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Should Your Teenager Get A Job?

When you were in high school, did you have a job?

I did — at the local hardware store. Four days a week after school, plus Saturdays all day. (I can still hear the bell ring at the back entrance, when Dad came to take me home for supper.) Spring Break and summer vacation? Ha – that just meant I worked all day, instead of just a few hours in the afternoon.

You may have bagged groceries, milked cows or shelved books. Now that you’ve moved past that part of life, and possibly have a family of your own:

Should your kids work, too? 

 As children get older, they start asking about the possibility. Before you can answer, you must first ask:

Can teenagers work?

According to the law, yes — but.

In Canada, children may start working in “most industries and occupations” at age 14 in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Quebec. They must wait until age 15 in Alberta and British Columbia, and 16 in Manitoba. But in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, you don’t even have to wait until age 14 to get a job! However, parents will have to give permission…and in some provinces, the high school principal must sign off, as well.(See a helpful brochure here.)

American labor laws are a bit broader. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the minimum age for “non-agricultural employment” is 14. (In other words, you can work on a farm, if you’re 13 or younger.) Kids at age 14 may or may not need a work permit, depending on the state. (For example, Colorado and Georgia require permits — but Florida does not.) 

should teenagers work?

Younger teens (ages 14-15) are limited in the hours they’re allowed to work:

  • Hours when teen isn’t in school
  • 3 hours on a school day
  • 18 hours total during a school week
  • 8 hours on a non-school day
  • 40 hours total during a non-school week
  • Hours between 7 am and 7 pm from Labor Day to May 31
  • Hours between 7 am and 9 pm from June 1 through Labor Day

      Teens (ages 16-17) are not limited on hours, but can’t do something the Labor Department defines as “hazardous.”  ( I can think of a few babysitting jobs that ranked up in this category!) Older teens (18 and older, that is), on the other hand, have no limitations on what, when and where they can work. (For a wide variety of info on American child labor laws, go here.)

Now — should teenagers work?

should kids work?       Parents – and kids – have a world of opinions on this subject. Sometimes family finances are desperate enough that teens must work, in order to keep bills paid. Or the family-run business needs the help of younger family members to keep the store open or orders shipped on time.

More often, though, working is a matter of choice. Kids want the extra money and status that a part-time job gives them. They may be saving for a car — or college. A job gives them extra income, but also the chance to taste independence and the real world.

And there is where opinions differ. Some parents argue that kids shouldn’t have to experience real life (i.e., adulthood) until they graduate. A job would mean fewer hours for parties, basketball practice, and games. After working all day, they’d be tired. And what if they had homework or a calculus exam next day?

Other parents say that real life is precisely why teenagers should get a job. What better time for kids to learn promptness, responsibility and other good habits, than while they’re still in school? A job keeps teenagers busy, and teaches them skills that come in handy in the future. It gives them the opportunity to pay their own expenses (instead of relying on the “Bank of Mom and Dad”), and encourages them to budget.

How you answer this question often depends on your family’s current situation.

  • Do your kids have time for a job, even a part-time one?
  • Do they have a steady source of transportation? (e.g., not always relying on you to take them.)
  •  Are their grades good enough to handle the hours spent elsewhere?
  •  Do they plan on going to college?

Another factor often comes into play — whether you had a job while you were in school. Parents who worked as kids, I believe, tend to be more open to the possibility of their children working, as well. If you’re amenable to this, though, it’s wise to establish some rules. Tell your children up-front:

*”Maybe the best job is working for yourself.”  Encourage them to explore childcare, lawn mowing, dog walking and other odd jobs that could add up to a very lucrative business. (Especially good if their schedule varies a lot.)

should teenagers work?

*”It’s your responsibility to get to work, and on time.” You may help, but they need to figure out how to get there, and when.

*”You can only work as long as your grades stay up.” Failing grades = quitting and concentrating on school, instead.

* “You need to start a savings plan.”  College was in both Brother’s and my futures, but we knew that our parents couldn’t help us much. They insisted that half of whatever we earned went automatically into the bank, earmarked for college. Another 10% was tithed to help someone else, and the remainder was ours to spend on milkshakes, presents and clothes. I still have my old savings passbook: all those $5 and $7 and $20 regular deposits added up to thousands of dollars by the time I graduated.

Did our children work? 

