IT takes about two weeks after school lets out. Sometimes a month. But invariably on a sweltering summer afternoon, one of your kids will flop in a chair and sigh, ``I'm bored.'' That may be the perfect opening for a lesson on employment.
Besides keeping Juan or Juanita occupied, a job can provide more substantial payoffs: a sense of self-worth, confidence, and responsibility. A youngster may learn just how much time and effort it takes to earn a buck -- and relate that to how much a buck will buy.
The biggest first-time employer of kids? Mom and Dad. Three out of every 4 kids turn to their parents for first jobs, according to a survey of 663 readers of Penny Power (June-July issue), a children's magazine published by the same people who put out Consumer Reports.
Extra household chores ranked as the job most often assigned to youngsters, especially preteens. After regular chores are completed, parents typically assign such tasks as vacuuming, laundry, mowing the lawn, washing the car, gardening, watering plants -- the list is almost endless.
But whatever the job, try to make it interesting and challenging. Mix the low-skill jobs with more creative assignments -- which is more reflective of ``real world'' work anyway. As a former child laborer, I can vouch for the fact that emptying wastebaskets was not (and still isn't) particularly stimulating. On the other hand, I can recall taking a certain amount of pride in reputtying and painting storm windows. Indeed, studies show that the more challenging the job, the more readily a child will embrace it.
Even the repetitive chores might generate some enthusiasm if ``packaged'' properly.
On one occasion my Dad had the whole neighborhood digging up dandelion weeds. He made the task novel by paying half a cent for every inch of dandelion root we unearthed. We attacked the chore with relish and then all gathered around Dad with our pails full of weeds. He held up each root and measured it, and we all calculated the payoff.
If you have a garden, instead of just sticking the kids with weeding, get them in on the planting and harvesting -- that's where the real lessons and satisfaction come in.
There are dozens of interesting jobs around the house. Let your child plan and make dinner one night (or more) a week. Got a fence or iron railing that needs painting? Let your youngster take a shot at it. Replacing a washer in a leaky faucet is not a difficult job.
Even a simple task such as dusting and reorganizing a bookshelf can be a challenge to, say, a five-year-old. And more than likely, your son's or daughter's performance will exceed your expectations.
Shopping for a major appliance, a car, perhaps? Let your children in on the process. One father felt pinched for time, so he offered his two sons the job of researching the purchase. One showed little interest, but the other lunged at the chance. He went to the library for reviews, got prices from various car dealers, and went along with Dad on the test drives. Obviously, he was instrumental in the selection and gained some valuable experience.
Depending on the circumstances, you might want to draw up a contract. Even let the kids bid on the job or give them an opportunity to turn the job down. You could negotiate over wages (although most young children think any amount of money is a fair amount).
While work in the home is a natural starting point for some children, employment outside the home tends to have a dash more realism and may be more rewarding. Often a child will learn what it means to fulfill a commitment. If he or she fails to do a job at home, a parent may be more lenient on the child than an outside employer. And if the job is lucrative enough, you may be off the hook for some purchases.
Jeff Mason, 12, has bought skis and bindings and a bicycle with his paper route earnings. He pulls in about $10 a week by hitting the streets each day after school to deliver the Concord (N.H.) Monitor. His neighbor, David Branch, 10, earns around $15 a week on his paper route and has saved up enough to buy two $500 bank certificates of deposit.
Delivering papers, baby-sitting, mowing lawns, and walking dogs are among the most common and most traditional of jobs beyond the homestead. But with a little ingenuity and parental encouragement, youngsters will discover many other profitmaking ventures.
Children find neighbors to be ready (and sympathetic) employers. If your son or daughter is shy about approaching your neighbors, go with them or encourage them to team up with a friend.
Or your child could draw up a list of chores he can do (or could do with some instruction). Make copies, include your phone number, and let your ``business card'' be the icebreaker. If the youngster gets work at a stranger's home, take the time to get to know the new employer.
You might want to discuss wages with the children, too. Often asking a prospective employer (especially a neighbor) what he considers a fair wage is a good starting point. Your child can always negotiate if he feels the job is worth more. Alternatively, he could set a flat fee for each job. And a youngster could hire himself out for hourly rates.
Is there a latent entrepreneur living under your roof? You may want to encourage your kids to market their talents and interests. If Francine is a good flute player, she might want to give lessons. If George has a cordon bleu streak, maybe he can start a small gourmet baking company. If Steve enjoys writing, perhaps he can start a one-sheet neighborhood paper. If Cynthia is caught up in computers, maybe she can do some word processing or develop a game program. Maybe Joni can turn her irregular baby-sitting jobs into a regular morning or afternoon ``day camp'' during the summer.
Summer offers a good opportunity to test-run these ideas. Once school begins, though, you will probably want to discuss the ramifications of continuing work. Discuss what your kids may have to give up if they decide to work after school. Is earning $5 or $50 a week worth missing out on the school soccer team? Will work interfere with Francine's own flute playing? If you and your child decide to continue his lesson on employment, you should probably make it clear that school and family duties come first.