Should Teenagers Work While in School? is it Good or Bad?

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Many years ago while one of my sons was in high school he had a part time job in a drug store. My wife and I would get compliments from the druggists and other employees about the great job he was doing. My concern was the amount of time that he was in the drug store and not on his schoolwork. Finally the big day came. No, they did not want to fire him. Someone in the corporation approached him and wanted him to quit high school. They said that they had a drug store that was in big trouble and they wanted him to drop out of high school, move to Florida and take over the store. You may be thinking about finding out what company that was and then making sure that you never walk in one of their stores – ever. No I am not going to tell you what company it was and no, he did not go to Florida. It was the employee (jerk) making the offer, not the company that I condemn.

My son had a rough few years after that but found himself and his career and is now a superintendent for a large nationwide company with close to one hundred workers and supervisors in his charge. He is doing real well. The questions that are raised involve whether teenagers should work at all while in high school. There is always the argument that the teenager needs to have a work experience that teaches being on time, not “screwing up” and responsibility. There is nothing wrong with this argument. I wish we could go back to the “good old days” when I spent my summers working on my grandfather’s dairy farm. It was a wonderful experience for me.

The negative side of the issue is the problem created when the teenager has too many hours worked and too many dollars to spend but very little accomplished in school. You have to hope that you have taught income responsibility by that time. Teenagers sometimes (many times) have the desire to spend their newly earned wealth on totally unreasonable things. When making the decision about a teenager working you have to first prepare your questions for the teenager about their plans and expenditures but always realize that the student has to learn some lessons about finances from personal experiences and they also need to know that their first responsibility is to their studies. Don’t forget that it is their money and they earned it. The only big question might be “is it a legal expenditure?” (It should be obvious what I am thinking of at this point.)

The correct standard answer to this dilemma is – I don’t know. I don’t think there is a standard answer. It all depends on the individual teenager. There are some teenagers that are so responsible and mature that I would prefer their judgment to that of most adults that I know. There are some teenagers that I would not want them to work for me. I would not want them to even drive a car on the same road that I am traveling on. It is all a matter for the individual parent to assess their situation and then make a decision. The main consideration is that you should not succumb to what friends and neighbors advise you to do or to the pleadings of your teenager trying to go to work. You do what you, as a parent, know is best for your teenager.

You are not going to start the learning exercise about work when the teenagers are fifteen or sixteen years old. Remember, the first step in solving this teenager problem is to have the four-year-old or even the three-year-old pick their toys up and straighten their room (at least go through the motions of straightening up their room).

When my children were growing up they would hear me often say to them, “You do good work – just not enough of it.” I considered it a good way for them to learn that it was not their ability or skills that bothered me but their enthusiasm to participate and help. I believe it worked. If you are concerned about the lack of your child doing any work, try finding a spot in the yard and convince them to plant and care for a small garden. Try getting them to just plant and care for some tomatoes one summer. Be sure that you allow them to do all the work so it is their garden regardless of the outcome. If the crop dies at least they have learned something without too much invested in the exercise. Be sure and try again the next year. They would learn that failure can and will be the result from not taking care of business. For some children there is a desperate need to succeed at something, anything. This is something that can be done at any age but maybe you have your own ideas so just try your idea or mine. Again, I wish everybody’s grandparents ran a small dairy so everyone’s teenagers could spend their summers working on it. It was hard work but great for me.


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