department find what they were looking for. A friend of mine bagged groceries in a store.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        My first job was helping out at religious education classes at my then-church. I was paid as an aide – it was minimum wage, so something like $4 an hour, but I was so proud of it. I was 13. Even before then I was a dedicated babysitter and I had families that paid a fair amount to have me as a mothers helper/babysitter because I was great with kids. Started doing that at 12. My little sister didn’t work in high school because “school is her job” and now at just graduated college, she has had 2 part time jobs and can’t find something permanent because she doesn’t have the history.

  30. soitgoes*

    I think the OP should remind her daughter that getting a job at such an early age is going to limit her high school social life and ability to commit to extracurricular activities. At the very least, it should be part of the conversation. When I was a junior in high school, I reached a point where I had to choose between keeping my retail job (to fund the social life I enjoyed) and staying in marching band, a commitment that dominated my nights and weekends, especially during football season. I don’t regret the decision I made, but I didn’t anticipate ever having to choose.

    1. Sticky Fingers*

      This. But also… I mean, I wouldn’t say discourage her if she’s eager to earn money, but man, you only get one childhood. She has the rest of her life to work–with no end in sight. Why start so early? Maybe Mom could put her to work doing more chores around the house, or having her help do more of the shopping, or maybe she could pick up some babysitting gigs. All of Alison’s suggestions were fantastic, and I wish my own mother had taken the same approach with me about work (she was an unhappy woman, but she really made work seem like the worst thing in the world), but working so young makes me a bit uneasy.

      1. ser4ph1m*

        I started working at 14 and held a job regularly since then except for a couple weeks off here and there and the one summer between high school and college. I really never felt like I missed out on my childhood because of my work, my family was seriously poor and having the extra income allowed me freedom to enjoy hanging out with family & friends. But I also didn’t have the typical school schedule as I was homeschooled and I only worked around 10-12 hrs/week, 16 at most.

        1. Bea W*

          I was afraid when I got a job that I would miss out, but work was one of the few safe places I had where I felt valued and not messed up. I felt like a normal teen at work. It didn’t feel like it cut into my free time or social life. I still had time to be with friends and the occasional date, and because I was working I didn’t have to ask for money to do things.

          1. Canadamber*

            Yes, totally! Having a job has allowed me to pursue my favourite hobbies, the ones that actually do cost money. (For instance: driving, and watching trains. The only exciting trains around here are ones that you have to drive to, which means “out to the countryside where there is no public transportation.” Also, I love driving, so having the freedom to fill up my mom’s car and hop in the driver’s seat, pick up my friend and just drive around aimlessly for hours has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.) Mind you, I do the majority of my socializing stuff with my best friend (I’m a solitary creature and don’t have too many friends), but it’s still been invaluable for when I feel like travelling somewhere new or am just craving McDonald’s.

            I’m 18, for the record, and I got my job when I was 17. Just don’t let it become an excuse to slack off on your schoolwork like I did! OP, make sure that your daughter actually DOES study; that way she won’t nearly fail out of her calculus class. xD; I do find working much easier now that I don’t have the “typical” school schedule (two evening classes, one day with two classes and then one morning class leads to 4 days and 15 hours a week!), so perhaps if you think that that might POSSIBLY be an issue for your daughter, suggest that she primarily look for summer jobs or winter seasonal jobs that are only around for a few months.

      2. soitgoes*

        Absolutely. It looks like the OP isn’t from the States, but even so, perpetuating the idea of “perfect student who gets straight A’s, plays a sport every season, sings in the choir, AND has a part-time job” isn’t helpful when held up against this week’s discussion of the millennial generation. We were all promised a whole lot of things in exchange for our hard work, and none of them came to pass, at least not in their promised forms. I think a summer camp or babysitting job is fine, but I wouldn’t take a 13-year-old’s enthusiasm at face value when it comes to work. And is the mother willing/able to drive her to work every day? I know a lot of parents of young teens who wish their kids would get the experience of working part-time, but transportation becomes a problem. It’s easier to give them an allowance of $20 a week than it is to work out the schedule for a minimum wage shift that pays them that much a week after taxes, plus factoring in the cost of gas and whatnot.

        This isn’t to rain on the OP’s parade, but I think it would be wise to remember that, as the mother of a minor child who is still in school, other things have to be prioritized.

  31. John*

    The only real way to prepare them is for them to experience it. Teenagers need jobs. Far too many kids are heading off to college never having worked, and it’s a disservice to them.

    They need to learn that you have to come to work even when you’re tired on not in the mood.

    You have to do things you don’t like.

    You have to take guff from your customers and boss.

    You have to get along with your colleagues.

    You can only learn all that through experience.

  32. AndersonDarling*

    Separate work from social life. Although she may make friends at work, she shouldn’t have the mindset that she goes to work to hang out with friends. Work is work. Same goes with dating- don’t do it at work. No make-out sessions in the back room.
    I think this is a hard thing to understand for a teenager because these social aspects are part of school, which feels like work. So they go to work and think the same rules apply. I had friends fired because they forgot they were at work and were caught making out, or caught having a mini-party during a slow shift.
    But even if she is awesome about her work ethic, she will have to deal with other teenagers who talk about boys the entire shift or want to have a hamburger fight or fill the sink up with soda. She will have to stay out of it.

    Oh, and tell her not to steal. Not to insinuate anything… but I had friends in trouble for eating food from where they worked, or thought they could bring equipment home that wasn’t being used (thought it was trash), or “borrowing” something from the photo lab where they worked. Stealing can be a grey line. And “stealing,” even if it was just eating a mess-up order, will follow you in references.

  33. Beyonce Pad Thai*

    Tell her to keep track of her hours! My first job (amusement park) tried to cheat every teen who worked for them out of pay.

  34. A Teacher*

    High school vocational teacher here: talk to her about ownership and responsibility. So often what I see as an issue with the teens I teach–good students, nice kids, etc… is a lack of ownership when something doesn’t go well. Instead they try to deflect blame or become defensive. Passive Aggressive behavior is something else I see a lot of in my students and something I try to work with them on.

