There are a number of ways teens can benefit from having a part time job. They earn their own money (and are responsible for some of their personal expenses to learn the value of a dollar). It fills their time with something productive (compared to updating their social network page or playing video games). A job gives them the irreplaceable experience of working with people that annoy them (applying what they have learned from having siblings). Part time jobs can also build a kid’s confidence as they become a valued employee.
While you can’t pry some kids off the couch to get a job (or anything else), there are some kids who go overboard when it comes to part time work. They can become focused on making money to buy more and more stuff. They can have trouble saying “no” to coworkers or demanding employers. For some kids, being good at an hourly job is more reinforcing than building an academic foundation for a future career. You want your kid to be a good worker. You don’t want them to become a slave to the job.
How do you know if your teenager’s part time job has become too important?
Work priority checklist. Kids who place too much emphasis on work will show some of these characteristics.
What’s a parent to do?
Have a talk. Find out what your kid likes about working and why it is such a priority. Talk about your concerns. Discuss the importance of having some balance in life. Talk about their priorities (and the ones you think are important). Help them recognize when they have overcommitted themselves and the signs they are stressed.
Set limits. Research suggests that teens who work a moderate number of hours a week perform better academically than kids who work too much or not at all. A good rule of thumb is to limit work during the academic year to 15-20 hours a week since grades begin to suffer when kids work 20 or more hours a week. If your kid’s grades start to drop or they are overextended, require them to cut back hours to a bare minimum until you see improvement.
Review expenses. Sit down with your teenager and review their income and expenses. Help them create a budget. They should be able to fulfill all their financial obligations by working 10 hours a week or less. If their obligations are too high, come up with a plan to reduce their expenses.
Review personal goals. If your kid is working just to make more money, it is time to reassess and set some long term goals. What will best prepare them for their future career? You may even need to link work hours to minimal academic performance (e.g., can’t schedule hours unless they have at least a B average, etc.).
Limit disposable income. Kids with $25 or more a week in spending money are twice as likely as those with less money to smoke cigarettes, use alcohol and drugs, and are twice as likely to get drunk (CASA Survey). Regardless of how much your kid makes, set a cap on the amount of money they can spend. Everything above that amount can be saved for emergencies or big ticket items like purchasing a vehicle, college fund, etc. with a percentage (10%?) going to charity.
Junior entrepreneurs. Some kids have jobs that may actually be as (or more) helpful toward a future career than their academic performance. These budding entrepreneurs can benefit from a modified business model as a way to address profits. This means rolling profits back in the business or dedicated capital for future business investments rather than providing a lavish lifestyle for your junior CEO. (Maybe this will start a trend in the business world.)
Having a kid with a good work ethic is worth celebrating and encouraging. As in so many other areas during this developmental period, enthusiasm can lead teenagers to overextend themselves. Help them learn the importance of creating a balance between work and play as well as avoiding the problematic aspects of being a pure consumer (and the personal debt that inevitably follows).