Help Your Teen Develop a Strong Worth Ethic: 10 Tips That Actually Work

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Help Your Teen Develop a Strong Work Ethic – 10 Tips That Actually Work

Everywhere you go – whether it’s a fast-food restaurant, movie theater, grocery store, or retail clothing store, businesses are short-staffed – especially businesses that typically hire teenagers and young adults.

Although there’s wide speculation about why this trend is taking hold (a trend the Wall Street Journal refers to as the “quiet quitting” trend), many believe that Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) and younger millennials are literally opting out of working hard. In fact, there’s a new “get paid, don’t work” movement sweeping across social media that has many business owners worried. 

Other statistics are just as concerning. The share of teens in the labor force sank from roughly one-half to one-third of the population — a decrease of 17% since 2000. And, many students are now entering college without ever holding a part-time job in high school. 

One manager of a fast-food chain said, “In the past, we typically hired a lot of teenagers and young adults, but not anymore. I feel like today’s emerging workforce lacks ambition and work ethic. They simply don’t want to work.” 

While we can’t deny that things have changed, we can’t toss out a blanket statement that all teens and young adults lack work ethic. In fact, many teens are working harder than ever focusing all their efforts on building their college resume in lieu of getting a job. 

According to Eric Chester, celebrated “teen work ethic guru” and motivational coach/speaker for teens, “There is a ton of promise and potential in this enigmatic Gen Z workforce. They want to be successful and they have a skill set that will astound you.” That being said, some are postponing working and entering the workforce later with a different set of attitudes, values, and beliefs and it’s up to us to unleash their talents. 

So how can we teach our kids to enter the working world with the same enthusiasm, attitude, values, and beliefs that we did when were teenagers? According to experts, it’s going to take a different set of parenting skills because we’re living in a different world. Here’s how to help your teen develop a strong work ethic.

Help Your Teen Develop a Strong Work Ethic: 10 Tips That Work


#1 Lead By Example

Our teens may not listen to everything we have to say. Heck, they might even blow us off completely every time we tell them, well… anything. But you better believe they’re paying attention to what we do. They’re watching whether we avoid work like the plague or whether we dive in and get the job done. They’re watching if we lie and call in sick or if we skip out early on a Friday afternoon. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, (which IS working), they’re paying attention to how you structure your days. 

Be the role model your child needs so they grow up believing in, witnessing and valuing the benefits of hard work and a strong work ethic. You are your child’s leader. Show them how it’s done.

#2 Be Mindful of How You Talk About Work

Parents have to be mindful of how they talk about work in front of their kids, says Chester. “If your kids hear rumblings at the dinner table that you hate your job, that you can’t stand your boss, that it’s something you have to do, that it’s a necessary evil and you’d give anything to quit, you’re giving your teen a tainted view of the working world.” In other words, we can’t expect our kids to step into the workforce with a hopeful, positive outlook if they grow up in a house with parents who view work as “the enemy.” 

#3 Don’t Protect Your Teen from Work

“I’m too busy, I don’t have time for a job.” We all know a lot of teens are stretched to the max with school, sports and college preparations, but we have to lighten their load enough so they can squeeze in a part-time job – even if it’s five hours a week. Because nothing can prepare them more for life and their future career success than a job. According to Chester, stop making it easy for your teen not to get a job. “The longer we delay our kids from working, the longer we’ll delay their ability to succeed in the workforce.”

The tyrant of a boss they have to learn to deal with or learning how to deal with demanding or rude patrons – working teaches kids things they can never learn at home, on the field, or in school. “They need to know what it feels like to start at the bottom, to work hard for that raise or promotion, to show up on time, and learn that no job is beneath them, whether it’s cleaning bathrooms or sweeping floors,” says Chester. 

#4 Don’t Hand Everything to Them on a Silver Platter

“Mom, I reaaaaaallly want this new hoodie. Can you buy it for me?” “Dad, I’m waaayyy too old to take the bus, it’s embarrassing. Can you please buy me a car?”

