Helpful Info on Teenagers and Jobs

 – By Chris Wagner
©2005, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Summer is right around the corner and your teen may be asking if he or she can apply for that first summer job. During their high school years, the majority of teens do in fact begin working paid jobs. Some 80 percent of teens, approximately 13 million of them, will work at some point during high school. Though last year saw an all-time low of 54 percent of 16-19 year-olds holding summer jobs, a 2004 Achievement Interprise Poll on Summer Jobs showed that 88 percent of American teens were actually planning on working. With the 2005 job market looking up for teens, chances are yours may soon start ask about filling out applications.

Beginning employment as a teen can provide very valuable life-lessons. Some of these include time-management skills, increased responsibility, learning to work well with others—co-workers, customers and supervisors—managing money, and even learning a valuable skill or trade. For others, it’s simply a great way to make some extra cash. However, the reasons teens decide they want to work vary from individual to individual. Combined results from a Junior Achievement poll and an online survey at show the following reasons as the top choices teens want a job:

  • Earn extra spending money
  • Save for college
  • Pay for a car
  • Gain work experience
  • Help support the family
  • Buy fun stuff
  • Keep busy

You can see that teen motivations for getting jobs are very diverse. Before allowing your teen to get a job, discover their motives by sitting down and having a discussion with them.

While most teens will end up working at restaurants, retail stores or perhaps the local grocery store (85 percent will end up working in the retail and/or services fields according to the Center for Labor Market Studies atNortheastern University), there are many other opportunities available as well. Before your teen settles for the first job offered, encourage them to look into other summer possibilities that may be available. For juniors and seniors, internships might be available in their areas of interest. Many non-profit or community organizations desperately seek and need volunteers for summer programs. Camp counseling positions also offer wonderful opportunities for teens to make a difference in the lives of younger children.

With a job of any sort comes added responsibility. For many teens, this will be their first chance to manage money beyond the quarter they used to get for each garbage bag of leaves they filled in the autumns of their early childhood. The question then becomes, “What do teens plan on doing with their income?”

According to University of Michigan researcher Jerald Bachman, “most earnings are spent on cars, clothing and entertainment, rather than being saved for college or other long-term goals.” Though some teens have every intention of putting aside some of their earnings in a savings account for college or other purposes, the idea of having their own real money to spend for the first time in their lives is too tempting. Bachman goes on to say that teen spending leads to a form of “premature affluence that isn’t good preparation for the tougher financial times which may lie ahead in young adulthood.” As your teens begin to bring home their first paychecks, it will be important to help them learn how to set and follow a budget, as well as learn the importance of saving, tithing and being a good steward of what God has provided them.

For many teens, working is simply their ticket to the driver’s seat. Students soon realize how much it costs to purchase and maintain a car, as well as pay for insurance. Remember the times when you were working just to make enough money to purchase gas to get home? Life-lessons like this go a long way in helping teens realize the importance of money-management and not taking a job and/or paycheck for granted.

Along with the many pros that come along with having a job, there are many cons that parents and teens should be aware of as well. These are not to discourage parents from letting their teens get jobs, but to help parents and teens be prepared for the challenges they may face. Entering into a new environment, teens may be introduced to trials and temptations they’ve never faced before.

We’re all aware of the fact that many teenagers use illegal substances such as drugs and alcohol. In today’s rapidly changing world, students are often introduced to these substances in their schools by their peers. Unfortunately, the work force brings totally new dimensions to the problem of substance abuse. In my personal experiences working during my teen years, I had much greater accessibility to cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs than in any of my other spheres of life. Underage smoking was commonplace and partying after work was the norm. I worked side by side with teens and adults alike who were under the influence of illegal drugs. Given the desire, purchasing drugs from co-workers would not have been difficult. This may not be the case for every working teen, but let’s take a look at how big the problem is.

“More than 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs; one in four, ages 18 to 34, used drugs in the past year; and one worker in three knows of drug sales in the workplace,” according to the Web site The Marin Institute reports, “alcohol has long been the #1 drug abused among American employees.” Among part-time workers, with whom your teens are likely to work, nearly one in 10 are current illicit drug users, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. You can quickly paint a picture of how big a problem substance abuse has become in the work place, and the above statistics do not even reflect the number of teens under 18 entrenched in this crisis.

