Should Teenagers Work?

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My husband got a job when he was fourteen. If he wanted spending money, he earned it. He worked after school at fast-food restaurants, in the summers at a pizza place at the beach, and at Christmas in a department store.

“If there has been an opportunity to work, I have worked,” he once told me.

My teen years were quite different. I never worked—except an occasional camp counselor job that was more for my own entertainment than because the money impacted my life—until after I graduated from college. I had to learn basic work lessons while also learning a career.

Still I had the luxury of meaningful experiences that he missed: trips to Europe, after-school sports, working on my school’s literary magazine.

So should teens have to work? What’s best for them in the long run?

I posed this question to Thomas Hine, the author of The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager.

Hine advocates for a happy medium. Some work is good. Too much work is bad. He also said parents should be involved in budgeting the money their kids earn. Teens shouldn’t be allowed to spend however they want. Some money should be put away for their education.

“One of the good things that work does is gives you an opportunity to work in an arena that is not school,” he says, “to be responsible, to be depended on, to be judged.”

He also thinks it is ideal for teens to work in an environment with people who are older (i.e. not a fast-food restaurant with a bunch of other kids).

“In our society, we segregate teens, but as grown-ups, they will work with all different ages, all different types of people.”

So what are the downsides of work? Many teens tend to work too much, Hine says. The average working teenager today clocks about eighteen hours a week. That is a lot for someone who is in school. When forced to choose between doing a good job at school or work, teens typically will choose work, Hine says.

Teens who work long hours also are more likely to drink, do drugs, and have sex, according to Hine’s research. “Working is an adult activity,” Hine says. “One way that adults deal with work is to go out and get drunk.”

My husband and I now have two children. They are too young for jobs, but the question is one we eventually will face. Like so many things, it is a topic in which we bring very different personal experiences to the table. Ideally, we’d like our kids to have a happy medium of some sort, such as working during the summers.

What do you think?


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