Parents have mixed feelings about teens working

According to a new poll, parents believe having a job can benefit their child's money management skills, self-esteem, and social life, but can also negatively affect sleep, social activities, and grades. (Credit: Getty Images)

Parents see upsides and downsides to teens working, a new poll finds.

In many families, getting a job is a rite of passage for teens. However, teens can experience both positive and negative consequences.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked a national sample of parents of teens 14-18 years about their experiences related to teenagers and jobs.

In thinking about whether a job is appropriate for their teen, parents rate the following factors as very important: whether the hours fit with their teen’s schedule (87%), convenience of getting them to and from the job (68%), whether the work provides a learning experience (54%), pay rate (34%), and the other teens who work there (25%).

Most parents consider themselves very (29%) or somewhat (52%) informed about state laws for teen employment.

Over half of parents of 18-year-olds (53%) say their teen has a formal job, compared to 42% of parents of teens 16-17 years and 8% of parents of teens 14-15 years. Among these parents, 26% estimate their teen works ≥20 hours a week. Parents say teens use their job money to pay for personal items (82%) or activities (29%), for savings (75%), or to help with family expenses (8%).

Parents of working teens believe having a formal job has a positive impact on their teen’s money management (76%), self-esteem (70%), time management (63%), and social life (28%). They cite a negative impact on their teen’s sleep (16%), activities (11%), social life (11%), and grades (4%).

In addition, 44% report their teen has experienced problems at work, including not getting as many hours as promised (26%), having to work more hours or later hours (18%), disagreements with coworkers or managers (14%), unsafe situations in the workplace (6%), and incorrect or delayed pay (6%).

Parents of teens who don’t have a formal job express concerns that having a job could negatively affect their teen’s grades (44%), involvement in activities (44%), sleep (42%), or social life (23%).

Some parents expect their teen 16-18 years (42%) or 14-15 years (22%) to get a job within the next 6 months. Parents say factors that may prevent their teen from getting a job include being too busy (34%), transportation (27%), lack of jobs for teens (14%), having to help at home (6%), school (5%), or health (4%).

Working can offer teens the opportunity to gain experience, make new friends, and earn money. Many parents observe that having a job helps their teen improve their time management and money management. At the same time, parents worry that it can interfere with a teen’s schoolwork, extracurricular activities, social life, and sleep schedule, which can cause negative effect on the teen’s mental and physical health.

Benefits are more likely to occur when teens are in a job that is appropriate for their circumstances. In the poll, parents prioritized logistical factors, the foremost being whether the job would fit the teen’s schedule. This should be broadly considered, to include the time needed for schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family commitments, and planned social events, as well as the time to get to and from the job.

Being realistic about these practical considerations may prevent subsequent conflicts and avoid setting the teen up for negative consequences.

Many teens will need guidance in trying to find a suitable job. Parents can encourage teens to use multiple strategies, including online postings, asking other teens for suggestions, or going to a business and asking directly about potential positions. Offering advice on how to dress and behave during a job interview, and role-playing the types of questions employers might ask, may help teens feel more comfortable and confident during the interview.

Parents can also help teens develop a list of their own questions to ask during the interview, focused on making sure the job will meet their practical considerations and priorities. For example, if the teen is available only on certain days, it’s important to verify that the employer will meet that schedule limitation; otherwise, the job may negatively affect their sleep, stress level, and other areas of life.

When teens begin a new job, parents should watch for any signs of a negative impact on the teen’s physical or mental health. Teens may feel anxious about being in an unfamiliar situation, having someone evaluate their performance, and dealing with more demands on their time. Having regular conversations about what’s happening at work creates an opportunity for parents to provide support and encouragement, and share advice, while they are assessing whether the job is too much of a burden.

As reported in the poll, nearly half of parents of working teens indicated their teen had experienced job-related problems, including working longer hours than expected and unsafe work situations. Parents should be aware of state laws related to teen employment, including limitations on total hours and on the times that teens are allowed to work, as well as safety measures such as rules around operating equipment. If parents suspect problems in any of these areas, they should encourage their teen to find a different job that supports their health and safety.

Although younger teens 14-15 years are allowed to hold a formal job in many states, the options may be limited. Babysitting or lawn mowing are a good option to allow teens to gain confidence and experience. Parents can help younger teens get started by introducing them to friends and neighbors who may have informal tasks, by outlining how to do a good job, and talking with them about different challenges they may encounter.

Whether a teen has a formal or informal job, parents may want to establish some guidance for what teens do with their earnings. For many families, teens use their earnings for “extras”—personal items that go beyond what parents provide.

In other circumstances, teens are expected to use earnings to cover the costs of participating in extracurricular activities or to save for college. In other situations, teens may be asked to contribute to family expenses. Setting expectations will help parents and teens avoid conflict in this area.

Source: University of Michigan