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What's the Right Age for a Child's First Job?

School, social life and maturity should all factor into a family's decision to let a child work.

I have been working since age 11. An entrepreneur from the start, I got my strong work ethic from my father. I wasn’t going to make anything of myself just sitting at home.

Starting out as a babysitter for my neighbor, I landed a regular gig every Saturday night earning me $20 cash. I thought I was loaded and it was the easiest money ever.

When I turned 14, I pushed my parents to allow me to get a “real” job.

The rule in my home was that my grades came first and transportation, if provided, had to work with other family members’ schedules.  I also had to save a percentage of what I made by giving it to my mom to put in an envelope to hold for me.

So, when I was a freshman, I was hired at the only business in the area that would hire people younger than 16, Freedom Square.  I served seniors in assisted living breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room on my weekends, often working both days. The pay was minimum wage (which at the time was $4.25 per hour), and no tips were allowed. 

It was shift work, two hours on with another two hours before the next run. I could not go home in between shifts because it was too much back and forth for my parents, and I was too young to drive, so it made for a long day. I realized that life in a kitchen is hard work and laboring work, and I knew early on that I wanted more options for myself. But in the meantime it was a real job, earning my own money.

My parents never really pushed me to have a job in high school, but I knew that if I wanted a car when I got my driver’s license or extras outside of what my parents would provide, I had to pay for it. I was able to juggle work and school without interfering with time for family and other social activities.

When I turned 16, I had enough money to buy my first car, a Pontiac Bonneville that required tacks to hold up the ceiling interior. I was so proud of that car, because it was mine and I got it all on my own.

I valued the benefits of working hard and the necessity to progress to more advanced positions as my skills grew over the years. Time and money management were soft skills I inherently developed that have proved to be valuable throughout my adult life.

Now that my daughter is in high school, the conversation about her desire to get a part-time job has started. Although I do want her to learn the value of a dollar (something I feel she gravely lacks), I also want her to focus on her grades. Where would she work? How many hours are appropriate? How would she get there and back if I were unavailable? Would she only work weekends? I realize we have a lot to discuss.

Teens seem to be entering the job market not just out of interest, but out of the desire to be able to have things their parents just can’t afford. My kids certainly don’t go without; however, I do have to decline requests quite often due to how tight things are right now. Families simply are cutting back on luxuries just to make it in this economy. I understand my daughter's desire to earn her own money, but I want to be sure it’s the right decision. Whether it’s babysitting, cutting lawns or becoming an employee, this is a choice that is becoming popular.

In Florida, it’s legal to get employment at age 14, with restrictions so the job doesn't interfere with education. Minors also cannot work in positions that are considered hazardous in nature.

The Florida Department of Business Professional Regulation, Child Labor Program, prohibits kids ages 14 and 15 from working more than 15 hours over seven days. There are also restrictions on the duration of hours and times that can be worked on school and non-school days. Kids ages 16 and 17 can work up to 30 hours per seven days, and unlimited hours during summer breaks and non-school weeks. Waivers on these laws can be granted for specific situations, such as financial hardship or if the minor is no longer enrolled in school.

Since the new school year is still in its infancy, we decided to table my daughter getting a part-time job for at least the first half of the year. I want her to adjust to high school life and her academic demands before rushing into this, but I do appreciate her eagerness and willingness to be more independent. By summer, you can bet she’ll be cashing paychecks.

Find part-time job openings in the Clearwater Patch classifieds.

Chris Sansbury October 13, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Great topic. Sounds like you have made a good compromise. It is a hard decision because you want to teach them the value of hard work but still enjoy being a kid and focus on school. We will see what I do when I get there.
Diana M. Weber October 14, 2011 at 08:42 PM
It is a hard choice because as adults we know that their time as kids is so short...they don't realize that fact. They have the rest of their lives to work. I'm ok with my teen working eventually as long as grades are the priority and there is time for the family.

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