Is a Part-Time Job in High School Really the Best Use of Your Teen’s Time?

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).

Encourages Consumerism

part-time work behind a register

Part-time work behind a register may not be the best use for your teen’s time.

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.)

Encourage Entrepreneurship

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.

How do you feel about teens working part-tine in high school?

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Published or updated October 21, 2012.


  1. I guess it depends on whether you are active and want a part time job or not. Then it also depends on how you determine a part time job. I was very active in high from basketball, baseball, football, and play sports all summer. Adding a part time job in that mixed probably wouldn’t have been the best thing.

    But I did work. I don’t know if you would call it a part time job but cutting everyone’s grass in my neighborhood help make me some really good cash. Probably just as much as others and in less time. I had some friends who worked 20-30 hours per week and they had no problem with it. Most worked at fast food joints and the mall.

  2. I worked full-time throughout high school and I think it worked out well for me. Because of it I was able to make more money than others and had the opportunity to save more. I was still able to attend college credits while in high school and was at the top of my class.

  3. It also depends on what the part-time job is. For instance, I know a girl who was on the dance team at my daughters’ dance school, and this year she has begun teaching the little kids (preschoolers) at the school while she goes through school. It earns her cash, eases her into the “real world”, keeps her in dance and keeps her fit, and it is a very fulfilling and rewarding role to play.

  4. I worked throughout high school and college. It didn’t teach me to save but it did teach me how to behave in the workplace, how to prioritize my time, etc. So many of my classmates never worked at all, got good grades, but were unable to find a job after college because they were naive about how to get and keep a job.

  5. I did a paper route through high school. It provided me spending money and the ability to buy my first car.

    Every family is different, but unless you can provide the car, insurance, gas money, etc, then the part-time job is a good option. Secondly, even if you could provide all of that, I’m not sure doing so would teach the best lesson either.

    Our kids have to save up for their car and help with gas. The extra money let’s them do things with friends or save for items they want. You don’t want to be the ATM machine.

  6. Fabulous, insightful post! You have provided much for parents and teens to think about. My kids work/worked during the summer during high school, but during the school year focused on grades and involvement. We prefer it that way and look at their studies and their school activities as their jobs.

  7. Hmmm, I had never thought of the fact that most teens are introduced to drugs and alcohol at their part time jobs. Interesting point

  8. My first job was not until I graduated high school. I was not allowed to work. I was encouraged to get an education, play sports and join clubs. I did work for my parents throughout my years, but it was uncompensated.

  9. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I would argue that a good part time job is worth it. I was a lifeguard in high school, learned a ton of first aid skills that still serve me well in my adult, how to manage different groups of people, remain calm during emergencies and was super flexible for school and practice. Granted I was a pool rat anyways, so getting paid to be there was worth it.

  10. I strongly think that teens should go out and get part time jobs. I know I worked part time in high school, and full time while attending a 4 year college. I also worked full time while getting my MBA.

    I was able to leverage my work experience in high school to get a better paying job sooner in college, and then an even better paying job even sooner after graduation from college.

    Employers liked my work ethic and skills sets, and it has been very valuable to me. I attribute it all to getting started in high school.

  11. When I was in high school, I worked full time in a fast-food restaurant. It did not hinder with my education, instead, it taught an important lesson in time management and value for money. In my case, I would still prefer my child to concentrate on her studies when she’s in high school and maybe allow her to take part-time jobs only when she is already in college. I think the time should be better spent studying or networking…

  12. Kids may be introduced to drugs etc at work, but you can prepare them for that – they’re going to see it eventually anyway. I don’t think you can shelter them forever, only teach them.

    My kids have PT jobs, with a couple basic rules. School first, always (that precludes them working 20 hours a week through the school year). Secondly, funds get split 1/3.1/3.1/3. First third is theirs without strings. Second third goes to education savings. Third third 🙂 goes to long term savings (to teach them the concept).

    Now that we have one in university in a touch course though, they’ve scaled back work hours to almost none. Time enough to work during summer break.

  13. I couln’t agree more with the basic precepts of this post. I babysat, cut grass and delivered newspapers whild growing up and in my latter years of high-school started a small catering business. All of these jobs allowed me to schedule my time around academics and school activities. I saved all my money for college and the rest came from scholarships. I don’t think I would have been able to devote that kind of time to studying with a scheduled part-time job.
    I did work full-time during summers at Montgomery Ward’s while in college, where I earned quite a nice commission at times. I did not work while in summer school. That said, I’ve often thought my time would have been better spent in a job similar to what I wanted to do “in real life”. Working as an intern or clerking at a law office would have given me a better feel for my chosen career and helped me make more connections, from which the best job offers come. It’s not called “the old boys’ network” for nothing, even if girls can now join. Most of my friends who followed this latter path are now at the top of their game. These jobs may not affect the end game, but I think they can affect how we feel about ourselves.
    I did gain a knowledge of other life paths, and then understood how hard it could be for some to get out of their dead-end job as I was always slightly depressed by the job itself. My BF, who is now a Harvard Phd FT tenured Prof ,has never really overcome the negative feelings that came from the myriad low-paying jobs he felt forced to take to get where he wanted.
    Self-confidence comes from doing, and the more complex that job, the more self-confidence. I think the take-away message of this post is that there are other ways to make money in high-school and if college is the goal all resources should be devoted to that. Grades, school activities, voluteering and jobs requiring initiative count more than a shift at McDonald’s.
    (Actually, I think this applies even if college is NOT the goal. Technical/Trade schools are just as important and pride should be felt in them, as well).

  14. emilysasha says:

    I think part-time job is not bad specially if you can help your parents financially so you should go ahead. i remain good in studies while i was doing job for nine hours daily. So be brave and prove yourself buddy 😉

  15. emilysasha says:

    I think part-time job is not bad specially if you can help your parents financially so you should go ahead. i remain good in studies while i was doing job for nine hours daily. So be brave and prove yourself buddy 😉 Cleaner Jobs

  16. In my opinion, school is a part time job. I want my kids to learn. I pay them for grades…some might call it a bribe, but as I see it, they perform, they get paid.

What Do You Think?