Mother still knows best

When Angela Allyn, a mother of three in the United States, takes to Facebook, it is usually not to post pictures of her latest party, but to drum up business for her entrepreneurial teenage son, Alec.

When Angela Allyn, a mother of three in the United States, takes to Facebook, it is usually not to post pictures of her latest party, but to drum up business for her entrepreneurial teenage son, Alec.

"Teenage boy available for schlepping, sitting and various clean-up. Message me if interested" is her typical post. Ms Allyn, an arts educator for the city of Evanston in Illinois, has put her social networking skills behind Alec's business in part because she realises that the traditional job market is tight and "it's really hard to get a job as a young person".

The Allyns seem to be succeeding in that space where the growing underground teen economy meets proactive and socially networked parents. Ms Allyn has been finding Alec enough work to fill the time left after homework, cross country and track activities, and he is using his earnings to support his expensive cycle racing hobby.

Job opportunities for teens have declined in recent years, partly because older and sometimes overqualified applicants compete for the burger-flipping, shirt-folding gigs that used to be their speciality.

The number of young people aged 16 to 24 employed during the peak summer month of July was down to 48.8 per cent last year from 59.2 per cent five years earlier, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There is anecdotal evidence that an increasing number of teens are filling the gaps in the economy and their wallets by doing odd jobs or selling the technical skills at which many excel. And their parents are promoting them - via Facebook, LinkedIn, neighbourhood chatrooms and more.

"You're your kid's pimp," jokes April Rudin, a New Jersey publicist who has brokered her two sons' abilities to do everything from shovel driveways to create PowerPoint presentations.

Tapping social-media connections is an ideal way to leverage the networking potential of those sites, especially because it is the medium teens "love and live in", says Nimish Thakkar, a New York job coach.

He has observed several of his clients engaging in the practice on behalf of their teens. But it also raises some questions about how much help parents can offer without being overinvolved and about how to keep kids safe online while promoting their businesses.

Ms Allyn advertised on Facebook and Craigslist for her son because at 15, Alec's own network includes few people with hiring potential. He hasn't built a website, she says, largely because it might draw interest during periods when he is overloaded with schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

The two have worked together to research how to price jobs, but she leaves it to him to work out the details.

"I will hand him the contact information," says Ms Allyn. "I don't get in the middle of negotiating."

That is one way she draws the line between herself and the dreaded "helicopter" syndrome of parental overinvolvement.

"It's one thing to help kids build bridges, it's another to help them cross," says Michael Woodward, an organisational psychologist specialising in workplace issues. "You have to be the coach - not the doer."

It doesn't always work out that way, Ms Rudin says. Her expertise in social media led her to broker the services of her teenage sons online, sometimes without asking first.

She recalls promising that one of them would shovel a neighbour's drive. When he didn't show up, she found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to make excuses.

Ms Rudin also subcontracted portions of her own work to her older son, who is honing his skills as a creator of online slide presentations. After he completed jobs, she would send tweets about his expertise to her Twitter followers, sometimes leading to additional requests.

That son, also named Alec, is now at college. He concedes his mother sometimes took a heavy-handed approach, but says he has no complaints. The experience he gained has been parlayed into a healthy side business creating PowerPoint presentations for students and corporate customers. A typical job brings in US$200 (Dh734) to $300.

"It's worked out for everyone," he says. "It taught me the meaning of a deadline. In the professional world, you don't have much leeway."

* Reuters