Responsibility and your teen’s first job

Jun 16, 2011 at 5:07 p.m. ET

Does your teen want a job? Do you want your teen to get her first job? Or perhaps you both think it’s an awful idea that will distract from her studies and interfere with her social life. If you’re trying to navigate the world of teenage employment, there are several factors to keep in mind. Read on for solid advice.

working teen in chicken costume

For some teenagers, a first job is a rite of passage during high school. For others, it's the last thing on their mind. And for some parents or families, it's a necessity. What about your teen? Michael Ungar, PhD, a university research professor and author of The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids, offers parents the following tips and advice.

How old … or young?

"Kids start working when it's developmentally appropriate and when they can take on tasks that are safe and manageable," advises Dr Ungar. That might sound general, but parents know their teens best. For some, this may occur at 16. For others, it might not happen until the summer after high school graduation. You must also consider state laws on children and jobs, as well as your own family's financial needs.

A lot or a little

Determining the ideal number of work hours each week for your teen requires you to take a few factors into account. Dr Ungar recommends the following three:

  • First, balance your teen's or your family's financial needs with the potential growth experience. If the income isn't absolutely necessary, perhaps it's best to start with fewer hours and allow your teen add more as necessary.
  • Second, talk with your teen to determine how many weekly hours of work he needs to feel like he's making a contribution or earning for himself. For some kids, one shift is all it takes; for others, it might be 15 or 20 hours.
  • Third, think about how working will affect your teen's education. While parents of teens who are doing poorly in school might be concerned that a job will further distract from their studies, Dr Ungar says that research actually shows that for poorer-performing students, a job may not be as much of a risk as it is for a higher-performing student. With the latter, it's more likely that a job will detract from study time and undermine school. However, remember that each person is unique. Assess your teen's performance in school and her own focus on her education when considering this.

Work life vs. social life

As for ensuring a job doesn't interfere too much with her social life, your teen will probably find the balance on her own. Furthermore, Dr Ungar reminds us, "Kids will give up parts of their social lives if the job meets their needs. We forget that kids don't always want to be children. They like the money and the sense of responsibility that a job brings, and they want to transition into adult roles."

Jobs are a part of learning responsibility and growing up. Just be sure to guide and support your child as he enters this new phase of life.

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