Paid chores/work for a teenager with social anxiety?
October 15, 2015 4:05 AM   Subscribe

During the school break, my teenager with moderate social anxiety and related perfectionist anxiety needs to work to earn some side cash/pocket money. Older siblings worked at fast food places, dogsat, did data entry, etc. at the same age, but these aren't working out for him at all. I need ideas for work that can be done from home and aren't total "makework".

For example, I got him to paint our living room recently. He did an amazing job on two walls, but couldn't bring himself to finish the last 5% of the third wall because of minor flaws in the border, just shut down and refused to talk about the project, didn't care about getting paid if it meant not having to fix the flaws.

I would have him do data entry for my work, but it becomes emotionally complicated because he would be working directly for me and when we've done that before, it turned toxic when I corrected mistakes, vs when he was working for someone else (school, other relatives) and I corrected mistakes because then I was an ally, not someone judging him.

He has been in and out of therapy to deal with this, and we have a supportive school system that helps him, but when it comes to work/chores, he gets overwhelmed easily and needs projects with lots of structure and encouragement and non-personal feedback. He will not and cannot currently cope with applying for parttime/casual work outside home.

He can talk to people by text and email, but not on the phone for more than 1-2 sentences. He's polite and follows instructions. He likes cooking, drawing, crafts, computer games, reading, and animals. He is responsible and neat.

We refuse to pay for babysitting his siblings or regular chores around the house, and he's maxed out on the regular stuff already. I'm willing to subsidize/supplement and help him in a job/project, but both of us want him to be doing something meaningful.

A big art project would be fine - great actually. It doesn't have to be work that's commercially paid. It has to be something productive. Ideas?
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Work & Money (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could he maybe do some light social media work for an animal shelter? If it's on a volunteer basis and they're informed that he has disability/mental health stuff going on, they might be willing to give him tasks he could do from his computer. Home-cooking for a homeless shelter might be another option.
posted by thetortoise at 4:42 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Careful with home-cooking for a shelter: lots of places won't/can't accept it --- and I base that on the kitchen I volunteer at, which had to tell a couple lovely old ladies that their wonderful, delicious, everybody-enjoyed-them cookies were no longer allowed, because of health dept. regulations.
posted by easily confused at 5:49 AM on October 15, 2015

The level of severity of what you're describing makes me think maybe this time is best spent in more therapy -- or maybe working with the therapist to find a structured way to go about this? It seems like if things don't improve, he literally will not be able to have a job down the road, and obviously that is not what you want! But, that doesn't answer your question, so here are some ideas:

--If your son is a good babysitter and has successfully worked with his school before, how about signing up with an afterschool tutoring program? I tutored elementary-age kids throughout high school and college (sometimes it was a paid thing, sometimes volunteer), and always had a good experience. Tutoring younger kids is much less socially "fraught" than tutoring same-age peers (which I would not recommend in this case). I realize this is not "in the home" but it seems like it could fit with his skills and past successful work experiences.
--Love the idea of doing social media work for an animal shelter, and I also wonder about hooking him up with a local young adult librarian. They might be either looking for or very happy to have teens write up book reviews of whatever they are reading, either to post on the library website, or a blog, or on little placards at the library.
--If you are affiliated with a church (or other religious group), you might see about volunteer opportunities there, since they tend to need lots of volunteers. Some things I have done at my church that seem like they would be a good fit include cooking meals for homebound folks and dropping them off at the church to be distributed; sending cards to people who were ill; and assisting with web/social media stuff.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:55 AM on October 15, 2015 [22 favorites]

Maybe Mechanical Turk could be a good fit?

But I agree with rainbowbrite. I think you need him to get some consistent therapy because this honestly sounds really crippling.
posted by like_neon at 6:00 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My parents made me volunteer in the Children's section of our local library for years, mostly shelving books. This seems like it might be a good fit for him - not much social interaction required; he'll be around people but wouldn't need to interact with them any more than he wanted to. It's pretty structured. A good children's librarian will be a much more understanding and patient supervisor than, say, the shift manager at Burger King.