Teens at work are often at risk of being exposed to illegal substances at a higher rate than other places for several reasons. First of all, some jobs have little or no supervision. In many cases, the “manager on duty” is 18 and barely older than anyone else working the shift. This lack of supervision can lead to boundaries being pushed, including the use of illegal substances. I have even known friends who worked jobs at which they discovered their boss was selling drugs at the work place. A part-time job also gives teens the opportunity to work with people older than them. Unfortunately, in a growing handful of cases, this gives teens access to a new friend who can purchase alcohol. Take the time to learn more about who is supervising your teens while working. Ask questions about their co-workers to find out what they’re like. Prepare your teens beforehand by talking to them about the serious risks of substance abuse. Lastly, educate yourself with the signs of substance abuse and quickly intervene if you think there may be a problem.

Sexual harassment at work is a problem that often flies under the radar. The report, “Facts About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” says an estimated 95 percent of incidents are not even reported. Of course, as expected, girls are at a greater risk than guys for this type of problem, but be aware that guys are not immune. Teens can be the target of or be exposed to sexual harassment in any number of ways. This can include comments, gestures, unwanted glances and, of course, physical contact from co-workers, customers and even supervisors. The above report also states, “half of all sexual harassers are the direct supervisors of their target.” Be aware of whom your teen is working for and what kind of standards they live by. I’ve encountered places that appear to only hire young attractive females. If I had a daughter, I don’t believe I would be comfortable allowing her to work at such a place.

Sexual harassment can be debilitating, causing low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and humiliation. If left unchecked, it can eventually lead to serious problems. Whether it be in a subtle form, or a more straightforward sexual advance or proposition, teens at work could be at risk. Make sure your teen knows what kind of behavior is appropriate, and encourage them to let someone know when they feel they are being harassed. Modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes toward the opposite sex in your own lives will also go far in teaching teens proper behavior. This will help them be aware of when they’re being harassed, as well as ensure they’re not doing the harassing.

Harassment can also come in the form of bullying in the workplace. Co-workers bully one another in the same way students are bullied by their peers at school. However, at work teens can also be the victims of bullying from their superiors. Research from the Canada Safety Council shows, “over 80 percent of workplace bullies are bosses.” Being the youngest workers on the job often leaves teens vulnerable. People who believe they can take advantage of those younger than themselves may force teens to perform job duties that are not their responsibility. Bosses have the advantage of threatening termination, cutting pay or cutting hours if a teen does not cooperate. Help your teen realize the difference between “going the extra mile” and being coerced to do something beyond their responsibility.

Once the summer winds down, many teens will be interested in keeping their part-time jobs through the school year. Working during school adds new responsibilities not experienced during the summer. Proper use of time and scheduling becomes more difficult as students learn to juggle schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family functions, church, youth group and a part-time job. Not every student can handle this kind of workload, so it is important for parents and teens to work together and decide whether or not working during school is right for them, and, if it is, how many hours each week is appropriate.

For some, not working is beneficial. It allows them to put extra effort into their schoolwork and other activities. According to a recent article in USA Today, many teens are choosing to opt out of working part-time jobs because it allows them to take heavier course loads and be more involved in extracurricular activities, thus better preparing them academically for college.

For those who do decide to work, choosing the right number of hours is critical. University of Minnesotaresearcher Jeylan Mortimer says, “there seems to be a consensus that 20 hours a week is the most youth can handle adequately, but there is no magic number because it depends on the individual.” As parents help their teens with this decision, they should know that research links an increased number of hours worked to an increase in undesirable behaviors. These behaviors include drug and alcohol use, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, failure to eat a healthy breakfast, fighting with parents, and a drop in school grades.

Twenty hours may not be the “magic number,” but it does appear as though restricting the number of hours worked during the school week would be beneficial for your teen. Make sure their job does not cut into important existing commitments such as church and youth group activities. After school jobs will also allow for less family time. Recent studies have shown the importance of eating family meals together. As this becomes less frequent, make an extra effort to find other time to invest in your son or daughter’s life. During these moments take an interest in their work, find out how it is going, what things they are learning, and whether they are facing any difficult challenges.

Actively playing a role in sorting through your teen’s employment opportunities will help assure their work experiences are positive ones. Be aware of the possible risks, but rather than discouraging your teen from working, help them be prepared for the time when they enter the work force. Finally, pray for your teens! They are called to glorify God and let their lights shine in the workplace. God can and will use our working teens in powerful ways.


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