9 great first-time jobs for teens

A successful first job can build confidence and self-esteem for teens with learning and thinking differences. The trick: finding work that plays to their strengths.

Animal care

Shelters and kennels need lots of hands-on help. This includes walking, feeding, and playing with their furry residents. It might also include tasks like cleaning cages and hauling supplies. If your child is an animal lover, this is just the kind of job that will hold their attention and make the most of her energy and enthusiasm. Conversation is not generally a focus of the job. This could be a good thing for teens with language difficulties. (Tip: If your teen is interested in the job, talk to the boss ahead of time. Make sure your child won’t be exposed to unpleasant aspects of shelter life, which can include putting animals down.)


Does your child have energy to spare? Mowing, raking, weeding, and planting can be an excellent outlet. Being part of a crew makes it easy to follow along. But it doesn’t require too much talking if your child struggles with language challenges. If committing to a formal landscaping job or finding one is difficult, you can still help them build skills. Encourage your child to offer yard help to friends and neighbors. Just be sure your child understands what’s involved to complete the tasks successfully.

Car wash

Every car wash needs a crew to dry, polish, and vacuum cars after they come through the wash. For a teen with attention or executive function challenges, the quick satisfaction of finishing a job every few minutes can help them stay focused. Working for tips (in addition to minimum wage) gives added incentive to stay on task.

Sales clerk

For teens who are good with people, working the floor at a shop may be a good match. They can give advice and help customers at a clothing boutique or electronics store. Working the cash register might not be ideal for kids who have trouble with math or executive function challenges. But if someone else tallies up sales and processes payments, working the floor could be a positive experience.

Shelving and inventory

Working the cash register or helping customers may not play to your child’s strengths. But there’s plenty going on behind the scenes at retail stores that could be a good fit. This includes shelving goods, bagging groceries, and mopping floors. Teens with artistic talents can create store displays.

Recreation assistant

If your teen is athletic and likes kids, have them see if the local Y or recreation center needs a hand. They might need help with afterschool or summer or weekend sports programs. Unlike babysitting, which can involve reading to kids or cooking meals, this work is primarily hands-on and active. That’s a plus for teens with attention, executive function, and reading challenges. Jobs can include everything from hauling equipment to playing out on the field to keep little kids busy.

Restaurant kitchen help

Dishwashing, food prep, floor mopping, bussing tables: The back end of a restaurant is a great place to learn the basics of food service. There’s very little downtime in this job. That’s good news for kids who have trouble keeping focused. A restaurant kitchen offers the chance to work as part of a team, but without the pressure of working with customers. There’s also opportunity to move up — within the kitchen or out into the dining room — if that’s what your teen wants.

Pool maintenance

Maintenance companies beef up their crews as summer gets into swing. If your teen is comfortable around the water, she can join a crew and stay busy skimming and vacuuming leaves. Depending on their reading and math skills, your teen might also learn how to balance chemicals and work equipment. Learning these skills can help give them the experience to start their own small pool business someday.

Data entry

If your child has weak fine motor skills or hyperactivity challenges, this might not be a fit. But teens who are good on the computer and who like to work alone might enjoy it. Community organizations are a great place to look. They often have mailing lists to maintain. Even if a local group can’t initially pay your teen, the volunteer experience looks great on a resume and can lead to new opportunities.


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