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.)
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?
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.)
*”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.