Summer jobs teach young people valuable skills: responsibility, punctuality, following directions, getting along with others, establishing a good work ethic, and managing money.

Karen Coburn, assistant vice chancellor for students at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the acclaimed book, Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, offers this advice for young people thinking about getting a summer job:

“A summer job, certainly for juniors and seniors in high school, is a good way to learn discipline and skills different from those you learn going to school. The basics of showing up every day, arriving on time, taking responsibility, and learning from other people are important skills that can be learned at a summer job. It doesn’t have to be in a professional environment. Students get a dose of reality when they interact with people in a work environment who haven’t gone to college. It’s a real eye-opener.

“It’s good to have a combination of work experience and be exposed to different professions and work environments. A lot of students don’t have any idea what type of work environment they ultimately want and summer jobs can help them to keep their eyes open to different professions and work environments.

“There’s a lot of college hype out there that you have to have ‘over-the-top’ summer experiences. You don’t need to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro blindfolded. There are other ways to prove yourself.”

Where to look for summer jobs

Your teenager can check:

  • the local newspaper
  • job websites such as Craigslist, Indeed, or Monster
  • the school guidance and/or career office
  • the local recreation department (teens are often employed to work as counselors in summer recreation programs)
  • signs in windows of local retail establishments

And she shouldn’t forget:

  • word of mouth — tell everyone she knows (parents, teachers, coaches) that she is looking for work.

Create your own employment

Another way to get work experience is to become a summer entrepreneur. Your teenager could create a service for the neighborhood. Babysitting, tutoring, pet sitting, lawn and garden care, and computer assistance are just a few possibilities.

If your budding entrepreneur needs to hone her babysitting skills and learn CPR, she should check with your local recreation center or the Red Cross. These organizations often offer courses for preteens and teens.

Here are some steps to get your teenager started if he wants to create his own service-oriented business:

  • Set a fair price for your service by considering your costs, time requirements, and fair value for what you are providing.
  • Promote the business by calling neighbors and/or printing flyers to distribute.
  • When you succeed in getting customers, ask them to refer you to their friends.
  • To assure success, make sure you satisfy your customers by providing good service.

Other teen summer job options

Job shadowing/internships/volunteering

The most valuable work experiences and preparation for future jobs may not always pay a salary. A good way to learn about a particular profession is to shadow someone for a few hours a week. A student interested in medicine, for example, could arrange to shadow a doctor or nurse. If shadowing is not an option and your teenager is interested in health care, he can contact health-oriented organizations such as the American Red Cross or local hospitals, many of whom will gladly welcome volunteers.

Check these sites to help find volunteer opportunities in a variety of fields:

This site will connect your son or daughter with volunteer opportunities in your community.

Points of Light Foundation
From this site, you can find the volunteer center in your local community.

Follow the rules

Federal and state regulations for youth employment

Federal and state governments set rules regarding youth employment. According to federal law, a teenager must be at least 14 years old to work. Those who are 14 or 15 cannot work past 9 pm in the summer and not past 7 pm during the school year. There are exemptions for certain jobs, however. If your teenager works as an actor, for example, the number of work hours in one day and allowable times of day to work do not apply.

If your teenager is 16 or 17, she may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation except those declared hazardous (such as working with power-driven meat slicers, grinders, or choppers) by the secretary of labor. States then set specific rules for youth in their state. In Kentucky, for example, 14- and 15-year-olds can’t work in such areas as coal mining, logging, meatpacking, or slaughtering. Check your state regulations before your son or daughter starts looking for a job.

Under federal law, employers do not have to pay the prevailing minimum wage for employees under age 20 for a limited period (90 calendar days) when they are first employed.

In some states, workers under age 18 may need to obtain working papers from either their school or the state Department of Labor in order to seek employment.