Should Teenagers Work During the School Year?

In the Los Angeles County Unified School District, the first day of school is August 14th. That’s only two weeks away.

Are you ready?

Is your teenager ready?

One thing parents consider this time of year is whether they should allow – or perhaps require – their teenagers to work during the upcoming school year. The answer depends, of course, on the individual. As a parent, you weigh the relative demands of their teenager’s academic schedule, extracurricular activities, and family responsibilities against the benefits of having a job. You decide if working through the year will be a net positive or a net negative for your teenager as an individual and for your family as a whole.

The benefits of working during adolescence are well established: a job can help teenagers develop a sense of responsibility, a greater sense of self, learn to manage and appreciate the value of hard-earned money, and give them an idea of what adulthood might be like. On the other hand, work can add stress to a teenager’s life, expose them to people and situations they aren’t quite ready for, and make them feel like their childhood is ending too soon.

Research on Teenage Jobs

A comprehensive study published in 2010 confirms what most parents consider common sense: in general, work has a positive effect on the overall development of a teenager. When you look delve deep into the details, however, it’s not that simple. In terms of academics, data indicate teenagers who work less than fifteen hours a week get better grades than those who don’t work at all. And teenagers who work more than fifteen hours a week get worse grades than those who don’t work at all.

It’s a question of finding the right balance.

And that balance will be different for every teenager and every family.

It’s the parent’s job to help their teenager find that balance. The long hours your teen worked lifeguarding at the pool over the summer will probably not be realistic during the school year. Nor will the physical demands of jobs like construction, landscaping, carpentry, or other trade jobs. If you went through the process of finding a suitable summer job for your teenager last spring, we have news. You’ll need to repeat the process again now. But this time the goal is to find a job that supports them as they manage their schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

What Parents Can Do

First, you can read this Evolve article to help you answer all the legal questions about teenage jobs: what kind of work teens can do, how much they’re allowed to do, and whether your teenager will need a permit or permission from school to work. Second, you can read this Evolve article for an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of teenage jobs, which we mentioned briefly above. Both articles are loaded with helpful links and information that will make your job much easier. Once you digest all that information, we offer these suggestions for appropriate work for the school year:

  1. Think about jobs that may support academics, such as tutoring.
  2. Think about jobs that align with your teenager’s interests: if your teen loves sports, they can work at a YMCA or similar sports program. If they want to work with children, they can work at an after-school program for younger kids. If they love computers, the possibilities are endless – repair work and programming/coding work are great places to start.
  3. Think about finding work programs for which they can get academic credit or vocational training. Your go-to person for jobs like these is the school guidance counselor.

And remember: during the school year, it’s all about finding the perfect balance of school, work, and family. If you can teach your teen to find that balance now, that’s a lesson they’ll benefit from long into adulthood.