For many parents with high-school age kids, and often for the teenagers themselves, one of the central questions is whether a part-time job is a worthy use of time.
Kids can be found working at supermarkets, video stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, and many other businesses in just about every locality.
But is what they learn in the process worth the time and effort invested?
As the idea was milling around in my head this week, I started to think of the various trade-offs that teens have to make when getting a part-time job.
I started talking with my wife about our own child and the potential future decisions we would have to make/help him make about working during high school.
Would we encourage working during school and for what reasons? How would we react if grades fell as a result of work? What kinds of principles would we try to teach him?
My wife’s take was this (and I’m paraphrasing, of course):
“Yes, we’ll encourage him to work, but if his grades fall below the level at which they would be if he was not working, it’s all over.”
That launched us into an interesting discussion, because I saw things from a completely different angle. I would be more than willing, in fact–I would expect, grades and other activities to slide as a result of working.
Maybe I don’t give my son (and other other 1 billion sons out there enough credit), but I see time management as a zero-sum game. There is only enough of it to do so many things.
When we consider school attendance, homework, and extracurriculars, there are probably a few hours left in the day to comfortably spare. As soon as work exceeds that amount of hours, something somewhere will have to give.
My thinking is to help kids understand this phenomenon, and arm them with the capability and decision-making process to make smart choices about what to prioritize. For the rest of their lives, there will never be enough time to do everything. Isn’t it time we teach them that early?
And on the topic of grades–I see that as a trade-off too, but not only in terms of time. Consider the straight-A student who does nothing in his spare time but study. Compare him to the B+ student who is working part-time in the afternoons and gaining valuable real-work experience and other skills (financial management, social skills, workplace skills, etc.).
My wife’s point of view? Kick the B+’s student butt into gear and bump his grades up to A’s, or drop the work. My point of view? Let the B+ student maintain his sanity (and sleep) and gain the valuable experience.
Don’t get me wrong–I see her point, and I see it clearly. I am far from making up my mind on this, and thankfully there’s still plenty of time to spare.
I have a bit of history with this topic, which gives me some insight about the effects of working in high school and how the challenges and benefits during your teenage years and beyond.
I obtained my first “legit” part-time job at 16 as a stock boy at the local supermarket. I was working anywhere between 15-25 hours a week, and watched my grades decline steadily with a lack of time and general exhaustion.
Once my parents caught on to what was happening, my hours were promptly cut and my grades were saved for the time being. However, I never stopped working entirely, and continued that streak all the way through college.
I’m not sure what would have happened if my grades continued to slide down, but I truly believe starting to work in high school helped me develop a work ethic that kept me years ahead of my peers in terms of “workplace maturity.” I saw it in myself, and it did not go unnoticed in the 6-8 jobs I held between high school and college.
It translated into better positions at every job I’ve held and added responsibilities when I could take them on. It also taught me very early on the value of a dollar, and how quickly money could disappear when you weren’t purposeful with your spending.
Based on my own experience and my previously described line of thought, I would recommend that as many kids as possible try to work in high school, but I know that it’s not for everyone. Some kids need the extra time for studying; others are participating in so many after-school activities that their heads are spinning already.
We have more than 16 years to make up our minds, but unlike my wife, I’m a little more liberal with the approach to work experience. I understand that there’s a trade-off to be had, and I believe there’s big value there, and many lessons to be learned. I would be willing to let grades and other activities slide if it meant getting real-world work experience.
Does that make me a realist? Maybe a non-perfectionist? Or maybe I’m just unmotivated… Who knows?
A Pointless Discussion?
As the job market contracts, many part-time positions previously held by high schoolers are being eliminated or reduced.
To make matters worse, adults with meager job prospects and expiring unemployment benefits are turning to these part-time positions for any kind of income and continued sustenance for their families.
Reports indicate that high schoolers, who previously had their choice at any number of after-school and weekend jobs, are now finding themselves unable to find any work, even if the want it.
How that will affect the development of their future job, time management, and interpersonal skills remains to be seen…
It’s Your Turn!
I’d love you hear your input on these questions:
- How do you feel about teenagers working in high school?
- To what extent do you think it affects their skill set for the future?
- Are lower grades a fair and acceptable trade-off for this improved skill set? If not (or if so), are there other acceptable trade-offs, like social life, extracurriculars, or sports?
- What impact do you think the economy will have on kids who are now unable to work in high school?
Before signing off for the day, here are a couple of places Fiscal Fizzle has been spotted around the Web this week:
- 12-Step Financial Plan for Life After Graduation (my second post on Untemplater)
- 50 Personal Finance Bloggers to Watch in 2010 (Bible Money Matters)
- Carnival of Personal Finance: Support Haiti Edition (Million Dollar Journey)
- Best of Money Carnival: Edition #34 (The Centsible Life) – Claimed the #3 Spot!
Photo by John Steven Fernandez