It is Saturday morning in the suburbs. As your teen-age son heads for the door you ask, ``Where are you going -- out to play ball?'' ``No, I'm going to look for a job,'' he answers.
``In your T-shirt and blue jeans and sneakers?''
``That's the way all the kids do it.''
``Not you. You want a good job this summer. It doesn't mean you have to wear a tie and coat. Just look nice. Maybe you ought to comb your hair, too.''
That imaginary conversation, related by Jeffrey Newman, executive director of the National Child Labor Committee, illustrates one of the ways parents can help teen-agers find -- and keep -- an after-school or summer job.
``Parents have to give their children a sense of what it is to be an employee,'' he says. ``Teen-agers need to understand that they must dress in a certain way, that they are not the boss, that they should greet a customer with `Good morning' -- not with a nod of the head, and not chewing gum.''
Newman offers other practical tips:
``Help a teen-ager recognize the attributes he or she brings to a job. Every young person has 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 different assets they don't even recognize, which an employer will like to know about and will respect, and which will be valuable in getting a job. Never minimize the skills a child has.
``When a 15- or 16-year-old goes into the local dry cleaner or drugstore to ask for a summer job, what distinguishes that young person? The answer might be, `I've done baby-sitting,' `I mow the lawn every Saturday morning,' `I've written a couple of poems for the school literary magazine,' `I play on the high school varsity baseball team.' That says something to a store owner right away. It says a kid has discipline, some sense of responsibility.''
``Encourage teen-agers to write a r'esum'e. They may not use it, but the process will help. Put down three or four things they wouldn't have thought applicable, such as `I wash the dishes every night.' ''
``Make phone calls to friends and relatives to help your child find job possibilities, and inquire among neighbors. You can't always leave that to youngsters -- they're shy.''
``Be willing to exercise some parental supervision in terms of jobs and job opportunities. Don't be intrusive, but be involved. If you're going to be involved, you take some responsibility for that. When you say, `No, you can't work at the Rock of Ages quarry this summer,' you'd better be willing to follow up with a couple of suggestions for other jobs that might be stimulating for your child.''
``Be sure your children know what you do. If you have a child under the age of 15 and over the age of 3 or 4, and you've worked someplace for more than a year, it's a cardinal sin if you, the mother or father, haven't taken that child to your office. They have to know where you are, what happens in that world. That is not only a sense of you as a parent, but also a sense of the world of work.''
``Finally, apart from the economic issues, which may be very important, try not to make a son or daughter feel that that summer job is the most important, all-consuming thing in their lives. If the job really isn't working out, and they've tried, and the employer has tried, the world won't end if they leave that job. Work shouldn't be a torture for a 15- or 16-year old. Responsibility, yes -- a painful experience, no. You have to remember that being 15 or 16 is being allowed to change your mind, to make mistakes, and to learn. I don't mean that should be easy. It should be a hard decision, and they shouldn't give up before trying to make it work.''