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By Jill Hamburg Coplan
MAY 24, 2000

When Does Independence Day Arrive for a Teen?

How to deal with a 16-year-old's dislike of his vacation job in the family business


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Work & Family Archive

Since they were little kids, my two sons (now 13 and 16) have always helped out in the family business during school vacations. They loved it when they were younger, and the 13-year-old still does, but my 16-year-old doesn't have a good attitude anymore, even though I pay him. I need the help, but I don't want to go to war over it. Should I give in?

--E.G., Brooklyn, NY

Democratic parenting, where kids are allowed to have their say, is a good thing in the long run. It would be futile to try to force a 16-year-old to work, anyway. You've got to give him a choice. That said, here's an approach that should satisfy both of you.

You're looking at classic teenage rebellion -- your son's special way of saying he doesn't have to listen to you anymore. Unfortunately, "your good intentions are being pushed down his throat in a way that's making him rebel," says Marcia Rosen, a New York therapist who works with business owners and is the author of The Woman's Business Therapist (Chandler House Press).

A 16-year-old is supposed to fight for his independence, but as you know, he's not quite old enough for 100% autonomy. So explain calmly and with confidence that one of the rules in your family is that children hold down jobs during school holidays. Tell him that you would like his job to be in the family business but that it can be somewhere else if he would prefer it. And let him know that he can quit as soon as he has found another job, says Hugh Daubek, a professor at Purdue University at Calumet's Entrepreneurship Center.

Avoid giving him a guilt trip over it. "Don't make him feel bad, don't get into a personal, psychological match," says Barry Miller, a work-family specialist who teaches management at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University. And don't accept one from him, either, if he protests that none of his friends have to work.

You'll be doing him a favor by letting him work it out for himself. "We always recommend that children of a family business go out and get maybe five years of experience working someplace else," says Stanley Simkins, a faculty member at the Siena College Family Business Institute and founder of Organizational & Human Resources Development in Albany, N.Y. "They learn what the real world is about, they learn discipline and how to respect the authority of others, which they may have gotten away with not doing at home. And they show themselves that they can be competent and successful without the benefit of family."

And if it really isn't practical for him to find another job for just a week's vacation, try to win him over with praise rather than criticism, Rosen suggests. "Let him know he's such a help, that he gives you such a break, that he's so valuable, that you so appreciate it." The kiss of death is telling him it's for his own good. Why not offer him a very small incentive -- a new CD or a $15 bonus to take a friend to the movies?

Teenage rebellion doesn't always have to degenerate into war if you can treat your child more like the adult he's becoming. "In his mind, he is an adult," Rosen says, "and he needs to be respected for his opinions and valued for what he does."

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Jill Hamburg Coplan has covered work, family, business, and finance for the past decade as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. She left Working Woman magazine, where she was senior editor, when her first child was born and now works solo from a home office in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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