Help Your Teen Cope With Job Loss
As summer rolls around, chances are your teen may work a summer job. There's also a chance the job may not work out, and your teen will be terminated. Losing a first job (or any job, for that matter) can be a devastating experience. Here's how you can help your teen cope with job loss.
Not Just a Job
Probably the most important thing you can do at this time is to try to understand what your teen is feeling. To you it may have been "just a summer job" or not worth the grief because it wasn't a lifelong career at Bigwig Corporation, but for your teen, the job was probably a very big aspect of his life – even if he was there for only two weeks. "This is a teen's first step into the real world to stand on his or her own," says Ann G. Kramer, Ed.S., a licensed mental health counselor and author of Life Puzzle for Teens (Good 4u, 2001).
Instead of brushing your teen's job loss off as something minor that'll be forgotten in a couple of days, let him know that you understand what he's going through because you've been there before. Jeremy, 16, says the best thing his mom did when he lost his job was let him know it's OK to be sad without going overboard. "She told me it's fine to be down, but it's not the end of the world, and the termination could be a blessing in disguise," he says.
Who's to Blame?
Jeremy's mom is right. But before you push your teen to get out there and hit the pavement in hopes of finding that blessing, it's vital she recognizes the reason she was terminated. Most companies don't fire people without reason, and when your teen was "let go," they likely told her why.
It's quite easy for a teen to tell you she was fired because the boss didn't like her or her coworkers were jealous, when the real reason was because of excessive tardiness. Don't let your child do this. "If a teen has been fired, parents need to discuss with him what has happened, why this resulted in firing and thoroughly ensure that the teen accepts responsibility," Kramer says. If you allow her to blame others for things that are her own fault, she'll continue to make the same mistakes in future jobs.
This doesn't mean you should stress the reason for the termination so much that your child begins to feel like a failure. "Losing a job happens to all of us at some time and can happen for lots of different reasons," Kramer says. Don't think that by telling your teen he did this wrong and he did that wrong, you're helping. The goal is to get him to see for himself the mistakes he's made and learn from it, without your belittling him or making him feel as though he let you down. It's OK to let him know you're disappointed, especially if he was terminated for something like stealing from the company. However, turn that disappointment into a positive thing by encouraging him to do better.
Taking My Leave
One situation that deserves special mention is when a teen leaves a job, not because of termination, but because he chooses to. Carmen Payne of Houston, Texas, says she was surprised when her 17-year-old daughter quit her long-time job unexpectedly. "It came as a shock since she'd been there for closer to a year, but I wasn't really concerned because I figured she just didn't want to work there anymore," Payne says.
It turns out Payne's daughter actually liked the job, but felt she had no other choice than to quit because one of the guys there was making inappropriate comments to her. "I assumed everything was fine and her quitting the job was her own choosing," Payne says. "I didn't know she was dealing with so much."
It's important for parents to talk to their teens about leaving a job, even if the teen is the one who quits. Just because your teen quits doesn't mean things are OK. People end jobs for many different reasons, and you want to be sure the reason your teen left isn't something that's going to seriously affect him.
This doesn't mean there's always some big secret reason for a teen leaving a job. Sometimes "I'm sick of the job" is all there is to it. If your teen tells you she left because she didn't like the job and she's not exhibiting any signs that make you think differently, trust her. But if you think there's more to it, be sure to get to the bottom of it, whether she's terminated or she quits.
What about life after job loss? Get a new job, of course! Assure your teen that being terminated, even if it was his first and only job, doesn't mean he'll be stuck in the unemployment line for the rest of his life. He will get another job if he doesn't give up, and you can be a big help. Be his cheerleader when he slips into a mood and feels like looking is pointless because no one will ever hire him again. Help him to find potential leads. "Parents and teens need to work together," Kramer says. "Map out strategies, explore together in the newspaper, phone book and online employment options."
Be aware, though, all the looking in the world won't do an ounce of good if your teen answers incorrectly when, during an interview, he's asked, "Why did you leave your last job?" Donna Kozik, coauthor of Get a Job! Put Your Degree to Work (Donna Kozik; Tara Maras, 2004) says the key to answering this question is to turn the negative into a positive.
"In one or two sentences [the teen] should describe the situation in the best light possible, without lying," she says. The next step he should take, according to Kozik, is to "finish with a sentence or two describing what he learned from the situation and will apply to the next position."
By being honest with potential employers about his last job and what he's learned from the experience, he's starting his job search on the right foot. It won't be long before he finds himself with a new gig!