In addition to the hardware store, I also did babysitting, worked at the school cafeteria (to pay for meals), and helped our farmer parents bale hay and pick corn. (I also worked at a variety of jobs during college.) Husband worked at the local grocery store all through high school, then enlisted in the Navy.

When our daughters came of age, they both wanted to get jobs of their own. We said yes, provided… (see above rules). One daughter started at Taco Bell, then moved on to the Gap and Timberland, in our local outlet mall. (And within walking distance.) Daughter #2 worked at the Gap, then moved to waitressing at a local chicken joint. They each worked between 14-20 hours a week; more during the summer and spring break.

Strange: while discussing this, we realized that we were only continuing the family tradition. Our parents, and their parents before them, all worked as teenagers. Does that mean our grandchildren, when they get old enough, will follow their ancestors’ cue? Probably.

The biggest key, though is: B-A-L-A-N-C-E. Whatever you decide, do it together. 

shound teens work?

15 Responses to Should Your Teenager Get A Job?

  1. I had a job when I was in high school and I think I am better off because of it. It taught me the value of responsibility and it also empowered me as I was now earning my own money rather than hanging onto my parents coattails.

  2. I had a job and it definitely taught me responsibility and also helped me understand the virtue of a paycheck at an early age. As you said, it’s about balance. I don’t think a job should be a young person’s focus. School, friends, and activities all need balance as well.

  3. I got a job as soon as I turned 16 (actually a bit before) bagging groceries and running the cash register. Before that, I mowed lawns, sold stuff (greeting cards, seeds) door-to-door, removed wasp’s nests from people’s homes (a painful ‘business’), and just about anything a kid can do to make a buck. Work is good!

  4. Yes I had a job in what they call high school over here in Canada (I’m from the UK) in fact I had a few jobs. I delivered newspapers and I mowed lawns, worked at my parents business, and washed dishes down at the pub. I been to school now twice and have come out with no debt, bought my first home at 21 and am debt free today (almost the mortgage will be gone in a month or so). What I’m getting at is those lessons that I learned as a child especially the responsibility and money management carried on with me into adulthood. I graduated at the top of my class always had good marks, played with my friends. I did all the things a teen did but what I didn’t do was waste my time watching the tele or playing video games. Things have changed now but if I had a child you can bet he/she would do some form of work if even part time to learn some of the values I did as a child.

  5. I had a job in high school, loved it and think it’s an important part of teaching your children financial responsibility. However, I’ve worked with a lot of young people 16-18 and have found two types. The type that want to work and earn the money and the type whose parents have put them up to it.
    If I ran a business I’d never hire the second type. They don’t want to be there and I wouldn’t want them to work. So I suppose it depends on the child.

  6. I think it totally depends on the kid and their situation. I’m in NS and have had a job since 15. I was always very good at balancing work/school/friends and succeeded academically but if my daughter was having any troubles in school that will be our priority for her time until she graduates. I think having a job is a great tool to have to practice balancing ‘real life’. The whole monetary aspect is a whole separate thing.

  7. I had a sales job in High School and it allowed me to buy my own car and have a little spending money. My son did not work during the school year since he was busy with competitive swimming however, he worked as a life guard in the summers. I think a job can teach teens responsibility and help them learn to be a little more independent.

  8. I had a summer job when I was 15 working in the tobacco fields. My second teenage job was a fast food drive-in where we had two employees on duty at a time. I learned so much by having jobs as a young person that I highly recommend it for anyone that keeps their grades up and wants to work.

  9. I think entrepreneurship for teens is underrated. There are TONS of part-time work opportunities that are awesome for teens that pay way better than typical teen fast food-type work.

    Will my kids have jobs as teens? ABSOLUTELY!

  10. So it sounds to me that with the “it depends on the kid” argument taken into account, you all feel that employment for teens is a good thing.
    It hasn’t hurt me — or Husband — or our kids. My brother also worked, and his children did, as well.
    Sure gives them less time to get into (or be tempted by) trouble, as well as access to extra cash. The freedom to not have to ask The Bank of Mom and Dad is a huge step toward adulthood, in my mind.
    Thanks so much for writing, all of you.

  11. Working in teen years helps accomplish a lot: savings, work experience, responsibility, pride and professional awareness. Even though such work may not be on a career track, it still has potential as a method to acclimate with the real world and prepare for it early. This is especially the case if formal or informal guidance or mentorship are added with it.

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