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Is Your Teen Ready to Work?

Pretty much everyone remembers their first job—love it or hate it—and the glee that came with seeing that first paycheck. With the teen unemployment rate hovering around 25 percent, you might feel like breaking out the sparkling cider when your kid announces she's found her first job, taking that next step into the murky shadowland between childhood and becoming an adult. Perhaps you're more than ready to send your teen on her way, knowing that she'll learn responsibility, time management and perhaps even develop a passion for a profession. Maybe you're looking for bonding time if your teen works with you in the family business. But before she punches in to her first day of work, there are some decisions you need to discuss. Is she ready? Where does the money she earns go? And how much work is too much?

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"Research reflects that while school is in session, teens should limit their working hours to between 15 and 20 hours per weeks at most," says Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, New York clinical psychologist specializing in children, adolescents and their families. "Teens working more than this weekly often have difficulty balancing their other responsibilities, including school and family life." But for some teens, working may not be the best option. "If your teen is already struggling with his or her daily responsibilities such as schoolwork and daily chores, then a job is probably not a good idea. Teens who are motivated and excited about the prospect of working and earning money should be encouraged. If your teen is reliable, responsible, mature and motivated, then a job may be a positive experience."

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It's important to consider the environment where she spends her time, Powell-Lunder says. "If, for example, the working teen has a history of substance abuse, it is suggested that all paychecks are handed over to parents, and all spending money should be accounted for through receipts when possible," she says. "For families who have fallen upon difficult financial times, a job may be a necessity. If a teen is expected to contribute to the household, this issue should be discussed before the teen takes a job."

Even if your teen is ready for a grown-up job, she may still need your support. Powell-Lunder says parents should help set guidelines for saving and spending. Once a teen has a job, is he expected to save for or contribute to college or other initiatives? Pay for his own clothes and entertainment? Account for where the money goes?

The most important thing a parent can do—besides striking the balance of keeping watch and letting go—Powell-Lunder says, is to validate your teen's efforts. "Let your teen know that you are proud that he or she has demonstrated motivation and responsibility by securing a job. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way, especially with teens."

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