Should My Teen Work During High School?

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Updated on April 20, 2016. 

Growing up, the only time I ever heard the words “allowance” were when they came out of my friends’ or their parents’ mouths.

Having two siblings before me who had gone through the same channels, it didn’t come as a surprise to me when my parents let me know I would have to start looking for a job. I was a part-time cashier and barista for both my junior and senior year of high school.

There’s definitely two distinct sides to the argument of whether or not your teen should work during high school, and looking back on it I can draw both pros and cons from my own experience.

Pros of working in high school

As of October 2014…Youth enrolled in high school had an employment rate of 18 percent.

Youth Employment

The following are different skills and attitudes that students can obtain early on from working in high school.

1. Gain Interpersonal and Communication Skills

Knowing how to effectively communicate and work with others towards a common goal is essential to success in any business environment.

While in most jobs it is essential that you have a pre-determined degree of knowledge, technical expertise and skill, without interpersonal skills you certainly will struggle with those all-important relationships. These struggles can negatively impact your career as well as your ability to function as part of a team. Most jobs today require that you be able to engage others, both internally and externally and it’s your social skills that can make all the difference.

Peak Focus

In most jobs, you will be one member of a team. Whether this be your coworkers, or your employees, you will need to utilize interpersonal communication skills both to preserve the harmony of the workplace and to ensure that you reach your goals and objectives.

2. Build your resume early on

For most people, their first job will be something part-time and unspecialized. This is because in high school, most of us have little to nothing to put on our resumes that would qualify as actual work experience.

A lot of high schoolers will have jobs as babysitters, fast-food and grocery cashiers, delivery men and women for restaurants, etc. These types of jobs usually pay minimum wage, and rarely require a college degree (hence the reason high schoolers apply to them).

However, these are still real jobs with real pay, and your student can put them on their resumes. That can make a world of difference when it comes to applying to a more specialty job later on, because future employers will see:

  1. Your student held a position for a certain amount of time
  2. Your student has experience working with others in a professional environment

3. Develop a work ethic

Taking pride in what you do is a big part of success.

In a surprisingly profound speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards, Ashton (Kris) Kutcher highlights 3 key ideologies for teens to follow in life.

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In one of my favorite lines of the speech, Ashton makes another point about having a strong work ethic.

I never had a job in my life that I was better than… Opportunities look a lot like work.

Ashton Kutcher

Your teen may not be passionate about selling frozen yogurt, or selling discount retail, but they can still draw from the benefits of doing their jobs well.

Working their way upwards towards better things is a humbling experience that can help your teen appreciate and excel in future jobs.

4. Learn the value of a dollar

Imagine this: It’s graduation day.

Your high schooler approaches you in their graduation cap and gown, a diploma in one hand. They flash you a big smile and wrap their arms around you and say “Thanks for everything!”

Everyone works — it’s a part of life. But more often than not, the only way for someone to truly understand what it means to spend a lot or a little money is by earning money themselves.

It’s not just about your teen recognizing the sacrifices YOU’VE made for them, but them understanding how to be smart about what they spend and knowing that money is earned, not granted.

5. Time Management

I’m a full-time college student with 2 jobs. I can honestly say if I hadn’t learned how to manage my time effectively early in life, I would not be able to handle 18 credits on top of 30-40 hours a week — and that’s not including my social life!

Part of growing up is having a schedule and staying on top of it. By taking a job in high school, your teen can get a feel for what that is like before they hit college. As a result, they may be able to take on more responsibilities and credit hours, and experience the benefits of both!

Cons of working in high school

1. Increased stress

High school can be a very stressful time in itself. There is a lot of pressure for high school students to excel academically, and with college admissions seeming more competitive than ever, many students feel they must go above and beyond to even have a chance at getting accepted.

“What I did was cut out sleep… I had kind of a panic attack in spring of junior year. I honest to God went into therapy to work on my anxiety about the math, because for the amount I worked, my score should have been higher.”

Sarah Rodeo, The New York Times

With so much stress already placed on high schoolers to succeed in their courses and exams, adding 20 hours a week of dealing with difficult customers and juggling responsibilities could tip things over the edge.

Worse, stress is proven to have lasting effects on our health.

