Helping young teens lay the groundwork for a summer job

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A teen-ager's 16th birthday heralds a turning point - now he or she is old enough (and probably mature enough) to be hired as a short-order cook, department store clerk, or office helper.

Such part-time jobs provide much-needed cash, usually earned at minimum wage, and fatten a college savings account, too.

But what about young people between the ages of 12 and 15? They need pocket money too, and summer is the best time to earn it. Even though your child is too young for some jobs, how can you help him channel his energy and talents into suitable summer employment?

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Don't wait until June to start discussing the situation and looking around - there will be too much competition by then. The early bird does get the worm, and if your young teen can make inquiries and lay the groundwork during spring, he'll be ahead of the game.

Start by looking around your community. Consider the following questions:

Who delivers the daily newspaper and the advertising circulars rubber-banded to the front door? Chances are, it's a boy or girl in your neighborhood. Have your child phone the newspaper circulation manager or local news agency; she may find a regular route or be put ''on call'' for sporadic assembly or delivery jobs.

If you live in an apartment complex, what do tenants do about their mail, plants, aquariums, and canaries when they take a vacation? They might hire your child to visit their apartments regularly and take care of everything. He can advertise by putting circulars at their door or posting a notice on the building bulletin board. And if you're leery about letting a young teen enter unfamiliar domains, an older sibling or friend can accompany him on his rounds.

Are there many young families in the community? In addition to routine evening babysitting, mothers of preschoolers often welcome additional help when summer comes along. A young teen can walk toddlers to the park each day, be a ''mother's helper'' during special events, or join forces with a friend to conduct backyard play sessions for a few children once or twice a week. Be sure your child likes and understands preschoolers; he or she might be able to take a brief babysitting course through school or park district to prepare for the responsibility.

Is there a nearby country club with a golf course? Do members use caddies? Traditionally, caddying has been a boy's job, but a growing number of girls are getting involved. Physical stamina is required, but wages are good and there are extra benefits too. The Western Golf Association offers a college scholarship program for good student-caddies, and sends about 200 winners to top universities each year. Caddy registration usually occurs in spring; the club will have further details.

Do you live near a large senior citizen population? How about an errand or shopping service? Older homeowners welcome help with yard work too; one enterprising 13-year-old rounded up 10 lawn-cutting customers each week, and kept some of them for winter snow-shoveling jobs as well.

Many additional services, such as party serving and cleanup, window-washing, and dog-walking can be handled by 12- to 15-year-olds. Before your child begins, however, he should have a clear idea of what he intends to offer and how much he will charge. A per-hour figure works best, but if he is uncertain, suggest that he consult other young entrepreneurs or simply ask the customer what he is willing to pay.

Although most young teens need parental guidance when looking for summer work , once they have found something, adults should take a back seat. Offer suggestions and praise, but let your child make his own schedule and get himself up in the morning. He'll learn from any mistakes he makes, grow in responsibility, and eventually be ready for that first ''real'' part-time job.

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