As children grow into teenagers, many parents find themselves grappling with the issue of whether or not their teenager should join the workforce, often while they are still at school.
Is there a right time for children to take a job? Should teenagers only work in the school holidays? And what does having a job teach them for later life?
Opinions vary widely. For some people, work is an important part of their lives, whereas for others it’s seen as a necessary evil. In some cases, schools will discourage students taking on work; in other cases, it’s seen as beneficial. Teenagers themselves may be itching to earn their own money – or they may be happy to have others pay their bills right into their thirties!
One important thing to remember is that it’s not just about money. Work can provide opportunities to learn skills, make friends and gain a level of independence.
SIGN OF THE TIMES?
Interestingly, there seems to be a trend away from teenagers taking on holiday jobs. According to this recent article in The Atlantic, 60 per cent of teenagers had a summer holiday job in 1978; in 2016, that number was down to just 35 percent. Adolescence is changing. Teenagers are studying more, living at home for longer, catching the train or bus rather than getting a car, and sometimes, struggling to find even casual and entry-level jobs. (Even though the first article is from the USA and last two articles are from Australia, the UK picture appears very similar.)
RULES ARE MADE TO BE FLEXIBLE…
So your child is keen to get a job, or you’re keen for them to get one? Firstly, you need to be aware of government regulations about the number of hours a child can work, especially if they’re still at school. Also worth noting is that not every employer is scrupulous about sticking to these, so you may need to make some difficult choices if your child is being asked to work too many shifts per week, such as reporting the employer if they refuse to negotiate, or getting your child to resign. While most employers comply with all the relevant regulations about things like proper rates of pay, health and safety requirements or sexual harassment laws, if a job seems too good to be true, offers cash-in-hand pay or seems a little suspect, parents may need to step in to protect teenagers.
…BUT HERE ARE SOME TIPS
Taking a parenting point of view rather than a legal one, it's hard to offer any hard and fast rules about what’s appropriate. Each child is an individual, and everyone’s circumstances are different. However, some good guidelines to follow are:
- Consider and talk openly ahead of time what kind of job might be appropriate or available, the hours required, and at what point you’ll need to review the arrangement.
- Negotiate beforehand some boundaries around how the money earned will be managed, and review these from time to time. This may include talking about whether all the income is at the disposal of the teenager, or whether some should be placed in a savings account, or contributed to general household expenses. You also need to negotiate ahead of time what they’re allowed to spend it on, and what it’s NOT okay to spend it on. (You’re still the parent, so even though they’ve earned the money themselves, they can’t spend it on things that are illegal or harmful, and you may want to negotiate large purchases such as cars or computers to help them avoid making expensive mistakes.)
- Make sure your teenager’s work commitments aren’t interfering with other important activities such as school work and time with the family.
- Pay particular attention to how much sleep they’re getting (for example, do they work during school evenings and then stay up late to finish assignments?) They need to still get enough sleep to function well during the day – not just struggle through with their eyes barely open.
- If you’re apprehensive about some aspects of the job, discuss it before your teenager signs up. You may want to visit the work setting and meet their employer or manager.
What are some positives? Of course, from a purely financial perspective it means parents don’t need to provide as much pocket money or allowance, so that frees up some part of the household income for other expenses.
Getting a full-time job after school may be very competitive too, so experience in a range of part-time or casual positions not only looks good on a resume but builds up valuable skills such as:
- Coping with challenging situations and difficult people
- Solving problems and taking initiative
- Cooperation and teamwork
- Punctuality and reliability
- Mixing with a wide range of personalities
In short, there are no absolute answers, and like any big decision, will require parents and teenagers to discuss and negotiate. Even if it’s only for a relatively short period, the experience of working and earning an income as a teenager can be managed so that it’s not disruptive, it’s helpful, and it’s rewarding – in a practical way and in a broader sense as well.