  35. Anne Shirley*

    The phrase my mom drilled into me growing up, whether it was raking leaves for quarters at Grandma’s or at my first job, was “Be a help, not a hindrance.” The things you do at your job should be making things better. I realize that sounds vague, but every manager I’ve ever had (since entering the workforce at 14) has specifically commented on my habit of asking, “What can I help you with next?” rather than “Do I have to do anything else/Are we done yet/etc.” Approach your job with the attitude of being a helper, and success should fall in line.

    I’d also counsel her about where to draw the line between “toughing it out” and “I need to stop for my mental health.” I once had a retail job whose environment was so toxic it was causing me panic attacks. Eventually I realized that the minimum wage I was getting was never going to be worth it, and even though I was unemployed while job searching for a month after, I can’t regret it at all. Take care of yourself.

    1. LBK*

      I love this – I too made a very concerted effort to get in the habit of saying “What can I help with next?” instead of “Do you need help with anything?” and the benefits are amazing.

    2. Melissa*

      Second this advice! I am a “what can I help with next?” kind of person and people’s reactions to it are simply amazing. It’s like they’re not really expecting it, but it brings a lot of good will – and it means people are much more willing to help me when I need their help, too.

  36. C Average*

    Don’t try to make this a frictionless experience for her, and set the expectation that it won’t be.

    She’ll have to approach potential employers and ask for work and make a case for why they should hire her, an intimidating experience even for an adult. She’ll have to wait for a response to her applications, and may need to decide whether and how to follow up. Once she gets a job, she’ll have to ask questions in order to learn how to do the work. She may have to say no to requests she can’t reasonably fulfill, and have conversations about why. She’ll have to accept constructive feedback from those managing her. If she’s doing work like babysitting, she may have to be assertive about collecting payment.

    All of these experiences are awkward for anyone. Let her know that learning how to negotiate these interactions successfully is not a distraction from the actual work (be it watching kids, bagging groceries, mowing lawns, etc.). It’s the crux of what professional work IS. Encourage her to embrace and learn from these experiences, and resist your impulse to help her avoid them.

    If you read the archives here, it’s all about this kind of stuff. No one comes to AAM to learn how to make a better spreadsheet or build a better mousetrap or make a more chocolatey teapot. It’s all about dealing with the friction inherent in the working experience.

  37. LBK*

    Encourage her to take any job she gets seriously, even if it’s just being a cashier or a waitress. It’s easy to blow off a retail job and not work hard at it, because the pay is low and it’s not your career path. The thing is, most retail managers understand that it’s not a career for the majority of their employees. No one expects you to pour your heart into it, but those that put effort into it really end up shining and it can have long-term benefits.

    Hands down my best and favorite employees when I was a retail manager were the young high school or college kids who showed up to work as if they were running a Fortune 500 company or a tech giant instead of being a cashier at an electronics store – they were excited, motivated and committed to every aspect of the job, no matter how small or menial. They were smart, sharp people that I would hire again in a second over their more seasoned coworkers who clearly thought the job was beneath them and slacked off as a result. They were also the people that got opportunities to do more interesting work and make better than minimum wage and who will get killer references from me should they ever need them that will help them transition out of retail into whatever they want to do.

    I hope to run my own business some day, and I’ll absolutely be recruiting some of those former employees if I do. Encourage your daughter to present herself as an adult with a job rather than a kid looking for pocket change. It will make a long-lasting impression on those around her and could help her in the future.

  38. Melissa*

    Aw, this is so awesome and cute. Work was a huge mystery to me until my mother went back to work – she was a SAHM for most of my childhood. It was just this place that my dad disappeared to for 8-12 hours every day. I never went to my dad’s workplace – ever – although I heard stories about it from my mom (mostly funny ones, as my dad’s coworkers were all snarkers and pranksters apparently). But when my mom went to work as a nurse when I was 16 years old, that’s when workplace stuff became less of a mystery to me – she talked about it a lot, and that’s how I learned.

    Anyway, from my perspective as a daughter but not as a parent – this is a more distal factor, but talk to your daughter about being self-sufficient and assertive. Even though my mom didn’t work outside of the home, she always always always talked to me about the importance of being able to support myself – not just financially but emotionally, by being willing to ask questions and stand up for myself when necessary. A lot of Alison’s advice here is predicated upon being willing to have calm, unemotional discussions with coworkers and supervisors to alleviate problems, but you’ve got to develop the personality traits to be willing to do that.

    I think one of the most valuable things my mom taught me is that the key to this isn’t that you won’t ever be scared – you might be shaking in your boots, in her words, but you have to push through the fear and do it anyway. Watching her model this behavior was really awesome, too (I distinctly remember one conversation she had with her supervisor, in which I could see on our end that she was nearly in tears and struggling to control herself).

    1. Bea W*

      I lucked out with a dad who would take us to work on occasion, not for the whole day in his office, but for a tour to show us what he did. He liked explaining all the things in his office and explaining how people did their jobs. We learned that at work you did what the boss said, and you had to dress a certain way (suit and tie for him), be on time, and the really basic things that some people have no clue about when they start working.

  39. kdizzle*

    I think talking about the TYPE of job is so important. If she’s working in the right place, so many common workplace issues can work themselves out. My best early job was at a family owned pizza place. The owner was wildly flexible with the hours for young people (I worked one or two nights per week for 4 hours each night), and he made it a mission to hire those with little/no experience and members of the community who were mentally disabled. He took the time to create jobs, manage people, and make them feel valued. It was so inspiring (and it was only a pizza place)! I had many other jobs where that was simply NOT the case, and those bad jobs tainted my view on the working world for quite some time.

    I was able to talk to the young people who worked there before I started. They loved it, and it showed. Each time people came back from college on vacation, the boss would put them right back on the payroll and give whatever hours he could. So if it’s possible, get input from the people who work there. It could be really valuable information.

