When Should My Child Get a Job?

Imagine you live in the same town as Dr. Temple Grandin (as I do). Imagine Dr. Grandin’s recent push was for everyone to get.a.job! (now transitioned to learn.to.drive!).

When Should My Child Get a Job?

Imagine you are a parent (uh, you are a parent, so you can do this): you know you need to do what Dr. Grandin suggests, but you aren’t quite sure how to pull it off. Where do you start on this job project, and when?

First, allow me to compliment you on asking yourself about timelines, jobs, and moving your child forward. This is tough stuff, parenting, and helping your child to be employment ready is an important job. (Honestly, all the other jobs are, too: teaching about hygiene, domestic skills, executive function related to turning in schoolwork, friendships, dating. Maybe you need a day off from parenting. And you can have that, after you finish this article.)

There you are, then, pondering work and timelines. You also know your child well: your child needs a reason to work. Let’s start there, and I bet the timeline becomes abundantly clear. (As a bonus, at the end of the article, I’ll throw in a scary story or two to keep you motivated! I’ve got you covered on all angles!)

Why people work, in no particular order:

To earn money to pay for stuff.

At some point, your child will want to purchase something or attend an event that costs money. Because you are a responsible parent, over time you will require your child to start partially funding his/her life. He/She will use his/her birthday money to buy a video game or a telescope or spend his/her own money to fund dates or outings with friends. As fully grown adults, you and I are well past that: our bills include cell phones, mortgages/rent, cars, and college education. All of us need to earn enough to afford our glamorous lives.

To make friends.

Ha! You didn’t think I’d say that right away, but I did. People go to work to socialize, make new friends, and share knowledge on a particular topic.

To learn new skills.

All of us learn something at work, hopefully skills related to our actual tasks. Most of us enjoy learning, though most of us stop attending school at some point. A job can be a great place to keep learning.

To fill our schedules.

I’m sure your schedule is plenty full, what with the parenting and all, but your child, and some folks who are considering retirement, seem to have flexible schedules. Having work built into a schedule helps add some structure and build routine.

To create purpose and meaning.

Maybe I’m just lucky, but I actually love my job and I get a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and meaning in life from work. If your child makes the right choices, he/she can also access this upside to working!

Cultural expectations.

In most cases, people are expected to work, to contribute, and to take care of themselves and others. It is your job as a parent to get your children “job ready.” The school will help prepare your child for work, but fully preparing your child to work actually falls to you. (Wait, you didn’t take your day off before finishing the article did you? Are you still there?)

  • As parents, you will be shamed and maligned if you don’t get your children job ready. (We could pretend the shame doesn’t happen, but let’s be honest, shall we? People talk, and sometimes they are unkind. It would be great if everyone understood your child perfectly on the first pass. But we both know that doesn’t always happen. I’m not saying you should get your 12-year-old a full-time job, but I am saying no to the notion of more kids who could have jobs living in the basement playing video games more than full time. No shame, just reality.)


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Great, now we know why people get jobs. Given that little list, sort out which little gem might be a reason to get a job sooner than later. Help your child see some purpose in getting a (small) job, and then maybe expand the hours/responsibilities

Dr. Grandin says the following:

  • By age 11 years, children should be volunteering regularly outside of the house. Grandin suggested children walk the neighbor’s dog for 20 minutes a day, “a real walk,” and not the family dog. She wants outside accountability and the opportunity to receive instruction from a non-family member.
  • By age 14 years she wants kids to get a job (or whatever age is legal in your state). She acknowledged that getting a job at 14 can be a challenging goal and suggests parents use their social networks to facilitate this.
  • By the time folks wrap up high school, Dr. Grandin wants two jobs on the résumé. Grandin wants realistic job skills in place prior to departing the family home for college or life.

Obviously, as award winning parents, you will do what Dr. Grandin suggests (or you already did what she suggested, hence the award). For those of you who prefer a little story to go with the directions, here you go: I mostly work with extremely smart folks who are either headed to college or in college/grad school.

My clients tend to do very, very well in certain classes. They often attend special camps or other opportunities during the summer. My clients are called things like “genius” and “gifted.” They rarely get jobs when they are teenagers or college students.

This has become a serious issue. I keep saying, “Get a job, any job! You need something on your résumé!” They can’t because (well, obviously because of anxiety and lack of confidence…), shoot, they can’t because they are “busy.” And then they graduate and can’t get a job. I’m not kidding. I have these super smart, insanely talented folks who can’t get an interview because their resume is mostly blank. And that is a real waste of talent.

So, to your children I say: get.a.job. Get a small job—a few hours a week. Start where the rest of us start: walk a dog, deliver groceries, scoop ice cream, or frost cakes at the bakery.

Then as your academic skills change, get a job or internship more in line with your actual talents and intended career. Start small, keep making small changes, and then rock this job thing so your parents can keep their Best Parent Ever awards coming! (Parents, you can now take that time off!)

This article was featured in Issue 100 – Best Tools And Strategies For Autism

Rachel Bédard

Rachel Bédard,PhD is a licensed psychologist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. She uses a strengths based approach and her clients note she has the ability to help them laugh about even the most stressful or embarrassing events in life. Dr. Bédard has co-written two books with her favorite Speech Language Pathologist, Mallory Griffith. Their most recent book is You’ve Got This!: The Journey from Middle School to College, As Told by Students on the Autism Spectrum and Their Parents. Learn more about Dr. Bédard and the collaborative books on her website www.drrachelbedard.com and thesociallearningproject.com

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