Preparing Your Teen for the Work World

By Paul White
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Radius/Superstock
Helping your teens build a foundation for how to work well and to be better prepared for their future.

One day my teenage twin sons decided they didn’t want to help around the house. One said, “All we do is work! We go to school, then to practice. We come home and have dinner, then do homework.”

“We don’t have time to do chores,” said the other.

“I understand,” I told them. “You are busy, but we are a family. We live together as a community. If you don’t want to work cooperatively, we can all take care of ourselves.”

My wife added, “You can do your own laundry, make your own meals and do your own grocery shopping. And Dad and I will do ours.”

“I’ll share my money with Mom,” I concluded, “but you can pay for your own food and clothes.”

They quickly realized that they could do chores, and their work rebellion lasted about 10 minutes. As parents, we must prepare our children to be able to function in the working world. Part of this preparation is teaching our kids to have a good work ethic.

Training teens to work

As I work with companies, I hear their many complaints about millennials not having a well-developed work ethic. This seems partially due to the fact that younger employees often have less work experience than young adults had in past generations. Some don’t have their first real job until after college, whereas past generations started working at a much younger age.

I wish there were a video game that taught teens how to perform quality work diligently, but there isn’t. Just as those who came before them, teens will learn how to work by working. Fortunately, work doesn’t have to mean a paying job.

Work can start early in life with simple daily tasks such as picking up toys and helping clear the table of dishes. That should grow into doing chores around the house: taking out the trash, making a bed, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, loading the dishwasher or helping fold the laundry. By the teen years, adolescents should be helping with yard work and assisting in preparing meals.

Of course, if you are just starting to ask your children to do chores during the teen years, be ready for pushback. You may need to employ the strategy of giving them the choice to do the work or pay you or a younger sibling to do their chores. (This reflects real life — you can do a task or pay someone to do it.)

Giving them a foundation

Our culture’s misguided goal of giving children a “happy childhood” — mistakenly defined as having no responsibilities — has led us down the wrong path. For our teens to become functional working adults, they must learn three key concepts:

Work comes before play. Most adults, whether we work inside or outside the home, must complete certain daily responsibilities before we do things we want to do. This is a critical habit to teach teens as they mature — complete your chores before you play; finish your homework before you watch TV; mow the lawn before you go to a friend’s house.

Demonstrated responsibility precedes earned privileges. Our culture tells kids: “When you are 16, you can drive;” and “When you are in middle school, you can go to the mall with your friends on your own.” Inadvertently, our children are being taught that privileges are related to age or grade, so all you have to do is stay alive and you get more freedom.

But in the working world, increased privileges, such as working from home or supervising others, are earned through demonstrated ability and responsibility. So the message should be: “You can drive alone when I see you drive safely” and “You can go to the mall alone when you have demonstrated enough maturity.”

Quality work matters. The goal of teens may be to complete tasks with the least amount of effort possible. But in the working world, the customer wants the job completed in a reasonable timeframe and at an acceptable quality level (which is defined by the customer, not the teen). If you, their customer, do not deem a job done well, then it is your responsibility to “complain” until the task is completed to your satisfaction.

As with other areas of life, teens learn best when we, as parents, do tasks with them, modeling and instructing along the way. Then we need to give them opportunities to practice working — at home, at church or in the community. Just telling them to “work hard” doesn’t typically get it done.

What is a good work ethic? Supervisors and employers describe it as:

  • Showing up (regularly)
  • Arriving on time, ready to work
  • Listening to and following instructions
  • Staying on task
  • Putting forth consistent, good effort
  • Performing quality work (vs. ”going through the motions”)
  • Completing each task in a timely fashion

Dr. Paul White is a Christian psychologist who addresses work-related issues. Along with Dr. Gary Chapman, he has co-authored The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Copyright © 2016 by Paul White. Used by permission.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Paul White

Dr. Paul White is a Christian psychologist who addresses work-related issues. Along with Dr. Gary Chapman, he has co-authored The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. 

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.