In the short term it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression.

Alexandra Ossola, The Atlantic

2. Distraction from academics

Even after the last customer finished their meal and left for the night, I was the one who had to vacuum and mop the floors, clean the booths, and prep for the next day’s rush of hungry people.

Staying late at work meant I wasn’t at home studying for exams, or reviewing math problems I didn’t understand. It also meant that the next day, I was tired and arguably less focused on the new material I was learning in class.

3. Cutting childhood short

For most of us, once we start working, we will work for the rest of our lives. High school is a confusing time wedged in-between the last of one’s childhood and the beginnings of one’s adulthood.

At 21 years old, it’s hard for me to remember the last time I woke up without obligations for the day, the week, the month, the year. And sometimes I do wonder about how it would have felt to have had just a couple more years of freedom before I started “adulting”.

Student Sarah Rodeo from the article I quoted earlier has a similar notion about spending all her time securing her position at an elite university in high school.

“I’m still not sure how I feel about using all that time prepping instead of playing the piano, playing with my little brother and sister, or seeing my friends.”

How to decide

All of the following are questions you should ask before encouraging your high schooler to take a job:

  • Does your student want to work?
  • What’s their current stress level?
  • What’s the need?
  • Is the job in line with their future career/will help them get there? 

Conclusion

As you have seen, there are both things to be gained and potential consequences from having a job in high school. To review, here were the pros and cons we discussed:

Pros:

  1. Gain interpersonal and communication skills
  2. Build your resume early on
  3. Develop a work ethic
  4. Learn the value of a dollar
  5. Time Management

Cons:

  1. Increased stress
  2. Distraction from academics
  3. Cutting childhood short

Does your high schooler have a job? How has it helped or challenged them? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Renae

Renae is a marketing/media specialist, graphic designer and advocate for holistic health. Currently earning her BA in Design Management at Arizona State University with a minor in Media Analysis and Certificate in Marketing, Renae is also a Marketing Project Coordinator for the Arizona State, Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Tempe. She is passionate about learning, helping others, marketing, and holistic health. Follow her on Twitter: @renaehintze Professional Profile: LinkedIn

Comments 7

  1. From an early age I have seen how much my mother would struggle to give my brother and me a better chance in life, working day and night to give us what we needed and on occasions what we wanted. I have learned early on what the value of money really is. Its not just to say you work and dont get tired, or that the money is easily earned. I believe that working through high school no matter how hard it gets is an experience I would of loved to go through. Sacrificing a childhood that most don’t have would of been better then getting thrown into the difficult life we have to live as soon as graduating from high school. To learn how to better balance, and schedule life, despite all the concerns of distractions a job could have on a ignorant mind, would of been the best chance my mother would of given me.

  2. High school is a very basic and important step of a one’s life, when you learn the basics of modern education and the education of high school serves as basis for higher education and practical life. So, it is very important to work well at this stage and for this purpose student is needed to work regularly for his studies.
    Two things are must to work well in high school:
    • You have to be punctual
    • You need to be concentrated on your studies
    A high school student who works for earning cannot completely concentrate on his studies and teen employment also makes it difficult for a student to be regular and punctual with his studies. In short teen employment highly affects a person’s education. So, this is why I’m against teen employment. In some cases, it is necessary or needed to work while you study when your parents can’t afford your education, you can work on your own, if your environment is allowing you to do this.

    1. Shahan,

      You make some very valid points about how working during high school can become a distraction for students. However, have you considered that some students may take on an internship or part-time job at a company or organization that tailors toward their career path? In this instance, not only are they building valuable skills for their career at an early age, but these skills can be utilized in the college admissions process, allowing their application to stand out above others in a competitive atmosphere.

      I agree, a job in high school is not for everyone. Students’ studies should come first. However, as someone who started his first business prior to graduating high school, I can speak for the benefits of starting early! For me, working did not hinder my studies, but rather fueled my passions for later in life. I went on to attend an Honors College and graduated with my degree.

      1. Todd,

        I unequivocally agree with your assessment about the early exposure/benefits of working during high school. Shahan does raise some good points because each student’s experience and/or family’s circumstance is relative to determining if the former is wise or not.

        Thank you all,
        Marc

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