  40. Cali7*

    Coupling with the sexual harassment comments (and not at all detracting from them) you might also want to advise on the other side. A lot of teens might think nothing of making crass jokes, or using slang that (while inappropriate anywhere) is common at their school, among their friends, etc. (Dude, you’re so gay! That guy is a pimp! etc.) While in school it might get them a reprimand from staff, at work it can get them fired for discrimination or sexual harassment, when they honestly didn’t mean it the way it was taken, and are confused by what just happened. Fired for sexual harassment is a hard one to explain away in your early twenties with limited job experience. (Disclaimer: This didn’t happen to me, but I once worked with someone it did happen to.)

    1. some1*

      Absolutely. Just because you’re working with people who are your peers doesn’t mean you can talk like you’re in the school hallway or the mall.

    2. Anx*

      On the flip side, if you support their choice not to participate in this behavior, let them know. For some people it’s not worth the job if you have to talk and behave in ways that go against your values to fit in. Knowing they would be supported for abstaining at the risk of ‘not fitting in’ could give them much more confidence.

  41. MaryMary*

    Have her use what she learns and experiences at early jobs to decide what she wants to do as a career. Does she enjoy interacting with people, or does she prefer to organize the back room? Does she like working with money and can she figure out the sales price in her head while other people whip out their calculators? Does she have a good eye for arranging displays? There are a lot of talents you don’t know you have until you get into the working world.

    At the same time, figuring out what you don’t want to do is just as valuable. Food service, retail, landscaping, babysitting, etc, have inspired a lot of kids to do better at school and find better jobs. One summer doing data entry has driven a lot of people off cube life forever. Or, in my case, the day I burst into tears after a stressful day of cashiering (it was stressful! Nonstop line, angry customers, my boss snapped at me..) is the day I decided not to be a doctor. If I was in tears and no one had died, what was I going to do after a REALLY bad day in medicine? IANAD, and it’s better for everyone.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      Working in retail or customer-facing positions is also incredibly helpful just as regular old character development. I can’t tell the number of people I’ve worked with and been friends with who did a stint in retail and ever since have made it a real mission to be friendly, polite, and decent to customer service people ever since. Dealing with people graciously, calmly, and courteously–on both sides of the counter–is a real skill honed by time in customer-facing jobs.

      1. MaryMary*

        Yes, and the only difference between “client” and “customer” is location. The man who sends back his burger because you should have known he didn’t want onions is the same guy who tries to make changes a week before the live date to specs he signed off on months ago. You have to be calm and professional with him whether you’re the waitress or the project manager.

  42. Ann Furthermore*

    My daughter started working at Safeway about 6 months ago. She had a heck of a time finding a job, and had been looking for months. In our state the child labor laws are much stricter for kids under 16, so no one wanted to hire her. But even after turning 16, it still took her awhile. There is a school trip to the Galapagos Islands next summer that she really wants to take. So we told her she’d better get out there and find herself a job, and she finally did. The deal we made with her was that we’d contribute $25 for every $75 she saves for the trip.

    It’s worked out well because the trip requires monthly payments, which she has been making. So not all the money she makes is just spending money. So it’s really taught her about budgeting her money. We’re going to buy her a car pretty soon, and the deal with that is that we’ll buy her her first car, but gas, insurance, and maintenance will be her responsibility. So she’ll learn how to budget for that as well. She’s always been pretty responsible with money, but this is just helping her even more.

    I told her the most important thing she can do is prove herself to be a dependable employee who cheerfully does whatever is asked of her. People have preconceived notions about teenagers being flighty, sullen, and unreliable employees, because many of them are. So I told her that no matter what job she got, she would start off being the lowest person on the totem pole, and have to do the crappy jobs no one else wanted to do. But she would have to do them, do them thoroughly, and with no complaining.

    I also told her that being a reliable employee means being there, ready to work, when your shift starts every day, without fail. So that means if you’re on the schedule at 10AM, that doesn’t mean you come strolling in at 10AM. That means you get there at 9:45 so you can put your purse/backpack/etc in your locker, use the bathroom, change into your uniform, etc and be ready to start working right at 10AM, or a few minutes before that.

    I explained that if she did that, then, when she’s sick, she can call in and her boss will say, “OK, I hope you’re feeling better soon,” and not wonder if you’re just blowing off work for the day. Or if her car breaks down on the way to work, her boss will think, “I wonder what happened to Jane? She’s always here on time. I hope she’s OK,” and not, “Ugh, freaking teenagers are so unreliable!” And also, when she’s ready to move on to another job, she’ll have a great reference in her back pocket.

    She’s done really well. She worked as the lowest-level peon for about 5 months, and just got her first promotion and raise.

  43. K.*

    When I took my first retail job in high school, my parents gave me some excellent advice: some people, they said, will just be there to pick fights. They will be there to cause you trouble because they think they have power and that you do not. Do not take them personally and try not to let them get to you.

    This was also phrased occasionally as “a**holes gotta a**” but then my parents are kind of like that sometimes. ;)

    1. BB*

      Since it is likely that the OP’s daughter will be working in such a environment, this is very important for her to understand. Especially since she is only 13. There will be customers who are rude and mean. Teach her that she can not lose her temper at these customers. That it will be hard for her to hold her tongue sometimes but that she has to and still act as if it doesn’t bother her.

      1. krisl*

        Makes sense. When I was working at a fast food place, some customers were just rude. I never understood why they’d be rude to someone who was polite, working hard, and trying to help them. If I was very polite and sweet, sometimes they’d get less rude.

        At a certain point, you just have to let it roll off your back. People who are rude to a poorly paid employee are having other issues.

  44. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    My favorite advice is = “No matter how bad it is, this isn’t your future.” Of course, groping, etc., are definitely out of bounds and should be handled appropriately.

    But with that out of the way, I recall going into a Mickey D’s. I went up to the counter, and the young man treated me courteously – and the manager tore into him for something. I asked the young man — “Are you going to college?”

    “Yes.” Where to? “Carnegie Mellon”. To study what? “Engineering!”

    Hmmm, I thought, and said “Tough road – but you’ll handle it. And if you do — five years from now? You know what?”

    “What’s that” the young guy said.

    “Five years from now, you’re gonna be an engineer, and have a bright future. HE’S gonna still be here flippin’ those @#$%in’ hamburgers. Never say anything about that, BUT NEVER FORGET THAT.”