We might have all good intentions when we hand our kid our credit card to pay for those new Adidas athletic shoes. We might think we’re doing the right thing when we dole out big bucks for a new car because walking or taking the bus is a little too inconvenient for our teens. But we’re not doing them any favors. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t provide for our kids, buy them clothes or take care of their needs, but we have to stop handing everything to them on a silver platter. We have to stop making life so easy and help them learn the value of a dollar and the benefit of working hard to get something they want. 

#5 Talk About What Working Teaches Them

Ask just about any teen and they’ll tell you their job is a drag. They hate bagging groceries or filling fast food orders or putting clothes away that people tried on. They don’t like getting up early or working late, and they really don’t like the crummy pay. What they don’t realize is how that part-time job is preparing them for life. 

How that entry-level, low-paying, crummy job they can’t stand is helping them learn to deal with the public or a demanding boss or a difficult colleague. How it’s helping them learn to be accountable and reliable, how to follow rules, accept constructive criticism, and get along with co-workers. How it’s teaching them problem-solving skills, how to collaborate with a diverse group of people, how to overcome challenges and failures and how to manage their time effectively. They’re learning a set of core values they can’t learn anywhere else. 

#6 Teach and Model Reliability & Integrity

When your teen asked you to pick them up from practice at 7:30 and you’re thirty minutes late, they get frustrated, don’t they? When you told them you’d pick up their favorite breakfast bars from the grocery store and you forget, they might pitch a small fit. They want you to be reliable, yet oftentimes, teens aren’t. Being reliable and standing by your word goes both ways. 

Help your teen understand the value of reliability and integrity. Help them build those vital character traits so that one day they will prove invaluable to a future employer. If they make a commitment to a friend, offer to be part of a group project or tell you they’ll help you clean out the garage next Saturday, hold them to it. Encourage them to stand behind their word and follow through. 

#7 Push Their Wagon as Hard as They Do

According to Chester, tell your teen, “Your success is my goal. The harder you push, the more I’ll help you. When you let up, so will I.” In other words, become your teen’s partner in success. Push their wagon as hard as they do. Tell them you’ll match what they earn for that new hoodie they want to buy. Tell them you’ll put as much money toward a car as they’re able to save. Give them the incentive to try hard and work hard. Don’t hand them things they want. Make them work for what they want, but help them along the way. 

#8 Give Them Chores at Home

I know, in our teens’ defense, they’re busy with school, sports, extracurriculars, and college prep. Still, they are enjoying all the comforts of home living under our roof – a stocked fridge and pantry, a warm bed, most likely access to a car, and more. We’re not doing them any favors or helping them hone in on their work ethic by letting them off the hook when it comes to helping around the house 

Even if we assign them just a few chores that they’re responsible for on a regular basis, we’ll be teaching them the importance of working together as a family, how to balance expectations and other valuable skills that will carry over to the workforce one day.

#9 Let Them Deal with the Consequences of Their Inactivity

You know your teen who thinks it’s totally embarrassing to take the bus to school so they’re waiting with their hand out for you to purchase them a car? Well, push their wagon as hard as they do. If they’re unwilling to put forth the effort to get the things they want, let them deal with the consequences. You may not be able to force your teen to get a job, but what you can do is make their life a tad uncomfortable so they actually want to get a job to earn some cash.

#10 Celebrate Their Efforts Every Step of the Way

The little kid that needed tons of reinforcement and praise from you lies just beneath the surface of your big kid. Your teen still needs to know you’re proud of them. They still need the high fives, the “Way to go you did it!” and the “Man, you said you were going to do it, and you did!”  Whether they land a five-hour-a-week job bussing tables, sweeping floors, or stocking shelves, make a big deal out of it because it IS a big deal!

In many ways, this new generation’s “work to live” mindset is a healthy shift from our generation’s “live to work” mindset. Still, as parents, we need to help our kids establish a strong work ethic not only so they can find satisfaction in their jobs – regardless of what that job is – but also to help them realize their personal and financial goals in their careers. 

If you enjoyed reading, “Help Your Teen Develop a Strong Work Ethic: 10 Tips That Actually Work,” you might enjoy reading these posts as well!

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