Getting a part-time job is often a rite of passage.
If your parents don’t shower you with money, that part-time job is your ticket to some financial independence.
My first part-time job was when I turned 16. I worked at a pizza shop until I was let go after I took an approved one week vacation. Then I moved to the classic teenage job, McDonald’s. After being scheduled one too many double shifts, I changed jobs to work at my friend’s grandmother’s dry cleaning business (until my friend tried to steal jewelry that a customer left in the pocket, and I decided I didn’t want to work with her anymore). From there, I moved to the cafeteria at Montgomery Wards.
On and on it went.
By the time I went to college, I had easily worked 10 to 15 different low end jobs.
Many people encourage teens to take jobs to learn responsibility.
However, I was already a responsible teen and working all of these crummy jobs didn’t teach me much. (There is not much to learn about following McDonald’s rote directions for every task in the restaurant.)
Maybe instead of encouraging our teens to get low end part-time jobs, we should be encouraging them to spend their time differently.
Detriments of Teens Working Part-time
Less Time to Sleep
Many teenagers work until 11 p.m. at night and work 20 or more hours a week. This leaves them very little time to get the 9 hours of sleep a night that teens are supposed to get. In my high school, there were regularly a few students who fell asleep in class because they had stayed up so late the night before working.
Less Time to Study
Working 20 hours a week and spending roughly 6.5 to 7.5 hours a day in school leaves the student with very little time to do homework. Often, the student must choose between completing homework and sleeping.
An Introduction to Drugs and Alcohol
Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol, but what isn’t discussed is that they often get their introduction at their place of employment. “These kinds of low-class jobs often introduce kids to smoking and sometimes drugs. Many of the adult workers/others are smokers and these kids often fall into it. Go to any ‘fast food’ joint and watch what they do on break” (Sullivan County).
The vast majority of teens work because they want “stuff”—a car, an iPhone, designer clothes. Very little of their money is saved. Many adults fight all of their life to get out of the trap of feeling like they need to keep up with the Joneses. Do we really want our teens to start so early in their lives feeling that they must compete with their peers for the best “stuff”?
In addition, many parents place little demand on kids to use that money any other way than how the kids choose. A teen who is used to freely spending several hundred dollars a month on whatever goods she wants will have a hard time adjusting to saving for retirement, paying the rent and meeting her monthly bills once she is on her own.
More Likely to Drop Out
Sociologist Ralph McNeal studied teens who worked at a variety of jobs and found that those who worked in industries like retail or service (such as fast food restaurants) were more likely to drop out than their peers who worked traditional jobs such as babysitting or didn’t work at all. He states, “They are more likely to drop out if a fellow worker says, ‘I started here when I was in high school, and I’ve done pretty well and make $30,000 annually’” (Advance).
What to Do Instead of Working Part-time
Obviously, each family is different. Some families do not have a lot of money and need their teen to work. However, if the family can get by with the teen not working, there are plenty of other ways the child can learn responsibility AND prepare for their future.
Get Involved at School
Colleges are looking for well-rounded students. If high school students don’t have to go to a part-time job, they will have time to become involved in sports and other activities such as student council or a language club. Being involved in these activities, along with having good grades, can help them get into the college of their choice.
There are many college students who choose a major only to decide once they graduate that they don’t even like what they are now trained to do.
I had a friend, Brian, who was in college to be an English teacher. His senior year, he finally began working at the college’s writing center, tutoring students one-on-one. He realized that year that he found teaching frustrating and did not enjoy it at all, but by then, he was only a semester away from graduating. If he had instead volunteered perhaps teaching people English, he would have known before he even pursued his degree that teaching was not for him, and he could have picked a different degree.
Many students walk away with a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt trained for an occupation they don’t even enjoy.
On the other hand, my husband is currently working a post-doc at a research lab where they study prostate cancer and genes. He had two high school students work with him this summer and gain valuable experience. They had time to see if this type of work interested them and if they should pursue it in the future at college. (Both plan to.)
Many part-time jobs available to teens are for fast food companies.
These jobs offer the teens very little in the way of skills. If your child does want to work, perhaps try to steer him away from these types of jobs.
Why not encourage entrepreneurship instead? Why not encourage her to take a lesson from the past and start her own business?
Babysitting teaches her life skills while giving her flexibility to take jobs based on her schedule and amount of free time. Perhaps your teen would want to start his own grass cutting business or snow removal business? If mom or dad is self-employed or works from home, the child can help out and learn about running a business.
Sociologist McNeal encourages this type of teen employment stating, “If you work at a fast food restaurant, you’re given your shift, that’s your job. It’s a real place of employment. It’s much more rigid than a lawn job, impinges more on a teen’s time and restricts more of what the student can do in terms of school involvement and extracurricular activities. With lawn work or babysitting, the teen can decide when and if they want to do the work. If they’re too busy, they can turn down the work” (Advance).
Maybe as parents, we should reconsider a job at McDonald’s or other fast food restaurants as a good thing. Many of these retail and service jobs distract high school students from their education, encourage consumerism and increase the chance that they may drop out of school.