Teens, Jobs and School: The Pros and Cons
Most teens realize at a fairly young age the old adage that “money equals power.” Money equals designer clothes, a car and insurance, and in many cases, a certain amount of freedom. And in order to get money, many teens get part-time jobs.
While the benefits and/or drawbacks of teens and part-time jobs have been researched, studied and debated since at least 1979, the teens, jobs and affects on schoolwork verdict is still out. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 50 percent of American teenagers hold informal jobs, such as babysitting or yard work, by age 12. And by age 15, nearly two-thirds of American teens have had some kind of employment. And many researchers, including those on government panels like the National Commission on Youth praise part-time work and say it contributes to the transition from youth to adulthood.
Parents and educators alike have, for decades, said that part-time jobs teach children how to be responsible and manage money. But Temple University researcher Laurence Steinberg found that only 11 percent of students report saving most of their money for college, and only three percent contribute to household living expenses. “The bulk of teen’s money goes to clothing, cars, entertainment, and in some cases, drugs and alcohol,” according to results of a study published in Harvard Education Letter in 1998.
Steinberg says, “Students who work longer hours report diminished engagement in schooling, lowered school performance, increased psychological distress, higher drug and alcohol use, higher rates of delinquency and greater autonomy from parental control.” A 1997 study by David Stern, director of the National Research Center for Vocational Education at the University of California, Berkeley, proves Steinberg’s viewpoint. In research conducted over 20 years, students who worked more than 15 hours per week had lower grades, did less homework, had higher dropout rates and were less likely to go to college than students who worked under 15 hours per week.
But Jerald Bachman at the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Project, warns not to jump to cause and effect conclusions. “I would argue that most of the problems that correlate with working long hours are more fundamentally caused,” he says. “That may contribute the to spiral, but I think the spiral is well underway at the time they elect to work the long hours.”
Though the drawbacks to a busy, part-time job are many, so are the benefits. A teenager’s job can teach work skills that school does not, and it can instill in the teen new confidence, sense of responsibility and independence. Earning money will enable your teen to buy things and to manage money. An after-school job can also provide adult supervision, especially if you work longer hours than those in a typical school day. And the right job may provide networking possibilities and set your child on a rewarding lifetime career path.
But before your child gets a job, there are some things you should know. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, “Minors under 14 years of age may not be employed or permitted to work in any occupation, except children employed on farms or in domestic service in private homes.” Children under the age of 14 can also work on farms, be golf caddies, newspaper carriers or juvenile performers in the entertainment industry. But special permits may need to be required.
Also according to many state labor laws, teens aged 14 and 15 are not permitted to work more than four hours per day during the school year and not before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (During the summer, the amount of hours of work per day can be increased to eight.) Children under the age of 16 are prohibited, by Pennsylvania law, for example, from working in bowling centers (unless as snack bar attendants, scorers or control desk clerks), building heavy work, highway work, anywhere liquor is sold or dispensed, manufacturing, on scaffolds or ladders and window cleaning.
For 16 and 17 year olds, the some state laws say, “minors are not to work before 6 a.m. or after midnight on school days and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.” Also, not more than eight hours per day and 28 hours per school week. (During the summer, the only restrictions on 16 and 17 year olds, is that they can work no more than eight hours per day or 44 hours per week.) Young adults under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in billiard rooms; doing electrical work; operating elevators; performing crane and hoisting operations; excavating; operating machinery that does woodworking, bakery mixing, cleaning, oiling or punch pressing; roofing; welding; and doing demolition.
Your teen securing a job is a big step on the road to maturity. Be sure to discuss the pros and the cons with him or her. You may also want to agree to a job on a trial basis, such as “you can work x number of hours a week this grading period and then we will decide if you can keep working, based on your grades.” Maintaining good grades, continuing extra curricular activities and keeping a social life will be important to your child’s psychological health and development. Also, prepare a budget with your child, setting limits on spending and enforcing a percentage-of- paycheck-into-savings policy. Good money management skills, acquired when young, will last a lifetime. Part-time jobs can be a wonderful experience, with the right supervision and parental guidance.