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How to Find Suitable Jobs for Your 16-Year-Old

The art of guiding your teenager through their first job search isn't difficult but requires some conversation.

Your 16-year-old has increasingly expensive tastes, needs something to do, and could stand to learn a thing or two about the adult world. Instead of spending all day at the pool, it sounds like it’s time for them to dip a toe in the job market. So how do you and your teenager work together to find jobs for 16-year-olds that meet current needs and set them up well for future success?

What Does Everyone Want Out of the Deal?

Before your teenager starts looking for jobs, it helps to have a family discussion about what everyone’s priorities are. “The experience of getting work is, first of all, an opportunity for a 16-year-old to take ownership,” explains learning specialist Dr. Rebecca Mannis. “Next, they consider, ‘How am I going to do this so that I get what I want out of it?'”

If finances are of primary concern, a different set of options may be on the table compared to a teenager whose primary goal is to make themselves more marketable for a specific college or career. And, likely, the financial priorities of a teenager don’t initially align with those of their parents. It’s easiest to navigate discussions about the ratio of saving to spending and how they can spend their money before that first paycheck arrives.

Most teens will need guidance on finding the right job fit because they probably won’t have the wisdom and maturity to think through all of the interrelated factors. Questions of which days and hours your teenager will be available to work, how many hours they can work each week, and any safety concerns you have as a parent are all considerations that your teen will need guidance on.

“When we think about Piaget’s stages of development, he found that formal operations and being able to do critical thinking and planning come on latest,” says Mannis. “We’re aware that those tasks are organized by the frontal lobes, which are the most uniquely human part of the brain. And since they’re the last part of the brain to come online fully, executive functioning abilities really start to develop in the mid-teens and continue through the 20s.”

Getting a Job is a Job

Once you and your teen come to a common understanding of desirable job characteristics, the work to land a job begins. “As parents, we can forget that the process of getting a job is a job in itself. And not only is there a lot that’s out of the teenager’s locus of control, there’s also a learning curve,” Mannis says. 

Most teenagers will need preparation for filling out applications, putting together a resume, and interviewing. They may also need encouragement if they don’t find success early in the search process. 

“One of the balancing acts is giving the youngster agency for this to be their process, but also appreciating that the process of getting the job has its own challenges to it,” says Mannis. It’s the eternal parental challenge of equipping your kid for success but encouraging them through the experience of frustration and yes, failure.

Sometimes Good Enough is Good Enough

While your teenager’s first job may not meet all of your preferences, it’s important to remember that they aren’t locking themselves into a career. A teenager with little or no work experience will have to settle to an extent. The situation has to be acceptable for now as opposed to great forever.

Dr. Mannis points out that working a job that isn’t perfect still has value. “Descartes said, ‘Know thyself,'” she says. “The technical term in educational psychology is ‘metacognition,’ which is understanding more about yourself. So as long as they learn something about themselves in the experience, that in itself has enormous value and can be used to figure out the next step. And that can be incredibly meaningful.”