    It makes menial jobs easier to handle — and you can laugh, and proverbially SPIT at your tormenters. I learned that early in my IS/IT career — once I realized that I could make a future for myself. Those who harassed and resented me had gone as far as they would ever go.

    Keep all that in mind – don’t lose your confidence or your fire… and … you’ll do all right. In the future, you can do the “ZZ Top” wave, as in the “She’s Got Legs” video. But not right now.

    1. CheeryO*

      That was really nice of you to say to him.

      I had no perspective at 16-17, let alone 13. My part-time job made me miserable for a lot of reasons, and I wish I had realized then that the two years I worked there would fly by, and then I would move on and up without a backward glance. I would never have believed that my manager would still be there a decade later, or that the girl who bullied me and made me cry in the bathroom would be killed while driving drunk. I gave these people so much room in my head at that age, and I wish I had been above that.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah I can relate, Cheeryo.

        I once left the WORST job I’ve had in a 41 year career – I was there 13 months – and was placed on probation — which was called off – the boss wanted a vacancy, to get a friend in. Once someone else quit, the “heat was off” but the stink, obviously, was still there.

        So, when I resigned to take a much better job, lots more money – different responsibilities, great place — they tried to throw money at me to get me to stay. I did walk out and gave the “ZZ Top” wave.

        Several years later I ran into some of my former co-workers from there at a football game. Pathetic. Truly.

        The bully? The school bully? Found dead in an alleyway – with a hypo in his arm. I actually felt sorry for him — he was no longer a bully at a different school, he went to Vietnam, it must have done something to him, and he was an addict after that. This is a bully who, well, redeemed himself. I didn’t cry when he died but I did feel badly for him.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          I might also add – SOME of the people I worked with in those jobs — who had menial jobs themselves — and were fine ladies and gentlemen — taught me more about life than I’d ever learn on a college campus. I learned more, and was influenced more by a guy on the workbench with me, than I ever was by a college professor.

          I can name a dozen of them, they’re all passed away — but there are some GREAT people you’ll meet and always remember. You’ll know them — hold them dear to your heart.

      2. Melissa*

        I think that’s true of everyone in adolescence, though. That’s part of the developmental stage – you’re trying to figure out who you are, and it’s only natural to try to use cues from the external world to help you figure that out. Parents, friends, teachers, peers, acquaintances, coworkers, the media, etc. Even the most composed adolescent is a mess inside sometimes.

        A kindly stranger who dispenses sage advice like this would be much appreciated by most teenagers, lol.

    2. JCC*

      >“Five years from now, you’re gonna be an engineer, and have a bright future. HE’S gonna still be here flippin’ those @#$%in’ hamburgers. Never say anything about that, BUT NEVER FORGET THAT.”

      I’d be careful with that advice — I have peers who believed this after graduating from college (admittedly not in engineering), and going back to flipping burgers because their degree didn’t trump their work history was especially difficult for them.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah of course but – JCC, this kid wasn’t studying humanities or art appreciation at a playground college. He was taking engineering at one of the most elite universities in the country.

        Someone like him is likely to get a job in engineering right out of, or while he’s still in college.

        The reason for that advice is – “this is NOT forever”. And you can put up with it for the duration.

  45. Sunshine*

    Great post. I have young teens who will be reaching that age soon, and you all got me thinking. For the most part, they only hear about the days I hate my job. I need to do better at talking about the good parts too, so they know why I do it (beyond the paycheck).

    1. Melissa*

      From my dad’s groans (he’s a grumbly person in general) I got the notion that work was this thing that you were never going to like, sometimes actively hate, but that you’d do because you had to feed your family. The concept that some people like their jobs and that you don’t have to settle for mild discontent didn’t occur to me until I was a teenager (coincidentally, when my mom went back to work, because she LOVES her job).

  46. UniversityDrone*

    I manage college students, and a lot of them come in with very little to no work experience. I would talk to your daughter about the importance of the following:

    -why it is important to commit to working and how her responsibilities impact others.
    -that there will always be people you don’t like in every workplace. You still have to work with them and behave professionally.
    -that it’s important to do a good job even when you don’t feel like it or get discouraged.
    -to focus on positive aspects of the work and not dwell on small negatives.
    -that she needs to communicate with her managers regarding time off, emergencies, etc., and that’s it’s important to plan ahead so that she’s not missing work on short notice.
    -that it is totally okay to quit a job that she hates or where her coworkers are abusive, but that she has to give it a fair chance first.

    I would also recommend requiring that she puts some of her earnings into a savings account- for college, a large purchase, whatever. I can’t thank my parents enough for making me do that as a working teen, since it allowed me to pay for more than half of my education out of pocket.

  47. Michele*

    Tell her that she will encounter all sorts of people, and to not take whatever mean things/actions they may say about you too personally. If she is unsure of what to do in these cases, she should call the manager right away.

  48. BB*

    I want to add: Tell her to always come to work on time. If she is running late, call and tell her supervisor.

    Also, she should NEVER use her cell phone unless she is on her break.

    If her friends come by the place she works, it’s ok to say, “hi” but don’t end up having a conversation.

    1. LBK*

      #2 isn’t universal as long as the cell use is appropriate and customers are still being handled. If you have nothing else to do, I don’t care if you use your cell.

      1. Canadamber*

        My workplace makes you put your cellphone and wallet up in a drawer at customer service. You get it on your breaks and after your shift.

        1. Melissa*

          Wallet, too? Why? Personally I think that if they trust you enough to work there they should trust you enough to keep your personal belongings and not use them inappropriately, but with that said, I guess I understand the logic behind the cell phone. But why my wallet?

          1. Canadamber*

            Oh, it’s the cashiers that have to put their wallets up at customer service (although somehow I feel like not everyone does it, but I do). Grocery clerks and whatever can keep theirs with them.

  49. JMegan*

    We talk a lot here about business expenses – not travel and things you get reimbursed for, but things like a decent wardrobe, reliable transportation, etc. Those may not be an issue for her at 13, but it’s not too early to start talking about them. “If you needed to buy a pair of black pants, it would cost X, which would come out of your take home pay. If you were taking the bus to work, it would cost Y, and that would also come out of your take home pay.”

