Q: My son is not “work ready.” What can I do to help him?
A: There is a specific set of skills that will help your son do well no matter what job he goes for. These include attending every day unless he’s sick, arriving on time, appearing clean and tidy, and listening to instructions then following them through. Being polite and friendly is also helpful.

If your son genuinely wants the benefits of a job, such as more money, establishing a work history, and gaining a positive reference, then he may be receptive to your help. Work with him on an action plan to establish work habits. Include practical ideas about timekeeping, appearance, and attitude. For example, calculate when he’d need to be up in order to be at work on time, then give him a “You’ve got a job!” gift of an easy to use, very loud, alarm clock. Help pick out a work wardrobe. It may include clothes he wouldn’t be seen dead in at other times, but are appropriate for the job. Discuss with him whether he’s prepared to be told what to do. This can be difficult, since in school he’s encouraged to question and challenge, but in a first job he will probably have to take direction. Whatever he does, remind him to smile. If he’s pleasant he may be forgiven some mistakes while he finds his feet.

Q: How can I help my child with job applications?
A: To get a job, your teenager needs to make an impact on potential employers through her written application. Getting across her achievements and the key points relevant to a particular job, without being too wordy, takes practice. Preparation for written applications can be in the form of filling in mock application forms and through building up a brief, honest, and easy-to-read résumé. These allow her to practice expressing her qualifications and skills and organizing them well on the page. Try several styles of résumés and applications until she finds her style. She’ll find plenty of examples to work from in books and websites. A school career advisor may be able to give you examples to try out, too.
Q: I’m angry that my son used my card for online purchases.
A: Online shopping is a temptation to anyone, and your teenager is not immune—but it should not be you, via your credit card, who foots the bill without your knowledge. If he used your card, react as you would if he’d taken money from your purse. Get him to return the goods, repay the money, and accept a consequence such as limited online access. Discuss what the theft has meant to you, revisit the values you want the family to share, and establish rules about taking things without permission. For example, he must ask before buying anything, use his own bank account, and save for large purchases. You may be tempted to hide away all your credit cards, but this won’t rebuild trust. Instead, let him know you expect him to respect your property but, as trust is being rebuilt, you will check your account regularly to confirm he is keeping his word.
Q: My daughter didn’t get the job she wanted even though she practiced hard for the interview. What can I say to comfort her?
A: How disappointing after all that preparation—but what a great learning experience too. Each interview gives your daughter a wealth of information about how to give herself a better chance next time. Even though it can be daunting, encourage her to reflect on her performance and ask for feedback, including what she did well and where she could improve. When she’s ready, role-play the interview together. Practice with her as the job applicant trying out different responses, then swap roles so she can ask you the questions and see the process from the interviewer’s perspective, too.

Whatever the outcome, reaching the interview stage is an achievement. Remind her that the whole process, from preparing her résumé and written application to the face-to-face interview, is great practice for the next time.

Q: Just because it’s his money, does it mean he can spend it as he likes?
A: It can be quite a struggle if your son is splashing his cash on frivolous purchases when you recognize he needs to save for driving lessons, college fees, and so on. However, if he has earned the money himself you are not in a position to take it away from him, even if he doesn’t spend it wisely. Your best approach to this problem is trying to negotiate that he volunteer to put a proportion of his weekly wage aside in a savings account. Be clear that you will not be loaning him the money later, when a big expense comes up!

It is a different matter if he is using his earnings for illegal or harmful purchases, such as drugs or alcohol. This needs to be addressed as high-risk behavior rather than a concern for his spending habits. Set about understanding why he feels the need to spend in this way, and work with him on an agreement about what is acceptable to you as a family. 

Q: My teenager wants to buy everything on credit. How do I help her see that she’ll pay more?
A: A practical exercise can help your teenager make an informed choice about buying on credit. Use her latest “must have” item as an example and ask her to work out the cost if she saves up and buys it with cash. Then calculate the amount if she has to use credit and pay interest. Once she has this figure, work out how many extra chores, or hours in her weekend job, she has to do to buy in advance. You can extend the scenario by asking how many items on credit would use up all her weekly income? Is she prepared to have less to spend each week because of credit payments? What would happen if she lost her job? Guiding her through these aspects of a “buy now pay later” decision means she can make a choice fully understanding the consequences rather than acting on impulse.