If his perfectionism flares up in the form of spotting mis-shelved books and putting them in the right places, so much the better. :)
posted by telepanda at 6:41 AM on October 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

Pharmacies love perfectionists. If you use an independent pharmacy (not a chain), go in and ask them about internships or part-time work. Tell them about his gift of not being able to do a job unless it is done perfectly. He would probably do a terrific job of cleaning off all of the shelves and then putting the products back on in an orderly fashion. They could also use him to go through stock and check for expiration dates, which is a tedious job that no one really likes except for perfectionists.
posted by myselfasme at 7:28 AM on October 15, 2015

Scanning other people's physical media (photos, VHS, cassettes, CDs, etc.) into digital form and making them easily accessible/indexable would be pretty cool. I've suggested this to friends who are looking for work for detail-oriented autistic friends/family members. Of course, you'd have to have the equipment, but in some cases you can pick up an old tape deck at Goodwill and just run a cable.
posted by St. Hubbins at 7:53 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not working from home, but:

I had social anxiety and perfectionism issues as a teenager (adult now, still working on it) but a little more mild than your son. I used to do gardening work for my neighbors--weeding, watering, mulching, and occasionally some very basic planting and pruning. This involved talking to neighbors but very minimally, and I think it could be done without any interaction. Gardening is very solitary, it's very forgiving, it's contemplative, and it got me to go outside which I'm sure made my parents thrilled. I was making $10-20 an hour depending on difficulty of job, and usually would work 5 hours a day, 3-5 days a week.

I did one gig for a neighbor who had social anxiety herself, much more extreme than mine, and did not feel comfortable interacting with me at all. Luckily, my main "client" was her next-door neighbor N who she was okay with having conversations with occasionally, and N coordinated between us. N talked with the neighbor to find out what she needed, then N gave me a list of tasks, walked me around the neighbor's yard and pointed out where to weed etc., then left me to it. Afterward, N collected my pay from the neighbor and gave it to me. As the parent, you could basically take N's role. This would take a little time out of your schedule but it sounds like you're okay with putting in a little effort here on your own.
posted by capricorn at 8:10 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not "done from home" but what about lawn mowing and yard work? It's solitary but requires a strong work ethic. The boy (14) who mows my lawn is super shy, but he is a total perfectionist when it comes to yard work!
posted by CanyonWren at 9:13 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding volunteer work at the library. There is always shelving to do and that is both solitary and meditative.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2015

As a librarian I agree with the library volunteering suggestions above. Would it be possible for you to pay him for doing such work, or any other kind of volunteering that he does on a regular basis? Is there a local food pantry that needs help sorting food? If he likes animals maybe he could volunteer at a local animal shelter.
posted by mareli at 10:14 AM on October 15, 2015

If you're thinking of art projects that have value that he could do from home, I think your question remains, "value to whom?" And if you're paying him, I'd say value to you makes the most sense. So hire him to make a genealogical family tree complete with family member portraits. Or a portrait of your family that you'll commission (and possibly gift to another relative). If you want to get away from the technical difficulty of drawing people, you could also hire him to make and professionally print a personalized holiday card (or even general greeting cards) that your family can use. Or have him build a website that does something of interest to your family (my father, for instance, has a webpage where you can find out what the cloud cover will be over his driveway so that he knows when good times to stargaze are).