    This could lead to a larger discussion about budgeting in general. Take her with you to the grocery store, if you’re not doing that already, and talk to her about how much food costs. Show her your utility bills, and how much you pay for gas. Obviously a lot of this is going to go over her head at this point, but what you’re demonstrating is that pretty much everything in life costs money, and all of that money has to come from somewhere.

  50. Lamington*

    i would tell her the proper way to resign and give 2 weeks if possible. When i was in college i work as a cashier and a lof of people will just stop showing up, no call or notification.

  51. Joey*

    Talk to her about how employers make decisions, about how to decide what to stand up for and what to let go, and about how to use it as an opportunity to help her start narrowing down a career path.

  52. Bea W*

    What had the biggest impact on me was how my parents treated me when I got a job. They stepped in where necessary for things I could not do on my own, like providing transportation to and from my job and to the bank (before the days of direct deposit).

    They talked about their first jobs, the kind of work they did, what the experience was like, and suggested different jobs I could do. My mother was a SAHM but she worked as a teenager and before getting married.

    They showed me how to look at the want ads in the paper (again…prehistoric times). My mom did point out ones she found that might interest me. I had to call and apply myself. She told me about job interviews and references. We talked about who I could use as references. So I had this information ready when I was applying for jobs. She talked about what questions I should ask to find out about the job (pay, hours, dress code, job duties, etc).

    Everything having to do with my job was my responsibility. If I was sick or needed time off or anything having to do with the job itself, it was up to me to call or talk to my boss. My parents did not do that for me. They would tell me what I had to do so I would know, but I had to do it myself. It wasn’t like school where mom had to call to excuse me. I had to tell them my schedule so they could drive me. If something came up and no one could drive me to work, I had to tell my boss and work it out with her. (There was no public transit).

    They talked to me about pay, what to expect, when to expect it, and took me to the bank to cash my check. I was also expected to buy some of my own things instead of asking them. They helped with tax forms.

    I’m certain my mother told me how I should dress because she always did, but the job itself had a dress code.

    In general they were supportive and positive about my working. My family had a strong work ethic and having any job was something good and a young person taking their first job was something to be proud of. They were rarely this way with anything else! My grandparents were encouraging as well.

    When you child starts making money, work with them on managing it and setting goals. Do they want to save for college or a special purchase? Talk to them about how to manage their money to achieve their goals. I was saving for a big trip so I saved most of my money by depositing it in my own savings account. I would keep only what I needed for incidental spending for lunch and snacks at work or going to the movies or the mall with friends. Don’t overlook this topic! Making money and managing it go hand in hand.

  53. KT*

    Having just recruited for two student positions at my workplace, can I please add that it’s worth talking to your daughter about professional communication (I’m not saying she’s running a board meeting, but things like leaving all the right information in a voicemail so the prospective employer has the callback number and making sure she checks her own voicemails.)? Phone tag was even harder than usual with this group of applicants because I never had complete information!

    Also, please please please don’t cancel your land line if your kids don’t have cell phones of their own. I called several applicants to set up interviews and got their parents on a cell phone instead…often not physically in the same place as their child, so I couldn’t actually talk to the applicant. It was awkward….and when they did call me back, they didn’t leave any details in the message!

    I felt like I was herding cats.

  54. LibrarianJ*

    This might sound kind of obvious, but help her to treat her job as seriously as if it were a professional position, by taking it seriously yourself.

    When I turned 18, my parents were absolutely on me to get a ‘real’ job, so I did. I took the job and my responsibilities very seriously, and part of that meant avoiding taking huge chunks of days off because we had a small staff — particularly during the couple times each year when the owners were out of town. I was there for 6 years, and every year, the same fight: they’d want me to tell my boss (not request) that we as a family were taking a vacation, often for 2-3 weeks, often during the owners’ vacation. My mother’s argument was always: your father is [X important position] and he is taking the time, so if he can manage it you definitely can, your job is not that important. This was so frustrating to me as a teenager who was legitimately trying to do the right thing!

    I know that the reality is, your 13-year-old’s part-time job is not the be and end all, it doesn’t put bread on the table, and it can only interrupt family dynamics to a point, BUT, to the extent that you can encourage them to take their work seriously and then back them up when they try to do just that — I think that’s helpful in the long run.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      Great comment. I had to call out from a high school waitressing job once because my family was on vacation and they decided to stay two extra days even though I was scheduled to work one of those. As I couldn’t hitch hike the four hours back, I couldn’t go to work. My boss was very understanding but I was mad at my parents for not taking my job seriously. I had to ask for time off, not just call and say I’m not coming in!

      1. Canadamber*

        Oooh!!! That’s brutal. Most managers will be understanding if that happens, although I’m hoping that that never happens to me. :P It would be even worse to be a day away! (My family will occasionally travel somewhere really far. We haven’t done so since I started working, but yeah.)

        Another weird thing that happened to me is that my sister, who has just turned 16, has loads more… support, if you will, from our parents about not going in to work and such. It’s like I’m expected to be the responsible one and not lose my job, while it doesn’t matter for her. Then again, her bosses seem to be more lenient and stuff with that, but still. She rows and runs and does all this stuff, and my mom yesterday was like, “Yeah, it’s so inconvenient that she can only work on the weekends (her workplace closes at 4 PM), because if she has stuff to do, then she can never work,” whereas for me it’s like, I should prioritize my job more. I get that I’m not an academic and sports superstar and that all I mainly do is go to school (university – I’m not dumb, but I don’t go out of my way to study and get super high grades either), work, and spend my extra money on socializing, but seriously. It’s just weird.

    2. Oryx*

      I’m 32 and sometimes *still* have this conversation with my parents. My dad is a VP and has been at the company for 30 years, my younger sister — due to the nature of her work — has lots of comp time and lots of flexibility, and my mom worked two days a week.

      i don’t think it’s that they don’t take my job as seriously but they don’t seem to understand that not everyone has the same scheduling flexibility as them when it comes to taking time off, so every time they mention a trip and I say I need to check with my manager I get kind of a side-eye.

