IN spring, the thoughts of many young people turn to summer work. Working in a ''real'' job (rather than for parents), mastering work responsibilities, and receiving a paycheck can be a maturing, satisfying experience.
It is important that parents cooperate to make it a realistic one. When toddlers wanted to help, we were patient with awkward efforts to wield a broom and with the fallout when a wastebasket was emptied. It was quicker to do it ourselves, but it was a time to stand back, to guide and encourage. So with older children. What we don't do can help them to grasp the full dimensions of work.
Few adults take taxis to work, for example, yet parents sometimes feel they must provide such help to working children. A boy we knew acquired a paper route that was easily accomplished on foot or bicycle. When his mother insisted on chauffeuring him, he endured so much teasing from his peers that he quit the job. Another mother gave up valued activities to drive her daughter to and from a job in a town 90 minutes away.
Acquiring and supporting their own transportation is a major incentive for teen-agers to accept and stick with a job. From our family's experience with six youngsters, I would not advise underwriting children's cars, insurance, or repairs. ''Wheels'' are serious and costly; the sooner young drivers learn this, the better.
Fortunately, cars aren't vital to earning. Teens should be encouraged to analyze their talents and the opportunities in their area. Yardwork and baby-sitting help develop work habits and skills. When teens accept these jobs, parents would do well to remain in the background, letting offspring handle arrangements and complaints.
One family reminds its children regularly that each is a family ambassador, and each will be judged by his or her conduct. Parents should also emphasize the importance of proving one's reliability as a worker, even to a hard-to-please neighbor. In time, references will be needed, and each favorable report counts.
Young people can often think up interesting jobs on their own. Two young sisters began a promising business career when they used fabric scraps to make little sachets. They offered these for sale in a nearby thrift shop. They also saved to buy a kit to make celluloid buttons with funny sayings and pictures. These sold briskly at shops and craft shows as the girls became proficient at merchandising them. Later they invested in colorful stickers to sell.
Other teen-agers profit from teaching swimming, tennis, and guitar, from repairing bicycles, motorcycles, cars, mowers, and appliances. A high school junior did a very good job of making a bridesmaid's dress for a friend at a reasonable fee. Vacationers need their pets and plants tended. Neighbors may want help with shopping and taking out trash. Reading aloud to, or just chatting with, an elderly person can be an enriching experience for a young person without nearby grandparents.
At the same time that parents refrain from taking over half the burden of the job, they can be sure their children meet some goals by earning rather than simply receiving. They can suggest work possibilities and encourage youthful ideas, with a gentle eye to real costs. And when employers praise some aspect of a child's performance, parents should be sure to pass the kind words on to the fledgling worker, saucing them generously with their own pride in such achievements.