Is your teen ready for their first job?
What you need to know before your child joins the workforce
“One scoop or two? Is that in a sugar cone or waffle?” The questions fly fast and furious at the busy windows of Lago’s Ice Cream, a popular ice cream venue on Route 1 in Rye.
On any given day, a dozen teens are on staff, taking orders, scooping out massive amounts of ice cream, making sundaes, frappes and floats and cleaning up. For many, it is their first job, and many return year after year to a place that becomes like a second home.
Lago’s has been hiring teens since it opened in 1981.
“We love hiring teens,” said owner Steve Grenier. “They have a good energy level and positive attitude and are eager to learn. Eventually many of our college students move on to a job closer to their career path, but for someone just entering the job market, this is a great place to start.”
Grenier said that even though making the perfect ice cream cone may not sound like an experience that could influence your career, the work has an impact.
“We teach kids to leave mediocrity at the door,” he said. “Those are the words we live by. If you do your job, be consistent about details, and are on time, these skills will serve you well in the long run. Learning to do small things well helps you manage big projects. Some tasks are mundane but you will always have such work to do, no matter what your career is. If you handle these with skill and efficiency, you will be organized and prepared to tackle things that are more challenging.”
Jobs that rely heavily on customer interaction also teach kids critical interpersonal skills.
“The job is very fast-paced, so teens need to learn good interpersonal skills and teamwork so the crew works together and helps each other out as needed,” said Grenier.
“The kids also learn how to interact with customers, how to be friendly, answer questions, and help solve any problems that might arise, whether it’s a dropped cone or someone wanting a special item. I see kids come in here summer after summer who are really shy and after a few weeks they have really blossomed and come out of their shell. It’s pretty amazing.”
Grenier encourages that growth by inviting his ice cream crews to come up with ideas for new products or flavors, or any other suggestions that can help the business and the customer experience.
“We’ve gotten some great feedback,” he said. “It’s always fun to hear what the kids come up with and to see them care about the business.”
Are they ready?
Every teen is different in how quickly they mature, so while some teens are ready to tackle a job at age 14 or 15, others may not be comfortable in the workplace until later.
Dr. David Schopick, a psychiatrist in private practice in Portsmouth who is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry, offers some tips.
“If your teen already has a good work ethic, like perhaps wanting to have a lemonade stand when they were a child and now they are talking about ways to earn money, then this is a good indicator that they are probably ready for a ‘real’ job,” he said.
“Another thing to watch for is a certain level of maturity. Some questions to consider are: Are they good at following directions? Are they reliable? Do they have some initiative? And, do they want to be busy? If the answers to these questions are ‘yes,’ then most likely they are ready to go to work. These traits are characteristics that employers look for and having them will stand teens in good stead on that first job.”
Schopick said teens who have trouble with authority, get bored easily, have low self-esteem or are overly sensitive to criticism may have difficulty with that first job.
“No one likes to be criticized, but if your teen falls apart over being corrected, then it is important for parents to find a way to build up their self-esteem and teach them how to handle criticism before they enter the job market. They need to understand that it’s not personal, but meant to help them do the job better.
“Likewise, if your child gets bored easily, working with them to find a job that really interests them can help them adapt. For example, if they are passionate about animals, perhaps working in a pet store is a good fit. If they love technology, then Best Buy might be an option. If some of these issues are ongoing problems, such as having trouble with authority, then talking with a counselor might be wise so that this problem doesn’t become worse and interfere with a successful career down the road.”
Parents can also help teens prepare for “real- world jobs” by giving them chores at home, and gradually increasing those responsibilities as children enter their tween and teen years.
“Parents might even offer payment for certain jobs if they require a bigger level of responsibility and are consistently done well and when expected,” said Schopick.
Not all teens have a smooth entry into the job market, and when that happens, parents need to know when to intervene. “If your child has applied for job after job and is getting turned down, it can be a blow to their self-esteem and start to create anxiety about the whole job interview process,” said Schopick.
“A parent might ask some of these potential employers for some insights into why their child wasn’t hired so they can be better prepared next time around.”
For Tanya Regna of Dover, this summer is the first summer her son, CJ, 16, has had a job, and so far, the experience is going well.
“We encouraged him to get a job at 15, but even though he applied at companies that said they hired kids under 16, when he went for the interviews, he was told he was too young. After a few experiences like that, he gave up. We didn’t push it because he still could not drive, so his having a job would have made it really challenging for us to get him to work, given our already hectic schedules. Now, he will soon have his license, so we gave him a nudge that a job would be really good, and he found one.”
With many jobs out there for teens, parents can be at sea when it comes to what job might be the best fit for their child.
There are laws designed to protect the safety and welfare of teens and tweens (see info box), but beyond that, job choice is a personal choice made by parent and child.
Regna decided to set some boundaries, but for the most part, she let CJ pick his own first job.
“As a new driver, I did not want him doing food delivery or being on the road for an extended time. Also, since he started work prior to school getting out, we told him that work could not interfere with his schoolwork or grades. He’s worked hard to be an honor student, and we want him to maintain that – as does he.”
Like the teens at the Lago’s, CJ is involved in customer service, working as a busboy/server at a busy golf club. He interacts with cadres of coworkers and club members while dealing with the club’s hectic event schedule.
Regna said she is pleased her son likes the work and that she is getting good reports.
“Club members have told me that he’s a hard worker, that he takes the initiative and helps out whenever asked, which makes me proud. I can also say that I’ve already seen great changes at home. He has to be responsible for his schedule and avoid conflicts, make sure his uniform is ready for his shifts, and that he has transportation, and he’s doing all of that. He’s also been better about doing his chores at home. I’ve seen tremendous growth in his taking responsibility overall.”
For CJ himself, the experience has proven equally positive. “I enjoy having a job,” he said. “It gives me something to do and the environment at the country club is friendly and open. To be honest, having a job is not as difficult and scary as everyone says it is. I do feel like more of an adult now that I’m working. There’s something about making and spending your own money that makes you feel more mature.”
Regna said the only negative regarding CJ’s first job is that her son’s influx of ready cash combined with the ease of online ordering has resulted in an uptick of boxes arriving from Amazon. “We did tell him that half of every paycheck has to go into his savings, but I think we may need to talk a bit more about the budgeting process,” she said, laughing.
Crystal Ward Kent is a freelance writer who has written for numerous local and regional magazines. She owns Kent Creative in Dover.