I got my first job when I was 14.
As soon as I began to earn some money, my grandmother Big Mama stopped buying me a lot of necessities she ordinarily would have purchased — clothing, school supplies. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.
My summer earnings gave her some financial relief. With four other grandchildren to take care of, Big Mama told me I had to be responsible with my money. It wasn’t a choice. I worked every summer from then on until I began working full time as a journalist.
In many households, when teens or young adults get summer jobs, the money is truly to help support the family. For others, the income is often treated as play money and spent at the shopping mall or the movies.
During a recent online discussion, I received some good questions from parents about what they should do financially when their children start working for the summer. Here are four that might be particularly helpful:
Should your child continue to get allowances?
The point of putting your children on your payroll is to teach them how to handle money. An allowance should be a tool for you to show them how to save and to spend wisely.
If they’ve got a job, let them learn to be financially responsible or irresponsible using their own income. While they are working for the summer or during the school year, stop the allowance.
Should you make your child give you money toward the household bills?
It’s not the responsibility of children under your care to contribute to the household expenses. Grown folks pay the bills. You are still the parent. They are still your dependents.
Yet, from my own experience, I understand there are situations where the money a teen or young adult makes is needed. Many Americans are living below the poverty line or struggling to make ends meet, so any income coming into the household can be the difference between food on the table and going to sleep hungry.
But if that’s not your family situation, don’t burden your children with adult financial obligations. They will soon enough know what it’s like to pay their own bills.
Now, when my kids leave lights on in my house, I do joke that I’m going to charge them rent or at least make them pay part of the electricity bill.
Should you take a hands-off approach to how your children spend summer earnings?
Quite the contrary. You should be all up in their business. Don’t think of it as micromanaging their financial lives. Rather, you are a shepherd. And what does a shepherd do?
A shepherd tends to, feeds and guards his flock. It’s still your job to watch over your children and steer them in the right direction. Make them save. Fuss about any spending you think is superfluous.
Set some rules for the income they are making, because they are still living under your roof. My kids must save. They are encouraged to tithe. My roof. My rules.
What should you do if a child chooses to take an unpaid internship? Many students cannot find paid internships.
Last summer, my daughter took an unpaid research internship. My husband and I fully supported her decision. We didn’t want her to take any job just for the money. But because we are good savers, we could afford to give her a monthly stipend — not much, but enough to cover some personal expenses. Thankfully, she got a paid position this summer.
A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that students who took paid internships or co-ops were more likely to get full-time employment offers at a higher salary than students who took unpaid internships or co-ops. The association surveyed nearly 40,000 students at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree levels.
The survey results might discourage your child from taking an unpaid internship. They shouldn’t. In some cases, it’s the only way to get the connections they’ll need. Employers still want to see young hires with experience that is relevant to their career choice.
If money’s an issue, he or she may have to get a paying part-time job. But I will throw this in for free: Encourage your child to start looking for paid summer positions in the fall. They have a better chance of landing a job with pay the sooner they start looking.
I’ll leave you with this: Even when your children start earning money, keep parenting. Keep shepherding. They are still young enough not to know enough.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.