Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Teens and Work

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I know this may sound a little silly coming from a woman who keeps talking about spending more unstructured time with our teens and preteens, but I think that the never ending pressure to be successful is keeping our kids from having the opportunity to work. Because it seems to be getting harder to get into top notch colleges, teens are being encouraged to do more school work and community service hours in addition to excelling in sports, music, or the arts, and more and more teens are not finding the chance to work, which concerns me. I am not talking about working more than a few hours a week because we know that teens who work more than 20 hours a week tend to be at higher risk for smoking, drinking, and dropping out of school than teens who work just a few hours a week. I am talking about encouraging teens to work a little bit for money they want for extra clothes, entertainment, or big ticket items like cars.

Granted, it is difficult to fit work into the life of a teen that may already be feeling stressed and too busy, but I think work plays an important part in teen health. Work can help teens learn to be responsible, in addition to increasing a teen's self-esteem and sense of competence. Having a job teaches teens the importance of following through, being on time, getting along with co-workers, and managing their time and money.

There are drawbacks, too. Teens tend to get minimum wage jobs in retail or food sales, which require dealing with the public and can have pretty rigorous hours. Of course, parents need to stay connected and know what our teens are being asked to do as well as help them understand their rights as employees. It is all part of learning to be an employee. Parents worried about the condition s teens work in will find the Guide for Parents (listed below under resources) very helpful.

The rules include - you have to be 14 to work in the United States (unless you work for your parents), you ned a work permit if you are under 16, and there are limits on the number of hours you can work if you are under 16, and how late you can work on school days. For example, if you are 14 or 15 you cannot cook, operate power-driven machinery unless it is office machinery, work on a ladder or scaffold, in a warehouse, or doing construction or unloading a truck. If you are under 18 you cannot drive as part of the job, operate power equipment, work in mining, wrecking, demolition, meat-packing, or where there are explosives or any exposure to radiation. If you want to know the laws in your state, the link to Teens & Work below includes a link to the labor departments in different states.

Maybe the key is summer work, which would not interfere with family time or school, but would provide teens the opportunity to explore fields they might be interested in, develop a work ethic, and even start to build a resume. I brought the possibility up with my nearly 15-year old a few weeks ago when we were talking about summer - and she was saying she did not want to do the same camp she has always done, or music lessons, or pretty much any structured activity I could come up with. So, I suggested she consider a summer job, and she looked mortified! Her reaction surprised me so much I asked her when she thought her parents had started working and I realized she did not know that we had both worked through our teen years - I suppose it is the difference between our working class upbringing and the middle class experience we have provided for our children.

Finally, after talking on and off for a few days, she identified her feelings - saying she was very sad - she realized her childhood was drawing to a close and soon new responsibilities would claim her free time. We do not have a plan for the summer, but I expect it will be a combination of unstructured "celebration" of her childhood and some form of work or volunteer experience.

I look forward to some comments from parents who have already experienced this transition!

Resources
Teens & Work
Working Teens Pamphlet from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Working Teen Guide for Parents

Photo credit: McBeth

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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