Money for Something?

After finishing up a yearlong work project, Maura Rhodes faced the daunting job of cleaning up her home office. “The place was a disaster. And one of the big things that kept me from getting started were several years’ worth of magazines strewn all over the place,” says Rhodes. So the freelance editor from Montclair, N.J., offhandedly offered to pay her 9-year-old daughter to deal with her magazine mess.

Rhodes was surprised by the response: “She jumped on the opportunity and spent the next few hours putting them back in chronological order and reshelving them.” Could Rhodes have done the job in less time? Sure. “But the half hour that it saved me gave me the chance to work on something else,” she says. “My daughter was also thrilled to have the money and to spend the time with me.”

Certainly, kids shouldn’t be paid every time they put a dish in the dishwasher. “But there are jobs that require extra effort and time. And in this culture, money is the best thing we have to acknowledge our kids’ contribution when they take them on,” says Peter L. Sheras, Ph.D., author of I Can’t Believe You Went Through My Stuff! How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need (Simon & Schuster 2007). “Especially if the job plays to a child’s particular strength -- computers, for example -- it puts kids in the position of actually educating their parent,” says Sheras.

Here, some primo projects for teens and preteens:

Wipe out fingerprints Arm your young laborer with paper towels and cleaner, and send him hunting for fingerprints, smudges and scuffs on moldings, walls and windowsills. Have him test a small patch before he starts to make sure your paint won’t smudge.

Take on tutoring Demystifying a couple of algebra equations may not warrant a salary. But what about asking your oldest to take on the role of daily homework coach for younger kids in the house? Set up “class” close to where you are so you can keep tabs on tempers and help out when everyone’s stumped.

Bring mom into the 21st century They may not be able to make a bed, but teens put adults to shame when it comes to computers and other technology. Most teens and preteens have learned Excel in school, so if you don’t have a clue, pay yours to set up spreadsheets on your computer (great for managing books, budgets, etc.). Or hire them to transfer all those entries in your tattered Filofax or antiquated Rolodex onto your computer’s address book.

Iron all the table linens If you’re like many of us, you haven’t used your pretty table linens in eons because you a) never ironed them after you used them last or b) can’t stand the idea of ironing if you use them again. Teens can take on this easy yet time-consuming pressing job. There are no tricky collars or creases to be made. Just be sure they’re careful with the hot object.

Care for outdoor furniture We’re all told to oil our wooden outdoor furniture to keep it looking good, but who has the time? Teens are perfect for the job -- unlike painting, there’s no worry about streaks or drips. They just pour the oil onto a rag (ask what you should use at the hardware store) and wipe it onto the wood. In the spring, pay to wipe down outdoor furniture that’s been collecting shmutz all winter long.

De-junking junk drawers Younger kids can go through those messy drawers, testing and tossing pens that don’t work, sharpening pencils and sorting rubber bands, binder clips, paper clips, etc., into bags and containers.

Assembling toys and furniture Put your former Lego and K’nex whiz to work assembling that dresser you just bought from IKEA or that Matchbox Racetrack you bought for your 7-year-old. You might actually swoon with gratitude. And he’ll feel like a pro.

by Peg Rosen