What to wear A good impression

I know that first impressions really make a difference so I wanted my teenager to have a smart interview outfit. However, she likes to express her quirkiness through her appearance so we had to find clothes that reflected her personality and also showed a degree of formality. I vetoed anything revealing or with a controversial logo, which she accepted. Before her interview we checked the organization’s dress code, so she matched her outfit with their expectations.

Because we bought new clothes for the event she wore them a few times before to make sure they were comfortable. I didn’t want her to seem ill at ease in her outfit or be fidgeting with an itchy collar because that could have been really off-putting and taken the focus off her answers.


Most jobs are won or lost on the first impression your teenager gives, rather than the answers she provides

Preparing for work Reducing interview stress

Facing the prospect of her first formal interview can be seriously daunting to your teenager. Help her prepare to reduce stress on the day.


Prompt your teenager to find out as much as she can about the company or college and the role before her interview. Asking to visit in advance and knowing the context of the work can shape her answers and impress the panel.


Locating the interview venue can be almost as stressful as the interview itself. Coach your teenager through finding the place on a map and planning her journey. Have a trial run of the trip together. For example, try out the quickest bus route with the least changes and see how long it takes to walk from the bus stop to the venue. This way she can get her timing right and has one less thing to worry about on the day.


Find a quiet, private place and offer to take part in a practice interview. It can feel awkward but it will help on the day if your teen has had a go at answering simple interview questions such as “Why do you want this job/place at college?” and “What are the personal qualities you can bring to the job/studying?” If she’s too embarrassed to do this with you then write out the questions so she can practice with a friend.

Sell herself

Your teenager may find it uncomfortable talking about all the things she is good at, perhaps seeing this as boasting. Reassure her that she should say positive things about herself and answer questions with plenty of detail about the knowledge, skills, and personal qualities she has to offer.

Be honest

There is no doubt that many people find interviews stressful so don’t pretend they’re a breeze. Remind your teenager that most interviews are over within 30 minutes and reassure her you have confidence she can cope with that.


Knowing about the company, what they do, and what the role might entail will all impress the interviewer and reassure them that your child is keen and willing to work.


Help your teenager work on her body language, so that during the interview she can try to maintain eye contact and a calm, confident manner. This will impress the panel and may make her feel reassured.

Money management An essential life skill

Budgeting, saving, and bank fees may not be top of your teenager’s list of favorite discussion topics, but she’ll thank you later if you give her a good start in money management.

Comfortable with banking

Managing her own bank account gives your teenager an insight and practice in money management that she can’t gain in any other way. Involve her in the decision about which bank and account will suit her needs, and open up the account with her. Visiting the bank, in person and online, will ensure she’s familiar with handling her account in both arenas.

The saving habit

It can be hard for your teen to delay getting what she wants, but teaching her to budget and save for a large item is essential if she’s to keep spending under control. A regular savings plan, such as committing a portion of her allowance or wages to be stashed in her bank account each week, sets up a good saving habit.


The urge to splurge is probably strong in your teenager, and is understandable when she first gets her hands on an allowance or paycheck. Once the initial thrill has worn off, try to encourage a bit of planning. Ask her to make a list of the things she wants to use her money for and match these to her income. Create a simple balance sheet so she can see what money is coming in and where it is going. This way, she can make choices that keep her within her budget.


Handling money well isn’t just about budgeting: Keeping cash and cards safe and secure is a skill in itself. Teach your teenager some basic rules such as limiting the amount of cash she carries around, keeping bank cards in a safe place, managing her account online, and checking regularly to make sure there are no purchases or charges she can’t account for. Impress upon her that she must never give her PIN to anyone or record it so that others can find it.

Model good money management yourself

Use a budget plan yourself to keep family spending under control. Save up when you need a big household item, rather than making an impulse buy. Pay bills on time, and let your teenager see that you check bank statements to make sure they’re correct.


Help your child draw up a budget of his income and expenditures. Rewards for good management, such as a contribution to an expensive item, may help to motivate him.


Allow your teen to do part of the weekly food shopping with your money to help him to develop both responsibility and money awareness. Start with small amounts at first.

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