Should Your Teen Take an After-School Job?

By Emily Guy Birken

| Photographs By Zephyr18

For several years through the ’90s, I would leave school, drive to a local craft-and-garden store, and work until 9 p.m. as a cashier. There was nothing particularly unusual about this. Most of my friends had after-school jobs, on top of our demanding academics, extracurricular activities, and the all-important social lives that consumed us.

However, some experts are looking into whether after-school jobs are always a good idea. In particular, students from middle- and upper-middle-class families who work after school — that is, students whose families don’t count on them for the income — might actually be shortchanging themselves by taking jobs during the school year. If your teen is considering an after-school job for the next school year, here are some questions you might want to talk over together:

Why does your kid want a job?

Obviously, if money is tight for the entire family, having Junior take an after-school job is important. However, if your son or daughter just wants a job to be able to buy the designer jeans and video games you won’t pay for, then that might not be the best motivation for a job. On the one hand, you will teach your children that they have to work in order to enjoy the finer things in life. But on the other, teens who are working to buy stuff may let their studies and long-term goals slide in order to get those things more quickly.

Students who are hoping to work to put money aside for college or want a job that will help them explore the field that they are interested in will be in a much better position. In those cases, the job will help their long-term goals, rather than get in their way.

What will have to give?

There are only 24 hours in every day. Your child cannot work without having to give something else up. Make sure that you are clear what will be untouchable — time for adequate sleep, school, and homework. On top of that, you might want to consider how your child will continue to participate in after-school activities or spend time with the family, or pitch in around the house, or spend time with friends.

While having a job is a good lesson in responsibility, remember that your student has a responsibility not to overextend herself. No one benefits from an overtired teen trying to do it all.

What do you hope for your child to learn?

Generally, parents want their teens to hold an after-school job so that they can learn the value of money, the importance of a good work ethic, responsibility, and how to get along with a boss. These are all great lessons, and are certainly ones that you will want your teen to internalize before he becomes an adult. But there are other avenues to learning these lessons too, such as talking about family finances, household chores, pet care, and doing chores for other adults.

Remember that your student will have to give something up in order to learn these lessons through a job. If you really want to stress the importance of education, for example, you might find that an after-school job undermines what you really value. (I saw this firsthand as a teacher when students would vie for the coveted early dismissal option in high school so that they could get to their after-school jobs earlier.) So weigh the pros and cons of a particular opportunity together.

Your child will only get one opportunity to be a teenager. Make sure it’s a great experience and one that will help her build the life she wants.


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