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Is Your Teen Ready for a Job?

Your teenager comes home from school and declares he wants to flip burgers at the neighborhood fast-food joint. He says he needs money for CDs, clothes and to buy his own car.

Is this a step to maturity or a slip toward lower grades, inadequate sleep and a constricted social life? How do you talk with your child to help him make the right choice about taking a job? And how do you maintain the communication needed to assure he manages job, school and social time wisely if he goes to work?

Nearly every teen can benefit from job experience. But there are risks you must assess.

The Benefits

  • A teenager's job can teach work skills that will serve him well in college and prepare him for careers in adulthood.
  • He can acquire confidence, develop a sense of responsibility and feel more independent.
  • Studies find that students who work a moderate amount—no more than 10 to 15 hours a week during the school year—tend to earn higher grades than those who don't work at all.
  • Earning money will enable him to buy things he wants and will provide an opportunity for learning responsible money management.
  • If you and your spouse work outside the home, an after-school job can give him adult supervision in those crucial afternoon hours.
  • The right job—or jobs—may expose him to new work possibilities and set him on the path to a lifetime career.
The Drawbacks

  • Working more than 13 to 20 hours a week is associated with lower grades.
  • Teens who work too many hours find it difficult to keep up extracurricular activities and social relationships.
  • Some studies have found that teens who work long hours are more likely to engage in such risky activities as using illegal drugs or alcohol—in part because they are exposed to older coworkers who lead them astray.

The Law
Under federal law:

  • Children younger than 14 are restricted to delivering newspapers, working in a non-hazardous business owned by a parent, baby-sitting or doing other minor domestic chores in a private home, or performing on stage, screen or radio. They may work only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year and until 9 p.m. in the summer.
  • At 14 and 15, teens may work at non-hazardous jobs for three hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days, 18 hours during a school week and 40 hours during a non-school week.
  • At 16 and 17, teens may perform any non-hazardous job for any number of hours.

Some states impose stiffer restrictions.

What You Should Do
Teens don't like to be told what to do, so your best bet is to offer subtle, indirect guidance.

  • Ask what he wants to get out of the job. Is it career preparation? A taste of career options? Another venue for his social life? Or is it just about the money?
  • Discuss the importance of maintaining good grades, continuing extracurricular activities and keeping up his social life.
  • Talk about preparing a budget that includes saving as well as spending. Consider making him responsible for such expenditures as gas when he drives the car, a portion of your auto insurance and some of his entertainment expenses that you have routinely paid for in the past. This could turn out to be a good time to introduce him to real financial planning and investing in stocks, as well as saving in bank accounts.

Keeping Up the Good Work
If your child takes a job, you need to monitor how it's going.

  • Visit the job site and meet the supervisor, so you know the work situation and the supervisor knows you're watching.
  • Consider limiting his work hours at first, letting him work more only when you are convinced his school and social lives aren't suffering.
  • Consider limiting or banning work on school nights, or restricting it to afternoons or weekends.
  • Help him look for better jobs as time goes on, especially jobs that relate to his career interests or that would expose him to a wider range of career options.

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