Teen Work


So summer is now officially behind us. Yet in our homes, there may still be remnants of that season, if our teens have brought their summer jobs back-to-school with them. Now, they may not only be doing the “work of school”, but also carrying the load of their work world. Today, desperate bosses beg our teens to work more hours, as the booming service industry struggles to meet its consumer’s demands. Student workers are being asked to fill these gaps, sometimes at the expense of their school lives.
So, here’s the question: “Does working while going to school add value to our adolescent’s day-to-day life?
According to Statistics Canada, 20,000 teens, between the ages of 15 and 19 entered the part time work force in the month of September (2007).
Researchers have studied the world of working teens, and consistently found that it was the number of hours teens work, that had the largest impact on their well-being. Their findings were conclusive - more than 15 hours of work per week started to show a negative impact on students’ lives. If this limit was respected, however, part time work had the potential of being a positive experience for teenagers and their families.
Teens themselves have frequently been interviewed by researchers, and give constructive comments about their jobs. They feel they have –“improved their time management, learned about handling their own money, and acquired skills in dealing with people, as a result of their jobs.” (Hobbs) A long term study that followed 1000 high school students, found that students with a balance in their commitments to school, home, and work, had a positive outlook on life (Mortimer). Other studies that focused on the parents of working teens, found that many parents believed their teenager’s employment had positive outcomes. These included: a healthy work ethic, increased responsibility and maturity, and improved self-confidence. (Mortimer and Staff)
On the other hand, a significant number of studies examined the potentially negative impact of work on our adolescents, addressing issues of school performance and participation in school. Decreased school performance was described as the decline in a teen’s expectations/goals, as well as in their grades. In order to spend less time doing schoolwork, and more time at their jobs, teens often chose less demanding courses and/or less than a full course load at school. According to researchers, this “disengagement from school”, meant that teens spent longer hours working and less time in school-related activities. The literature also showed that teenagers, who worked too many hours while going to school, had an increase in problem behaviours such as lateness for morning classes, absenteeism, and skipping classes.
Overwhelmingly, studies found that as the hours spent working increased, so too did teens stress levels. Insomnia, stomach aches, and frequent illness, were some of the potential signs of a teenager who was working too much. In a national survey of 1800 high school students, teens reported getting less sleep and exercise and eating poorly when working too many hours during the school year. A number of large studies also found that teens’ substance use increased as work hours increased and stress levels rose. “Intensive work [more than 15 hours a week] in adolescence is linked with more frequent use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs, as well as more minor delinquency and school misconduct” (Mortimer)
The research and literature send a strong message to parents of working teens. Parents’ involvement in the work lives of their adolescents is vital, and can help ensure a positive experience for them. Successful employment that does not interfere with school, and teaches teens useful skills, can have positive outcomes for teens and their families. Unsuccessful employment, in contrast, can have harmful and sometimes long-term effects.

Parents of Working Teens – To Do List:
• Ask your teen “Why” they want a job, and if they really need to work during the school year? What is the difference between their “wants” and “needs” when it comes to work and earning money?
• Do you believe your teenager is ready to successfully take on a part time job while they are attending high school?
parents can be supportive of their working teens in a number of different ways: helping create a resume, driving them to job interviews, etc.
• Help your teen choose meaningful work. Jobs that fit who they are – that use their talents and abilities.
• Negotiate with your teenager what the expectations will be around work and school. School must come first, and if school performance starts to suffer, it needs to be clear to your teen that the job will go.
• Closely monitor the hours that your teenager works while going to school. Being late for school because of late night work should not be allowed. School is the work of adolescence, and should always take priority over a job.
• If your teen does take on a part time job, developing a budget or plan for what they will do with their earnings is valuable.
• Continue to share regular time with your teenager. Be aware that your teen may become so busy with work and school that they leave little time for family and friends. Teens still need time to be with the people who are important to them – job or no job.
•  Fnally, be a strong advocate for your teen in their work life. This is particularly important if they are being asked to work too many hours, or if they are having other difficulties with their job. Work can be stressful for teenagers, and sometimes demands more from them than they are able to give.

For our teenagers today, their most important work is school!