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Beyond babysitting

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Melody doesn't see herself braiding and beading forever. But she's confident she'll quickly expand "to select hotels by the beach on Singer Island."

That free-spirited ambition, says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of online job board CollegeRecruiter.com, remains vigorous among today's youths – and the shift is philosophical as much as economic. "More [adults] today see themselves as ... free agents," he says, "and kids pick up on it."

Indeed, Melody's parents bolstered her self-image as an entrepreneur, and her mother modeled ventures of her own. At Melody's first art show, Mom was there, too, selling handcrafted sachets. "In the beginning," says Melody, "it was really important that my parents were there. I talked about it with my dad, how it would be really great to open the business up more and go to a hotel, and my dad kept encouraging me."

A broadening range of job options

The self-employed can earn a certain flexibility. But for those hoping to get creative while in somebody else's employ – a route that often promises a more predictable paycheck – federal labor laws loom large.

The Department of Labor and the International Mass Retail Association teamed up last week to launch YouthRules! (www.youthrules.gov), a nationwide campaign to highlight job opportunities for youths. It also will reinforce labor guidelines.

Until they turn 14, kids' job options are limited to paper routes, farm work, acting, or working in their family businesses.

Still, signs point to a broadening of options: In Illinois, the Darien Youth Club was facing a possible penalty of over $500,000 for hiring 12- and 13-year-olds as umpires for children's pony baseball games, failing to collect work permits for 14- and 15-year olds, and making some accounting glitches.

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