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Should I let my teen get a job?

A small café near our home comes to life early on Friday mornings during football season. The players’ parents provide money for breakfast and also work as cooks, dishwashers and servers. As I delivered platters of food between the kitchen and the dining room, I realized I was moving between two worlds. Parents frequently knew their way around a restaurant because of part-time jobs earlier in life. Walking back into the dining room, I’d overhear snippets of conversation about weekend plans structured around the boys’ jobs. We may ask ourselves, “Is it a good idea for high-school students to work?”

Encourage an employer that is a “good fit.”

“... what is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?” (Judges 13:12) Samson’s father asked God for input about how he should bring up his son. Each of us would like to know what rules would be best for our children. If a fast-food restaurant closes at 10 p.m., the work day doesn’t end then – there is cleanup, too. Could your child finish homework and get enough sleep to thrive at school with this job? Have him apply to businesses that fit his schedule and temperament. For example, my son, Ryan, found a deli shop in a plaza catering to an early crowd.

How many hours?

Employed teens tend to work long hours – they put in 30 hours per week at school and many work an additional 15-20 hours at their jobs. Is this a good idea? Ask yourself: What would she be doing if she weren’t working? Playing video games? Participating in an after-school Model United Nations Program? Decide whether work is replacing a valuable extracurricular activity. Limit hours if homework or a healthy family and social life begin to suffer.

Teaching them the value of a dollar or premature affluence?

Jerald Bachman notes that many employed teens have too much money too soon. Fewer families rely on adolescents’ income to supplement their coffers than in earlier generations. Often, a teen’s money is discretionary income, and adolescents are enthusiastic consumers. It can be a rude awakening as adults to find that paychecks have to be used for boring items, such as utilities and rent! Use your teen’s job as a chance to encourage money management skills, so that the CD they want to purchase is a certificate of deposit and not a compact disc! If they don’t learn to delay gratification in high school, they may resent having to do so later.

Pope John Paul II pointed out that Jesus was “a man of work, a craftsman like Joseph of Nazareth” and “... the eloquence of the life of Christ is unequivocal: He belongs to the ‘working world,’ he has appreciation and respect for human work.” (Laborem Exercens, #118)