If you don't want it to be personal to your family at all but he still needs to work only from home, then he could start a YouTube/Twitch channel where he produces gaming videos with commentary (or drawing videos, or videos of him cooking, etc) and tries to build an audience; you could pay him per view he racks up or per video or per X number of minutes of content. This video/streamer option has real potential to actually develop into a forever part-time job or career if he has a knack for it (obviously so does illustration/graphic design/web design, but many people aren't aware that being a YouTube personality is now a viable career path kind of akin to being a radio host). Or he could launch a blog about his interests, and you'll pay him per post or per 500 words or per a certain number of views.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:47 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to pay him to take over work that you normally do and that aren't considered normal teen chores, what about paying him to do family meal prep? I know therapy is a tough sell for teens in general, and for teens with social anxiety in particular because you're basically asking them to work on their issues by doing something they despise.

As far as using his interest in art toward a productive if not necessarily paid project, is there any way he could think of to use his preferred medium in some sort of awareness project for an issue he's interested in? He wouldn't even need to coordinate with a specific organization if he's not ready to deal with people on that level yet--it can just be something to put together for practice, share on his tumblr etc. if he does any of that.
posted by drlith at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2015

clarification and huge thanks so far! He has had a great therapist and made significant progress there, and we are now trying to transition over to art therapy and some talk therapy. Three years ago, no one thought he'd be attending school regularly, now he goes out with school friends after class once a week. I'm pretty happy with his progress but it has to be at a steady pace for him.

I love the social media for the animal shelter place and actually have friends who run two shelters here. The home genealogy projects are great too - there's a lot of material I can't get through that he could, and make into a tagged tumblr or blog for his siblings that I would be thrilled to pay for. Ditto for taking over creating meal plans.

Kids/teens don't do yard work here, so that's out unfortunately. He would enjoy gardening I think. I have a friend with a weird urban garden I might ask a trial for though. And the library is a definite possibility through his school's volunteer program.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:05 PM on October 15, 2015

Also maybe look into community gardens if kids don't do general landscaping? Depending on the system they might be happy to have garden volunteers.
posted by Carillon at 4:39 PM on October 15, 2015

It sounds like you're more open to not solely working from home than I gathered from your initial question - maybe also consider looking into volunteering at elderly care facilities under the community programming coordinator. They love getting fresh faces in and he could combine the visits with his favorite pursuits, like hosting an exhibition of his artwork or bringing in a craft project that he and the residents could do together. Working with elders can be very healing for all involved.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:02 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whether he's doing it for the family or for others, what if he started building some culinary acumen (quality knife skills, etc.) and did meal prep in a way that he could sort of do a Blue Apron service for others? Like, when my brother was in culinary school and I was a total lazy butt (which I still am), he would come over and chop large quantities of onions, peppers, mirepoix, etc. so that I could keep them in the fridge and use them when I came home and cooked.

So maybe he could offer a prep service (washing, cleaning, chopping, portioning) and even develop a repertoire of like ten meals that he could either prep for people so they could cook it themselves or he could do everything up until they had to put it in the oven (like making casseroles for people who have just had a kid).

This could even include things like smoothies and cookie dough; my local cafe pre-portions frozen berries and bananas for their most popular ones so all they have to do is put it in a blender and add juice.

He could also make hors d'oeuvres and party food and/or even just organize existing party food on plates and stuff for people who don't have the patience to wait for the Trader Joe's spanakopita triangles to get done baking :P I cannot tell you how much I would have loved to have anybody do that at my kid's first birthday party; I didn't care what it looked like as long as it got on the table and all of the grapes were chopped in half for the tiny party goers.


Can he do shopping on his own, considering both his anxiety and his trustworthiness? He could either shop for this stuff on his own, using specific lists and money, or even (separate thing) work as a shopping gofer. I imagine that it might not require a ton of social interaction as long as he is able to get everything he needs, and if not he can just put checkmarks on a little list or something.
posted by St. Hubbins at 8:38 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's backing up, archiving and making phonebooks through SmugMug for all the photos for our family for 15 years with a reasonable pay rate that I'm very pleased with, has set up his own video project related to a gaming-fandom interest that's turned into a good project, and while he's not keen on part-time library work now, he's open to the library school program as a compromise too.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:39 PM on November 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

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