The research on adolescent employment is mixed, with almost all experts agreeing that the question “Is it good for teens to work?” is oversimplified. Having a job as a teenager can have both positive and negative effects and depends on many factors (e.g. level of investment in employment, specific experiences teens have while working, and motivation to work). Teens who do benefit from high school jobs are more likely to be highly intrinsically motivated to succeed in school. That is, they value earning good grades and self-select to work fewer hours in order to keep up with schoolwork, participate in extracurriculars, and socialize (Mortimer & Mortimer, 2010). On the flip side, some researchers have found that teens who chose to work long hours tend to earn poorer grades, have less involvement in other activities, and are more likely to engage in problematic behavior (e.g. truancy and substance use) (Staff et al., 2009). Obviously this doesn’t always hold true. I had several friends who chose to work longer hours in high school simply because they had more time and weren’t involved in high school sports or other activities. What’s more is that researchers have found the teens most invested in their jobs are truly interested in gaining work experience, have lower academic expectations, and have parents who are less well educated. They tend to have more “adult” type jobs with increased responsibility and greater learning opportunity, as well as increased stress (Mortimer & Mortimer, 2010).
So the question remains. As a parent, should you encourage your teen to work in high school? In my professional opinion, it all really depends on your teen as an individual. Does your teen want to work; that is, is he or she intrinsically motivated? Is he or she doing well academically? Would working take away from other social or extracurricular activities important to your teen? Is your teen already stressed by the demands of high school?
Below are the pros and cons outlined by researchers in the area of adolescent employment (Bills, Helms, & Ozcan, 1995; Mortimer & Mortimer, 2010):
Having a job may enable your teen to learn valuable skills to prepare for college and adult life including effective communication, teamwork, money management, and time management.
Teens who are employed often report an increased sense of responsibility and sense of purpose as opposed to those who do not have jobs in high school.
Teen employment can provide opportunities for increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, and pride.
Having a job in high school is good for resume building.
Employment in high school may increase stress levels.
Teens who have jobs tend to have more on their plates, leaving less time for sleep, socializing, homework, and extracurriculars.
Many developmental psychologists argue employment in high school may stunt or deny teens an important life stage, the “adolescent moratorium” (when adolescents have few stressors and adult responsibilities). These psychologists believe adolescence should be a time of freedom, exploration, and identity development; too much work is thought to inhibit the formation of a healthy identify.
Overall, most parents seem to agree that working during high school in some form or another could likely be a good thing. Some parents chose to allow their teens to work only during the summer months, while others focus on volunteer opportunities, job shadowing, or internship positions. Regardless of what you decide, as a parent, you play an essential role in helping your teen choose employment opportunities that will be beneficial and worthwhile. Here are a few things to consider regarding teen employment:
Monitor the number of hours your teen works and when your teen is scheduled to work; do these factors align with your teen’s long-term goals? (e.g. Is your teen missing orchestra practice after school in order to work, even though her long-term goal is to become a professional violinist?).
Avoid potentially dangerous work environments and be aware of the teen employment laws in your state (check out your state’s Department of Labor website).
Talk to your teen about his or her boss. Does your teen’s boss seem supportive? Offer appropriate flexibility for high school students? Respect your teen’s schedule in terms of request for times worked and number of hours?
Monitor your teen’s stress level and physical appearance. Does your teen appear stressed or disheveled? Has he or she been skipping sleep or meals in order to catch up on schoolwork or hang out with friends because of working after school?
Pay attention to your teen’s mood. Does your teen appear more anxious or depressed since beginning her part-time job? Does he or she seem to be enjoying work? Does he or she share her positive experiences with you or her friends?
Making the decision about teen employment can be less stressful if you consider these factors and talk openly with your teen about his or her experiences. If you’re struggling with family issues related to team employment or your adolescent’s work-life-school balance or have questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to comment below or contact Dr. Luisa here.
For a list of complete references cited in this blog post, please contact Dr. Luisa.