      1. Katriona*

        Same here. I’m in my 20s and working two jobs, and since they’re both part-time I don’t have things like vacation time or sick days. My mother, who gets a *very* generous (by American standards) PTO bucket, cannot wrap her mind around the fact that I can’t just call out when I’m ill or ask for time off in the summer or what-have-you. I think some people just can’t conceptualize that not everyone’s workplace is like their own.

  55. Jackie*

    I work (tangentially) with young people seeking employment post-high school or college and there are a few common gaps they seem to have in terms of the working world:
    1. They haven’t been taught (yet) to think longer term or bigger picture so they want to work until they have enough money for an iPhone6 and then they stop caring. I’d recommend you teach your daughter about working not JUST for money but for skills (sometimes the soft skills are far more important than the hard skills) and experience and because she wants to do a good job, not because she wants a fancy phone.
    2. They have unrealistic expectations about almost everything- particularly how they’ll be managed and praised. This is, in my opinion, because school does a great job of preparing kids of doing very structured work, being given tons of direction, and then being given praise when they finish- even if they make mistakes. There’s a lot of good stuff there but almost none of it happens in the world of work. I’d make sure your daughter knows that she might be thrown into the mix with little direction or oversight (retail sales folks, for example) and that her manager might never praise her, even if she’s a rock star, and certainly won’t provide praise for anything less than darn near perfect.
    3. They ask too many questions or they ask no questions. Mostly one extreme or the other. I would want your daughter to know that asking smart questions is always a good idea but that if you bug a manager with every single small question you have, you’ll become an irritation quickly.
    4. They don’t understand that careers (even those that start in PT teen jobs) are a path with steps, not a one way non-stop flight. I’d talk to your daughter about what it means to be entry level and how to move up, if that’s her desire. I’d also talk about how even the most menial job should be taken seriously because when you first start in your “real” career, that’s pretty much all you have on your resume and they are certainly going to call those references- so take that lifeguard or camp counselor job as seriously as you would a job as an RN. (Within reason, of course!)
    5. They have no concept of money, what people really earn, and what things really cost. I see this a lot with students from middle class backgrounds or those who were at least moderately financially secure. I think one of the most important career lessons for your daughter or any teen is actually a financial reality check before she gets out of high school (so not necessarily today, but you could start now!). This might include budgeting or some basic money management but I think my biggest shock (and that of the young folks we work with) is how much things like rent, utilities, and insurance actually set you back and eat away at what initially sounded like a good salary or hourly rate.
    I know a few people above mentioned not having kids work too early/grow up too quick and I agree with that BUT I would highly recommend that if you go that direction that you make sure your daughter is getting something on her resume by the time she’s mid-high school. If it’s volunteer, it needs to be legit and not just an hour here or there. Get some work history and evidence that she can stay in a job for at least 1 year on her resume- that will be SUPER helpful if she doesn’t work a lot while in college/chooses not to go to college. It’s darn near impossible to get a job with just volunteer experience but it’s ACTUALLY impossible (in many cases) to get a “real” job without anything on the resume at all.

    1. Jill*

      Jackie, I am printing out your tips. I have babies now and these are great things to keep in mind as I raise my kids!

  56. Jill*

    This isn’t a workplace tip, per se, but I would suggest that you make it a rule that if she’s allowed to get a job, she MUST put a percentage of her paycheck into savings. (Especially if she doesn’t have her pay taxed at all). And make it a percentage that would suck. My first job paid over the minimum wage and I was so full of myself about it – until I got that first check and saw how much was taken out in taxes. I also got my first apartment at 17 and was blown away by how little I had left of that fancy paycheck after rent and food and bus fare.

    If you insist that your daughter save a good 25% of her pay now, when she’s still supported by you, it won’t hurt as much when she gets to a point where she MUST devote most of her pay to her own living expenses.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      It’s really amazing how kids prioritize when it’s their money involved. It was really satisfying to walk around the mall during school shopping this year and hear my daughters say “that shirt is too expensive.” Or hear them discussing how they have to budget money to make a purchase.

  57. Dorothy*

    Not sure if it’s applicable/possible, but see if you can get her into your(/her father’s/another adult who’s willing) workplace for a day, especially if you can find someone who is likely to have the type of job a 13 year old is likely to have. My mom worked retail for my entire childhood, and I often spent vacations and mild sick days in the store. I wasn’t allowed to just sit on my butt in the back room, but put to work from the time I could tell the difference between colors and shapes. I learned through doing and observation how to stock and organize items, the basics of display-making, how to help customers, the proper way to count back change and run register, how to have good relationships with coworkers, and ways one does/does not behave at work. When I got my first retail job at 16, I think I had a leg up on some of the other girls hired because I had an idea of how things worked in a shop.
    Obviously this may not be possible for a MULTITUDE of reasons, but if you can even find someone to give her a quick rundown of what it’s like to work in retail or food service, it would probably help her out a lot!

    1. soitgoes*

      I agree with a “bring your daughter to work for a day” scenario so she can observe, but I absolutely disagree with letting a 13-year-old help out with the actual work for no pay, especially in a public-facing job like retail. That’s asking for a whole lot of trouble.

      1. Bea W*

        Some jobs you can get away with this. My father had a second job making deliveries. It was just him in the truck at night. The work was simple and easy for a child to help with a particular task like counting out stacks for the next stop or putting the advertising inserts into the newspapers. Or if you work in an office and they can sit and do something age appropriate and easy enough to grasp. That might be putting your files in alphabetical order or an older child can make copies. I agree, for a public facing job serving customers it’s not always a great idea. It depends on the environment and how much supervision they have. A small family owned business during non-busy times I can see some well supervised customer facing activities being okay, but you wouldn’t take your child to McDonald’s and have them work the counter. Another case, where you have to know your child and how they might handle the work you do and knowing your customers as well, if they would be okay with this kind of thing.

        1. soitgoes*

          I was talking more about the idea of having a child work for free at all. This should not be presented as a norm. A child should not be doing necessary-for-business work without being paid. It’s not about learning the ropes or getting experience. That is what legal and paid training is for.

