Two things are about to happen in the Cooper home. Thing one: Elijah is getting his driver’s license next month. Thing two: Elijah is getting a job ASAP. This isn’t my first rodeo with teens and cars and jobs. But the whole process is still overwhelming for the kid…and the mom.
That is why I asked Ron Stefanski to guest post for me. Ron is a college professor in the Chicago area who also has a passion for helping teens find employment. He founded a website that is basically a one-stop-shop for teens and job opportunities (scroll to the end for the link). While I’m on a little blog break, I asked him to write you (and me) a post about teens maintaining balance while working.
Whether your teen is filling out applications at the kitchen table, or has been working for years, he may be struggling to balance all his responsibilities. A job may offer him independence and the accomplishment of hard work (and a paycheck), but it can pose difficulties, too. Many teenagers will see their grades drop, give up valuable rest, or try to overschedule themselves until they burn out. Your teen may not have the necessary tools to handle the stress of a packed schedule, but you can help him find a balance.
1) Choose the Right Job
Teenagers in the digital age have many more employment options available to them than burger flipping. Before your child starts filling out those McDonalds applications, talk to them about their options.
First, you have to know your child’s “why”. Why does he want or need to get a job? Your teenager can gain so much more than pocket money from his first job, but he might not realize exactly what he wants out of it. A job can teach life skills, can help teens save for special trips and events, or even save for college! Determine what you and your child want to gain from his work experience and go from there.
Next, talk to your teenager about his desires and requirements for a job. Teens will often overlook their own schedule restrictions when jumping into the job market. For instance, a child who plays a spring sport might overlook his competition schedule when applying for jobs in the fall. He may not think about having homework after practice, or what he will do after the season is over. So, what does your kid want in a job? A flexible schedule may be more appealing than a steady paycheck, or vice versa. Talk to your teen about the difference between gig work, (like babysitting) and hourly work. He may not realize the options that are available. For example, here’s a list of the different jobs that 15-year olds can get.
2) Create a Shared Calendar
A lot of young people don’t realize what their schedule is really like. A great way to help teens understand the struggle of balancing work, school, and life is to create a shared calendar. Anything from a dry erase board in the kitchen to a digital calendar on your smart phones will work.
The key is to help your teenager realistically plan out his schedule. Most of us will limit our planning to things with a set time, such as school, soccer practice, or work. Include time on the calendar for homework, chores, and fun activities with friends and family. These things usually happen between scheduled events, but intentionally setting aside time for them is important for balance.
With sports schedules, these calendars can get tricky. Even during the off season, you need to be able to predict things like overnight trips for games. It is also important to prioritize downtime for kids. They may not think about taking time off between big events. Help your teenager understand how much time he spends at work, at practice, and at school. Make it easier to see how your time is spent by color coding your calendars. Each type of event should stand out at a glance.
3) Set Clear Expectations
Teenagers are not always the best at prioritizing. It is a skill that requires a lot of practice to master. Help them learn by setting clear expectations for balance. The most obvious expectation could be set around grades, but try to set realistic requirements. If your child is making a B in chemistry, you can’t expect him to work and pull their grade up to an A. Don’t limit your expectations to GPA, either. Make sure you set goals for health and wellbeing. Have your teenager track sleep, physical activity, leisure and family time. Setting goals around these things assures your child is happy and healthy, avoiding burn out, and taking care of himself.
Finally, have your teen set the specific thresholds for having to give up their job. For instance, losing too much sleep or dropping below a C average. If they set the rules themselves, they will be more likely to follow them.
If your teen showing signs of burn out, set aside some reflection time where you can help him reevaluate the situation. These 21 questions are a great start to figuring out what makes you, and your teen, feel unbalanced.
4) Help Him Be His Own Advocate
In traditional part time roles, teens are often treated as adults. Managers can take advantage of teenagers without realizing it, because teens are not used to setting boundaries with authority figures. Teach your teenager how to respectfully talk to managers. If a manager tries to increase hours or change a set schedule, your teen needs to be okay with advocating for themselves. Most importantly, let your teen handle these issues on his own! You should be available for advice and support, but don’t talk to the manager for them. Advocating in the work place is a skill that will lead him to success in adulthood.
5) Lead by Example
The most important way that you can teach your teenager to balance their busy lives is to lead by example. That doesn’t mean balancing your own life perfectly, but it does mean honestly discussing your challenges and mistakes. If you end up ordering pizza instead of cooking a meal, be honest about why you made that decision. Own up to being overwhelmed occasionally and discuss how you get through it. Model how to say “no” when life is too busy.
Leading by example isn’t just about talk. Show your teen that you are willing to put these strategies to work for you. Put your own schedule on the shared calendar, including self-care time. Think about establishing routines and share them. Set goals with your teenager and track each other’s progress. The way you handle balance in your own life makes you a role model in your children’s lives. Using the same strategies and modeling how you deal with challenges will help your teen make positive life choices.
Teenagers can absolutely find balance in their busy schedules, but they need to be taught basic skills and strategies to do so. Working creates safe opportunities to learn those skills through trial and error, not to mention the myriad of other benefits that jobs bring. The most important thing is that they have your support in their endeavors. Balance is a journey, but it is possible.
Ron Stefanski is the founder of JobsForTeensHQ.com and has a passion for helping teenagers find jobs. He created the website because he feels that teenagers need to focus on their professional passions much earlier in life and aims to teach them how they can do that. When he’s not working on his website, Ron is a college professor and loves to travel the world.