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Q: How can I tell if my son is ready for a job? Our financial situation is tight right now, and it's getting to the point where giving him money for a movie is really tough. I'm getting worried about buying him basics, like school clothes and supplies. My son just turned 14 and he's fairly responsible. He is too young to work for our local supermarket or at the mall, but there are some farm stands around that would be willing to pay him under the table. What do you suggest?
A: While parents never want to endorse their child breaking the law, if there's a way your son can work at a farm stand for extra cash this summer without fear of doing what's illegal, allow it. It is your parental responsibility to check your state laws to see if in fact your son would be breaking the law by working for a local farm or market. This type of work may be viewed by law enforcement agencies and the IRS in a way similar to young teens babysitting; it's overlooked.
If, after investigating the legalities of farm stand work by underage teens, you decide your son can pursue such a job, set some parameters regarding how you expect your son to use the money he earns. Let him know of your financial situation. You don't need to burden him with the details -- just let him know that doling out money for extras such as going to the movies or even necessities such as new clothes for school is more than your current family budget can bear.
Tell him that you expect that he'll put a certain amount of money in the bank each time he receives a paycheck. This money will be reserved for necessities -- school clothes and supplies -- and the rest he can use as he wishes. But also inform him that he needs to look ahead to the entire school year. When the farm stand job ends in the fall, he won't have this income; therefore, he may need to bank at least three quarters of his wages in order to have money for entertainment, equipment, and activities that support his extracurricular interests.
At age 14 your son is fully capable of managing the task of working at a farm or market. In fact, his level of competency, knowledge, responsibility, and maturity will increase from the experience. Young teens need to learn how the real world works with regard to money and finance, and what it's like to be relied on by an employer. This doesn't mean kids should labor in sweat shops or work in the fields from dawn to dusk. But a fruit and vegetable stand seems almost ideal.
He'll learn to meet the public, work as a team, and see firsthand the details of how such an enterprise operates. Many young teens will spend their summer without much purpose, possibly in front of the TV or playing video games. Your son has the opportunity to gain skills that will benefit him now and in the future, while easing the family's current financial situation.