  58. Ask a Manager* Post author

    One other thought — You could even show her some letters from this site and ask her opinion on them. (She’s definitely old enough to find them interesting. My nieces, 14 and 10, have been opining on Ask a Manager letters for years.)

  59. Spinks*

    My advice: be respectful to all of your colleagues, from the part time cleaner to the senior manager. You can learn from all of them. Don’t disrespect someone just because their job seems menial.

    Also discourage her from complaining at work, it’s a bad habit that stays with you.

  60. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    One thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned yet is to give your daughter increasing responsibility at home. Instead of just talking to her about being responsible, timely, etc. give her opportunities to practice those skills. Give her some choices of chores or household tasks and ask her which one she wants to take on. Cooking dinner once a week? Doing laundry? Raking the yard? Grocery shopping? Then have that be her domain, even to the point of letting her mess up – she can ask for help and advice, but you don’t leap in unsolicited all the time.

  61. EA*

    In addition to the typical fast food/retail jobs, consider things that may be related to hobbies or activities she’s already involved in.

    Does she play soccer? Perhaps one of the local soccer leagues needs someone to referee younger kids. Does she like to ice skate? Perhaps the local rink is hiring skate guards.

  62. BritCred*

    Another thought. When I first got a job out of college at 18 my parents helped ‘teach’ me the realities of part of the paycheck going on rent and asked me to pay a portion to them for rent and keep. Whether this is the way out want to handle it ( and at such a yong age maybe not yet) it is a good lesson that with the paycheck comes responsibity. This could be done in a nicer way, sy take the ‘ret’ but save it in an account for her to use on her first car, college or something else.

    It did instill in me that idea that my paycheck wasn’t ‘all mine’ and did teach me a bit about not over spending my paycheck mentally….

  63. Mimco*

    My daughter started babysitting regularly at age 12 and was always very responsible. Babysitting or being a mothers helper is a great way to start work and still have flexibility.

    Where I work we hire a lot of first time workers age 16 and 17. This is a great place to work for these kids. If they work 12 hours a week for a total of 500 hours in their senior year they will receive a $2500 a year scholarship for college. That is $10,000 for 500 hours that they also get paid $8.00 per hour to work. In my mind this makes this an amazing opportunity. So, the two things that drive me crazy as a supervisor are 1.) constantly reminding them that they can live without being on their cell constantly during their 3 1/2 hour shift. 2.) those with an attitude that work is optional and that they can just show up or not as they feel like, they don’t seem to get it that they are scheduled because we need them to be at work. So, as an employer I would love it if parents would teach their kids the importance of responsibility and that at work you are paid for your time so your time is not your own to do as you please.

  64. rebecca*

    explain the sexual harassment from your coworkers is not okay. this is something i encountered as a teenager in the workplace, and i didnt realize that it was not appropriate.

  65. Golden Yeti*

    In addition to the great advice that’s been offered here, I would state the obvious: your job (and the money that comes with it) is in your boss’s control. Not to say tolerate abuse, harassment, etc. But you are there to learn and to work. The more you can demonstrate that you are doing both (taking notes, asking questions, going above and beyond what you’re asked to do), the better. Your boss will be more likely to notice it and give you more responsibility.

    In short, the first day on the job is probably not the best time to come in with a laundry list of demands, things you want to change, etc. You have to prove yourself before you can earn the right to be heard for things like that.

  66. Waiting Patiently*

    I’m getting some good advice and perspectives here especially the posters who commented about the rug being pulled out when they got a job.
    My son started working in the summer and he started community college this year. I haven’t totally pulled the rug out from underneath him yet but I don’t want him wasting away his paychecks and I think he needs some responsibilities–putting weight on his shoulders to keep his feet on the ground. I definitely do not want him to attempt to pick up more hours and it affects his academics. I sat down with him, went over the house finances and explained while it may seem like I’m asking for a lot –in the bigger picture it really isnt that much of a contribution to the running of the house. He wants to save up for a car but I don’t think he needs one right now, plus that would be an extra burden. We have 2 cars and we pay the insurance and maintenance–we just ask that he puts more than $10 worth of gas in the cars. I think as parents we want to make sure our kids priorities are in place. Save a little, splurge a little and pay your way a little. I did get annoyed when he purchased 3 pairs of sneakers and then you look at me like I had 3 heads when I talk about responsibilities of the house.
    On another note my daughter started an internship for her senior year — she’s really disappointed they haven’t nailed down her hours yet. It’s a marketing type of job for a local credit union. I must say I am quite impressed how she has handled herself. I was quite tickled when I heard her on the phone trying to coach her boyfriend with interviewing.

  67. Mister Pickle*

    Wow. I can’t recall the last time a topic has generated such a wide range of comments.

    Here is probably the most important thing I learned at my first job: I was 16yo, working as a carhop. One sweltering July afternoon, the boss/owner called me over. “You’re pretty good with math, aren’t you, Pickle?” I didn’t know where this was going, so I was cautious: “I’m okay.” He said “I want you to help me figure out the area of the lot.” Where ‘the lot’ is the rectangle of asphalt upon which the business stood. I groaned inwardly: I was going to be spending the next couple of hours on my hands and knees, pushing a yardstick in the hot sun, measuring the #%^* lot. Probably doing it twice, just to be sure. The boss had drawn a rectangle on a piece of paper. I resigned myself to the inevitable. “Okay, so you want the area?” He nodded briskly. “Okay, so it’s a rectangle. First you need to find out how wide it is and how long it is …” “Yeah, yeah, I got that!” He gestured impatiently; I looked and saw he had a couple of numbers written on the paper. “Now I need to find out the area!”

    1. Career Counselorette*

      And I bet at the time you learned area you were probably thinking, “When am I ever gonna have to use this?!?!?”

      1. Mister Pickle*

        Errr … not really, no. I taught myself to program when I was 13yo; alas, it was not so easy to get a paid job programming in 1973. Which is why I was slogging burgers and rootbeers out to ’70s era muscle-cars for $1.50/hour. I knew what area was for. What I learned that day was that Boss ⇒ Smart is False.

