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Article updated: 10/30/2013 1:51 PM

Avoid my mistake: Put your children to work now

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By Kent McDill

I have three children in high school, and they all need jobs.

Please help.

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My wife, Janice, and I did a decent job raising our four children. Haley (19) is a sophomore in college and doing very well with her double major. Our twins, Dan and Lindsey (both, coincidentally, 17) are seniors in high school, doing well academically, having success in sports and maintaining friendships. Kyle (14) is doing well as a freshman in high school and even asked us to get him into all advanced courses, because he wanted to test himself after breezing through his first eight years of school.

But Janice and I made one clear mistake. Our kids do not see any need to get a job.

This is our fault. We paid for everything. We tried giving them an allowance, but we didn't tie it to any kind of performance around the home. Don't repeat that mistake. Even allowances need to be a salary of sorts.

Because we paid for everything, our kids didn't even much demand their salary when they were young. They were never out without us. It's like never leaving home without your wallet. We were both the taxi and the method to pay for the taxi. We should have tipped ourselves better.

Our kids also got WAY overpaid for the simple act of losing teeth. The tooth fairy was extremely generous when she came to our home. Have a talk with her about that when she shows up at your place.

Now, it's too late for us. Even though the kids need spending money and know they are going to need spending money when they go to college, they don't seem to have any urgency related to the pursuit of a job.

To be fair, I'm not sure what kind of job they could get. All three of my high schoolers have after-school activities that we want them to continue, which look good on transcripts. Lindsey actually applied for a job but found out that, truly, she was only available on weekends, and employers don't like to be told when you can work. They like to tell you when they want you to work.

To be honest, Dan and Kyle both have jobs, of a sort. They work as soccer referees, and there is good money in that. If your kid is near middle school age and has ever played soccer, then get him or her into reffing.

However, it is seasonal, and there are a lot of refs and not enough games. Dan needs another job. Kyle, who like Dan could easily become a professional referee someday, hates leaving the house and his video games for something so ridiculous as trying to make some money.

I don't like to admit it, but our kids are too comfortable. I love them, but they need a kick in the shorts. (Which is all the boys wear, by the way -- shorts. The temperature dropped 20 degrees the other day, and the boys wore shorts to school.)

I kind of wonder how I managed to have jobs when I was in high school. I ran cross country and track, and I still had jobs from freshman year on.

I delivered newspapers for a long while, getting up extra early every day to fold them, wrap them and get them to the homes in my neighborhood on my bike at 6 in the morning. Today, we wouldn't allow our kids to do that, even if the job were available.

And I worked at McDonald's, which at the time (the 1970s) was almost the only fast food job available. Today, there are hundreds of those places within spitting distance of our home. But nobody is hiring, and my kids don't want to handle food anyway (I just shook my head as I wrote that line. Our kids have REALLY had it easy.)

Besides baby-sitting, Haley never had a job until the summer before her freshman year in college. She got an office job through a friend, and she hated it. But she made enough money to get her through her freshman year, and then she got her dream job at Nordstrom, which helps her with her fashion major at school.

But she would much rather get her money from us.

As I said, it's too late for us. But save yourselves. No matter how old your kids are, put them to work. Pay them a fair wage, but make it clear the money comes from performance. Perhaps you could even offer them an incentive, like an extra dollar for every $5 they make. Kind of like an employee contribution to your 401K.

Don't just hand them the money. It's a bad path. It could lead to your kids wearing shorts all winter long.

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.

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