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Working Up To Adulthood: Teaching Kids About Work And What You Should Know About Keeping Them Safe.

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Many of you moms (and dads) may be thinking about your baby taking his/her first steps, while others of you may be thinking about him or her taking his/her first steps into “adulthood”….and that means his/her first official job.

I often joke that (growing up on Long Island) most kids got cars (usually new) as a gift for their 16th Birthday, my gift was (a party) and working papers (so I could eventually afford my own car).

In fact, I obtained my first job well before I got my working papers, from odd jobs around the neighborhood and house to working in first my mother’s and then my uncle’s family business, I entered the workforce “before” I entered high school.

The Mall was the official rite of passage for many teens, as we eagerly awaited the day to declare our financial independence and quickly find out that “adulthood” and “independence” were both highly and severely overrated.

Despite our immediate “enlightenment” and “disenchantment”, we were told work was “good”; after all, it kept us off the street, out of trouble, (our parents knew where we were and where to find us), financially "liberated", and built character and a good work ethic. Plus, we’d have something (solid) to put on our resumes when they (our parents) “kicked us out” just a few years down the road.

Today, there are still some very well-intentioned parents, but according to experts among those tweens and teens taking summer jobs, thousands are injured, some seriously, while still others are killed. Professionals point out that youngsters are often left unsupervised (in positions or situations they are not prepared for or experienced in), and since they are not (yet) fully capable of making sound decisions and don’t always understand the severity or gravity of their action, they often take un-necessary risks and make poor choices. Furthermore, they note that many employers (frequently seeking “cheap” labor) may even put their young employees in jeopardy. They add that even “good” employers may be “falling short” and not necessarily always doing “the right thing”…in fact; experts add that job safety has become the job of the parent (and his/her child).

Preventing The Inevitable: Mistakes, accidents and “bad” judgment calls are all part of life, living, working and learning, especially for teens. Statistics show that on average, the teen workforce included youngsters between the ages of 13 and 17 (at 18 they are classified as adults) and number about 4 million each summer. Although most teenagers are generally prohibited form being hired for the most dangerous positions, statistics show that these youngsters are twice as likely to be injured on the job than adults. Typically, according to research, about 65 teens are involved in fatal on the job accidents each year; about 70,000 require emergency room treatment, while another 140,000 incur injuries that do not require medical attention.

Identifying The Risk Factors: The alternative to allowing your child to work, is not necessarily encouraging him/her to stay home, but rather knowing what the high-risk jobs are, understanding the consequences, and helping your child make intelligent decisions and choices.

· Most teens work in retail, fast-food chains, and in grocery stores. It follows logic then, that, it is these environments that put them at most risk. Youngsters lack experience in “how” to properly do the job and are often subject to sprains (while lifting), burns (from hot grease and steam), and cuts from misuse of knives, scissors, slicers, and box cutters.

· Fatal accidents can be broken down into three classifications or work zones: 1) Farm work (mostly associated with tractor accidents and incidents with heavy machinery), 2) Construction sites (falls or accidents involving heavy equipment and its misuse), and 3) Behind retail counters (robbery and assaults gone bad, especially late at night)

Experts note, that if you want to protect your child (to the best of your ability) you should find age-appropriate jobs and refrain from allowing them to take positions that may place them in harms way, and they may include managerial positions that requires they count and carry money, or work late at night.

Know Your Rights: Professionals point out that it’s imperative to know the laws and your rights especially with regards to child labor.

Children younger than 13 may be allowed to deliver newspapers, run errands, or baby sit, but are generally prohibited from other forms of employments. Youngsters between 14 and 14 can obtain work in restaurants and grocery stores but are banned from operating most power-driven machinery. By 16, teens can acquire their working papers, and are given “authority” to secure any job that isn’t classified as hazardous by the Department of Labor. And, teens as young as 14 may work 40 hours per week (during the summer).

Keep Information Handy: Keep a copy of laws and other pertinent information handy. Get a copy at your local government office or search the web for the information on child labor laws….and make sure you know the difference between local and federal laws. You may even contact your child’s school for guidelines and additional information.

Give Your Kids An Education: Start perhaps by taking your child (teen) to work with you occasionally and discussing work, work ethic, and protocol (including safe and not so safe situations etc.) Discuss with your child the meaning of work and let them know what their limitations are or should be. Make sure they know and understand the child labor laws, as well as the potential perils of their position and their own strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you thoroughly address their concerns and fears, and give them carte blanche to discuss work related issues with you, even if that means leaving an unsafe environment (as long as they don’t use “quitting” as an excuse to NOT work at all)

Furthermore, experts assert that it’s important to know what type of work your child will be doing and what his/her expected duties will be. They say it’s also probably a good idea to frequent the business before your child starts working there (the examine the conditions) as well as after your child begins his/her job, simply to ensure that things are up to code and up to par.

Keep in mind that some of your child’s supervisors may not be much older than he or she and may also not fully know or understand the risks of the job or the labor laws. Additionally, the lose enforcement (of the laws) allows many “unscrupulous” employers to take advantage of situations (and youngsters who are “naïve” and simply trying to do a good job) From sexual harassment to break entitlements you want to educate your child on what he/she should expect from the workforce, potential encounter, and what they should and should not expect from him/her.

Investigate The Environment: Besides visiting your child’s job site before he/she considers taking the position and perhaps a short while after, experts also encourage parents to meet the supervisor, boss, or owner. They urge parents to ask questions and bring up questions or concerns about things you may have (previously) seen or heard. If you don’t want to “make waves” for your child, keep a low profile and consider meeting with his/her “superiors” on his/her day off. Experts emphasize the need to not do or say anything to jeopardize your child’s self-esteem, dignity, job, or advancement, but that it is equally important to let his/her employer know that you are involved and knowledgeable and most of all paying attention. They note that bosses are less likely to try to take advantage of children you don’t appear or have families that appear ‘desperate” or “ignorant”

Furthermore, experts recommend, continuing to stay informed and involved by frequently frequenting your child’s place of business, especially if it’s a grocery store, restaurant, or retail establishment. And, don’t think twice about dropping them off and picking them up.

Keep Up With The Times: According to experts, don’t allow yourself or your teen to get too comfortable. Stay aware of all “problems”, concerns, raises, promotions etc. They note, that while you may have not had issue with your child stocking shelves, you may feel he/she is not ready for handling money, making deposits, or working with box cutters or hot grease.

Give Your Kids A “Voice”: While you, no doubt, want to make sure your child understands that working means doing what the boss asks (of him/her), you also want them to know that’s it’s okay to question or refuse certain “unsafe” expectations. Make sure they know what’s right, wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, safe and unsafe, and make sure they know that putting themselves at risk is never the preferred option.

* While experts emphasize giving your kids the freedom to make wise and safe choices, they also stress the importance of staying informed and involved and verifying their claims. You certainly don’t want you kids to be unsafe (and should do everything in your power to protect them), but you also don’t want them to get use to relying on excuses to avoid the obligations and responsibilities of growing up*

Long Island Family Life & Parenting Articles > Working Up To Adulthood: Teaching Kids About Work And What You Should Know About Keeping Them Safe.

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