Parenting Teenagers

Should my teenager get a job?

Published: 07 Apr 2014
Should my teenager get a job?

Most kids begin earning money at a relatively young age.

Many get paid for chores or for baby-sitting, car-washing, or odd jobs around the neighbourhood. By around the age of 15, many children are working in supermarkets, food outlets, and other retail stores. ABS figures reveal that up to two-thirds of teens are involved in the workforce at some level.

Should Teens Be Working?

The pros

The arguments for working are simple and logical. Teenagers learn

  • responsibility
  • independence
  • the value of work (and money)
  • interpersonal skills

Research tells us most parents believe they developed these attributes for themselves through their own experiences working as teens.

Additionally, many teens want to work. They want their own income and independence.

As a plus, when teenagers earn money, they generally rely less on parents for cash, which may impact the family budget too. Research shows most teens get satisfaction from having a job and experiencing the benefits employment brings.

The Cons

Pressure to work can impact on education, with research suggesting that as hours at work increase, grades suffer. More than 20 hours of work per week is related to increased school absenteeism, and drop-outs. And some studies indicate that teens working more than 20 hours per week have higher take-up of alcohol and tobacco use.

Parents also complain that working intrudes on extra-curricular activities and friendships. Plus, some parents find having their kids working is inconvenient. It disrupts planned family events, or time together.

Middle Ground?

Some researchers have discovered that the pros and cons may be less about ‘work’ and more about the individual. A teenager with high academic goals will typically limit employment hours. Students who have little interest in education work longer hours, and are also more likely to engage in ‘problem’ behaviours.

Making work ‘work’

Teen employment is not typically a contentious issue for families with adolescents. Parents and children are generally in agreement about the positives of employment, and parents typically support teens in their job-seeking efforts.

Additionally, the challenging behaviours (drinking, smoking, etc.) associated with teen employment are not usually caused by the job so much as the work facilitates the teen’s ability to be involved in those behaviours. So if your teen wants to do those things, work will help them. But otherwise, the negatives revolve around pressure on school, family time, and extra-curricular activities.

Here are some things to consider if your teen wants to work:

What kind of work?

For some kids, any job is good enough. Working for a fast-food outlet or retailer is a chance at independence and cash. And sometimes any job will do, just to get a foot in the door.

But research shows that when we have work that we find meaningful, and when we feel that what we do ‘matters’, we enjoy greater job and life satisfaction. The first job to come along isn’t necessarily the right one. Work, whether part- or full-time is best when it is directed towards longer-term goals.

For the career-oriented teen, paid work might be postponed in favour of volunteering. Obviously some jobs are not available to teens. Perhaps your daughter wants to be a vet or an engineer, or your son wants to be a radio DJ, or an air force pilot. By volunteering in the background, they may begin networking, and often gain valuable experience in an otherwise unreachable profession – and they’ll discover whether they really love it or not.

How much work?

Before going too far down the employment path, have a conversation with your kids about when it’s suitable to work. How will it fit with their current timetable? How will their contribution in the home be maintained? How will they keep up with their schooling? How many hours is enough?

Much of this discussion will be guess work. Until they’re working you won’t really know. But the discussion is useful for setting boundaries and establishing a clear line around priorities: school, family, friends, and extra-curricular activities vs work.

Emphasise values

As your children develop an interest in employment, talk about honesty, integrity, income, contribution, and what matters. As your children develop an understanding of what will make them ‘tick’, they’ll make better career decisions.

Be ok with change

In all reality, your children will probably try a number of jobs – and even careers – before they settle into one central focus. There is great value in experiencing new things, but success will ultimately come from stability and long-term focus. So be ok with change. But always encourage your children to look at the long-term picture and how it aligns with their values.


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