Are Part-Time Jobs Good for Students?

Add one more question to your (never-ending) list of parenting questions: Should my high schooler get a job?

I originally thought that this was a no-brainer. My thinking was that, of course, everyone could benefit from seeing how the world works outside of school, from increased responsibility, from earning (and saving) some of their own money, and from the boost in self-esteem for a job well done. I was surprised, then, to hear that not everyone agreed with me.

Having been a babysitter, lifeguard, and tennis team manager in high school and college, I couldn’t imagine a world in which I didn’t work as soon as I was old enough to hold down a job. I look back on my high school years and see an organized and engaged student. I managed my time efficiently, saved money, and also bought a few fun things for myself. These habits followed me into college, and even into adulthood, I find that I am far more organized and efficient when I am busy.

As it turns out, not every parent agrees that the benefits of work outweigh potential costs. While some parents believe that their kids would benefit from working outside the home (for many of the reasons that I listed above), others believe that their children are students first — that their job is to devote their time primarily to school work and secondarily to recreation or school-related extracurricular activities; in other words, holding down a job could distract them from their “real” job of studying.

What the Research Says

Indeed, a recent longitudinal study by the [University of Michigan Institute for Social Research] (http://home.isr.umich.edu/releases/high-school-jobs-impact-is-different-for-whites-and-minorities/){: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} shows that “working more than 15 hours a week is associated with lower grades” and an increase in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. This, however, was not the case for students of color (and particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds), who tended to benefit academically from working after school. According to the study, “Average grade point averages among white and Asian-American students dropped dramatically as the number of hours they worked increased, but the GPAs of Hispanics and African Americans showed less connection with the hours they worked.”

Other research on high schoolers who work by the [Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011] (http://www.bls.gov/ore/pdf/ec110080.pdf){: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} shows that homework time during the week decreased for those who had jobs, which has a direct impact on academic achievement. On the other hand, those who worked on non-school days markedly reduced their unproductive screen time, and those who worked on school days increased their sleeping time.

In the end, individual parents and students are in the best position to know how things are faring academically, socially, and emotionally, and will know if a part-time job is the right fit.

How to Do It Right

If parents and students are comfortable with the idea of working during the school year, the authors of the longitudinal suggest two things: 1. Do not work more than 15 hours a week, and 2. Students should “build credentials as bright, courteous, and motivated workers. As soon as they start new jobs, students should tell employers and supervisors that they hope to earn a good letter of recommendation. Saying that right at the outset will help everyone see the job as an important opportunity for growth and ‘real world’ education.”

Jobs to Consider

Once the decision has been made to forge ahead with a part-time job, what types of jobs are best suited to high school students?

Work in the Great Outdoors

  • Local and State Park Staff: While trail monitoring and picking up trash may not seem glamorous, the beauty of the surroundings can make the work enjoyable, not to mention the added benefits of fresh air and exercise.

  • Dog Walker: For those who are a bit more entrepreneurial, setting up a small, local pet care business will allow for flexible hours. It is a good idea for parents to know the neighbors or to go with the student for the first meeting with a new potential customer to be sure that it is an environment that is safe for the student; this applies to all jobs that involve home visits.

  • Lawn Care: Many people would love for someone else to mow their yards. If this is true in your neighborhood, then print some flyers, go door-to-door, and start mowing!

  • Life Guard: This is not just a summer job; many pools have indoor swimming options and offer swimming lessons throughout the year.

Indoor Opportunities

  • Offer Music Lessons: If your teen is adept at the violin or the piano, offer in-your-own-home lessons for the neighborhood children.

  • Tutor: When one excels academically in a particular subject area, she is in a prime spot for offering tutoring services; this is another example of something that can be an at-home service.

  • Babysit: The tried and true job for teenagers everywhere. Where there are young children, there are parents eager for a night out or for some help after school. Potential babysitters will benefit from taking the Red Cross’ babysitting and CPR classes.

  • Retail or Food Service Jobs: It wouldn’t be a complete list without adding the local mall and food service options. These are challenging jobs, but can lead to advancement within an organization when the initial dishwasher or cashier positions are handled professionally.

Look at the research for yourself and talk with your teen about how she feels about a part-time job. If she is ready to go and you are comfortable with the idea, look around your neighborhood for opportunities and start her working life off on sound footing.

No matter the work, part-time position are an opportunity to build lasting professional skills. Follow this link to learn more about how to make the most of any job.

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