When 15-year-old Alison wanted to get a part-time job at a produce store during the school year, her mother, Glenda, agreed to let her try it. Alison loved her job, and a visit to the workplace showed Glenda why. This was a world where her daughter functioned as an adult. People depended on Alison there. She stood straighter when she was behind the counter. Her voice was full of authority.
However, Alison soon began working more than the 15 hours a week she and Glenda had agreed on. During final exams, Alison told her mother she was scheduled to work three days—time Glenda felt her daughter needed for study.
Pluses and Minuses
Part-time jobs lure girls for a variety of reasons. Teens gain a sense of satisfaction from earning their own money, and girls also get experience when they work. Studies show that in a well supervised workplace where an adult acts as a mentor, a girl learns to be responsible and independent. Those attributes can even carry over to her schoolwork. In one study, girls who worked 10 hours or less per week actually improved their grades.
But too much work has a definite downside. Research shows that teens who work 20 hours or more per week during the school year sacrifice sleep and exercise, spend less time with family and friends, and make lower grades. Most experts recommend a maximum of 15 hours each week. Yet, because today’s workplace is hungry for workers, even a girl who agrees to limit her hours, as Alison did, may feel pressured to put in extra time.
“This job is compromising your schoolwork,” Glenda told her daughter. “But everyone at the store is counting on me,” Alison protested. In the end, Alison agreed to cut back on her schedule ad Glenda decided to let Alison continue with the job as long as she kept her hours within bounds. But that decision might not work in every situation.
To Work or Not?
When you’re deciding whether a job is right for your daughter, consider how full her life is already. Does she get plenty of sleep, exercise and time with the family? Are her grades acceptable to both of you? Does she have interests, such as music lessons, that require special scheduling?
Assess what her job will require of you. What hours will she work? How will she travel to work and back? Will her schedule be fixed, will it rotate, necessitating frequent shifts in other plans?
If your daughter has decided to work, try these ideas for helping her manage:
Expectations. Before she begins her new job, discuss the number of hours she would like to work and the number you feel comfortable with. If necessary, help her come up with assertive ways of dealing with an employer who asks her to work more. Ideally, she will set and maintain her own limits, but if she can’t do this for herself yet, volunteer to be the heavy. Say, “Tell your boss your parents won’t allow you to work that much.”
Work environment. Help your daughter anticipate any job requirements that she may not be comfortable with. Will she have to lock up or be alone in the store? Suggest that your daughter talk with other teens employed there to find out if they enjoy the work.
The final decision. If your daughter seems tired, she may be working too much. If she is seeing less of her friends or making lower grades, her job may be occupying too many of her waking hours. Be careful not to use grades as your sole indicator of whether she’s keeping her life balanced. Studies show that even while keeping up good grades, many teens are operating at high levels of stress. If you feel your daughter is overwhelmed by her job, you may have to help her draw the line. Try, “This arrangement isn’t working because other parts of your life are suffering. You’ll have to find a workplace with more flexibility or wait until summer to hold down a job.”
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