  68. Kathead*

    If she’s only 13 yrs old, I would look into a newspaper route. This summer, my 12yr old picked up a weekly paper route because she was wanting to earn money. It turned into a daily route because she was doing so well at it. We opened a bank account for her and require her to save half of the money she earns. She has a bank book to keep track of everything.

    Maybe have her post ads in the local paper for dog walking or pet sitting? You may need to drive her to houses to check on pets to be fed and to do bathroom duty, but she can handle those things on her own once you are there. This might be ideal for some of your friends if they are going on vacation. They’d know your family and would be more likely to trust you. This would teach her about integrity and trust and not to violate it just because no one is watching her.

    Lemonade stand. Check with your city/county for license requirements. Little things are good, it gives them a taste of what work is and how to handle money. We did a lemonade stand for my 12 yr old and taught her how to keep track of her costs, sales, and profit (we were in the red lol). We talked to her about how to price and we worked with her on counting back change. Have her run her own table at a yard sale and take the money and count back the change. It puts her in contact with the public and teaches her how to haggle (seriously under-rated skill lol, not exactly work worthy but you do eventually haggle for a salary or raise at some point in your life)/communicate. You also get some grumpy impolite customers at yardsales, so it could teach her how to handle them (with your supervision) and not shrink from confrontational people.

    NO MATTER WHAT SHE DOES-PLEASE, PLEASE sit down with her and teach her how to count back change to at least $100.00. That skill will become very valuable to her, even if she doesn’t end up as a cashier somewhere. I am teaching my 3 kids how to count back change, and even a couple of co-workers. I am a checker at a grocery store.

    There is so much she could do, let her brain storm. You’d be surprised at what kids can come up with for job ideas. Don’t knock the “small” ideas.They teach responsibility and a good work ethic. Of course the best teacher is you.
    Do teach her to be 15 minutes early to her job so she can put her purse away, fix her hair/uniform/what have you, and be ready to work on time. I see SO many younger kids show up AT the start time and expect to dick around for 15 minutes “getting ready”. Getting ready is on your own time, not work’s responsibility. It impresses your co-workers and doesn’t lump you in with the slackers.

    Realistically, she won’t be getting “real” jobs until she’s older, so the small stuff will get her feet wet and teach her some valuable lessons BEFORE reaching the age where parental help is considered detrimental and unnecessary.

    Good luck! Let us know how she does!

  69. Programmer 01*

    I just wanted to chime in that I started my first “real” job at 12 — I was already working at a stable (morning feed/turnout/sweep and evening turn-in/feed/sweep) for free riding lessons, and was a camp counselor. I made a whole $100 a week for 12-hour shifts and thought I was in gravy. I came home sore and exhausted every day but it was a very good experience, and it led to more jobs and actually getting paid at the stable on top of my lessons (mowing grass, mucking stalls, helping out at shows and events every weekend). I had been doing stuff for my family before, but that was mostly driving the tractor and splitting/stacking wood. 12 years old was “learn to drive the tractor and handle a chainsaw” year. So really, I’d say expect to be way more tired than you ever have been, as between being a teen and starting any job, you will be using energy and muscles you had no idea existed, even if your job is something as simple as data entry. I catalogued someone’s VHS collection one year and it took all. Freaking. Summer.

    My first retail job was at 16 at a pet store and it was a very eye-opening experience, and I learned a lot of things that would help me later in life, like “Sweep THEN mop” or “Macaws bite harder than Amazons” or “the easiest way to count crickets is with your bare hands”. A lot of things that are common sense to me now were completely foreign to me then, and it’s funny as years later I would be training my own 16-year-old employees and boggling at them but realizing I had said the EXACT same things at their age (“I don’t know what to do! I don’t see anything that needs doing!” “THERE ARE A THOUSAND THINGS THAT NEED DOING!”). To-do lists are everyone’s friends.

  70. HAnon*

    Someone might have hit on this already, but I would emphasize the following:

    1) Importance of attitude. Have a positive, upbeat attitude at work. Be willing to do things that aren’t “fun” parts of the job with a smile (or at least, without a scowl ;)

    2) Honesty and integrity. Own up to mistakes, and do what it takes to fix them.

    3) Work ethic. Work hard, and take pride in your quality of work.

    4) Don’t participate in workplace gossip/complaining, even with employees she considers friends. You never know when someone will turn on you and when that info will get back to your boss.

    If these things come across to her employer, it’s much more likely that she’ll stand out as a star employee, even when she makes mistakes due to lack of experience and training. Anyone can be trained to do a job, but your attitude and ethic have to come from inside you…that’s what a lot of employers are really looking for, and it will make her invaluable to them, and she will be able to start building a track record for herself and get great references.

  71. Jenn*

    The best advice I was given (and now give out to teenagers who work for me) was this: phrase everything as a request. If you need a day off, don’t TELL your boss you can’t work or you need to have off. Phrase it as a polite request and explain the conflict. “Would it be possible for me to take next Saturday off? I am supposed to march in the parade.” It also helps if you have a potential solution in place (you got your own substitute lined up if it’s okay, or you can make up the hours another time). Sounding demanding doesn’t make you sound respectful or grateful for your position.

    That being said, this advice takes for granted that your boss understands the demands of a high school student and values their participation in extracurricular activities.

  72. J.*

    I have a different perspective from most commenters.

    Make sure she does well in school. Regardless of her academic history, it’s not too late for her to get into an Ivy League school. An elite education in the right field will yield much better results than whatever work experience she can accumulate between now and college.

    1. Kat M*

      Except, that’s not a realistic expectation for most students. While that’s probably true, most teens are not going to get into Ivies and they’re not the best choice for all young people, even if they have academic talent. Also, it could set her up to fail if she doesn’t get in. Further, not all people are suited to make money in “the right field” (whether that’s medicine, law, business, etc). Better to prepare her for the world she lives in. At least, if she has work experience plus an education, she has a shot.

      So many parents in my hometown took this route and it led to stressed out young adults who had no choice but to move back home after college and couldn’t cope with disappointment. My parents pushed school and some means of work experience (even if it was just baby-sitting)-both my sister and I were self-supporting after college. Peers who were prepared in a similar manner were the same way.

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