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That restless kid may need a job

From having kids and knowing kids, it's clear that many teens and pre-teens need a job and exercise to feel good about life. They need to feel competent and that they are finding their roles in the world beyond family. They feel bigger and more responsible when they are given new challenges outside home; it's been valuable for all my kids, and most valuable for my most restless and challenging kid.

Many kids also want the money that jobs bring. They want to buy things that aren't a priority for parents, like the trendy sweater or toy. I knew I didn't want to finance the sense of fashion for 5 girls, or all their outings with friends, so I told them I'd buy the basics as they needed them, and they could cover the extra pairs of sneakers, jeans, pastries, birthday presents, etc,...

Modern life doesn't seem to support as many odd jobs for kids ages 8 to 14. I hope in some places kids still mow lawns and do paper routes, but not so much in Southern California. Here, adults pick fruit and berries, trim fruit trees, and wash cars. So it may take a little digging to find a teen a job.

Mother's helper to babysitting is a start, for girls at least. (To be clear, we have also been happy with boy babysitters.) Most teens know kid safety, they could read and do crafts, and they have some cooking and cleaning skills. Before their jobs, we discuss that most moms want a tidy house and peaceful children rather than the most entertaining babysitter ever, and a good mother's helper or babysitter keeps the children in the habit of picking up after themselves. The first job was entertaining toddlers while moms worked from home, or rested with a newborn. Once they were 12 they started officially babysitting for those same families, and were recommended to others.

A friend's teenage boys loves to build and work around the yard, so he's built chicken coops, shelves, and raised beds, and pruned and planted trees. He learned about irrigation from his dad, and about beekeeping from an uncle, so that's his newest endeavor. Meanwhile his sisters are babysitting together and have become the favorites for a couple of families.

One of my girls - the most driven and restless - was drawn to more creative, freelance-style work. She wanted to decorate cakes and do face painting at birthday parties, so I told her to bring her face paints and balloons to the park where we met our friends each week; she showed off her skills and entertained kids, and some families hired her to be the party helper for their toddler's birthday before she was 10. This child was an adrenaline junkie, and loved to be in charge of games and make exciting things happen, so it suited her well to be the pied piper for toddlers, and the moms enjoyed being able to sit down and chat with other moms during a party.

This daughter's next "job" was offering a week of summer camp at our house (she was 9 or 10). She planned the snacks, crafts and science experiments for 5 mornings, advertised on our community email loop. Families who knew her and me knew it would be interesting and fun. There were kids her same age who wanted to see the experiments she had planned, down to 4-year-olds, and I helped things run smoothly. Both the planning and the excitement of running the camp were time well spent with a restless, energetic kid who otherwise would have argued and complained to keep life interesting.

It became a tradition for her to offer a "camp" about whatever her current interest was, each summer and sometimes over Christmas break. A couple of years it was cooking camp, sometimes sewing, science or crafts.

My oldest babysat for several years and made consistently good spending money, until she decided she'd had enough of that, and did some graphic design and odd photography jobs before learning to help my brother's business. My driven, restless daughter who had told me that math was stupid and she would never need to know it, has ended up reading blueprints and measuring square footage and cubic yard of concrete, and improving on the existing spreadsheets for the same brother's business.

Meanwhile, my third girl LOVES animals, particularly horses, and I'd heard from horse people that if you got lessons for a year or so you could be helpful enough around horses to start getting lessons for a discount or free. So we used our charter school funds and I drove a lot to get the horse experience, and then she started volunteering at the ranch down the road. There was no age requirement - kids as young as 8 with sufficient experience can help other kids, while adults supervise. She helps younger kids muck, tack up, and go around the ring on a lead. It's good exercise, fresh air, but most of all she has to be nice for the entire shift, no matter how saucy the kids are or how she's feeling that day. There's no pay, but the experience is giving her more options of what she cando with animals.

This experience of showing up and doing the work whether you feel like it or not seems to be the most valuable part of a sports or job experience. For those hours, you can't let all your feelings hand out and snap at your family expecting forgiveness. There are expectations, and they don't want to blow it in public. Those hours seems to build the ability to manage feelings and work through fatigue and soreness better than any encouragement I can give through chores at home.

Another friend has found that her 11-year-old is far happier since becoming a mother's helper for a family down the street. The kids (ages 6 and under) are delighted to see her, the mom is appreciative, and the girl likes the feeling of "going to work" and having pocket money. The girl's mom appreciates the hours that her 11-year-old is busy, feeling helpful, and managing herself to be a good example to the kids she's watching.

Some kids have offered to make cookies or cinnamon rolls for holidays as a way to earn extra money. One enterprising group of brothers would climb up and get mistletoe to tie with red ribbons and sell around the neighborhood a couple of days before Christmas.

Finding a job for a kid or teen can involve some work, but I've found it beats having a mopey or restless kid wasting time at home wishing she had more to do and money in her pocket. Not all kids are like this, but if they are, it seems worth it to find some purposeful and maybe paying activity for their energy.

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