5 Reasons Why Teens Should Work (Even if it Results in Lower Grades)

Some parents worry about the double edged sword of teens and work.  On the one hand, there is some research that suggests teens who work might get lower grades.  On the other hand, a teenager who works will probably learn some important life skills.  Should your teen work?  What is more important – grades or life skills?  Which will serve them better in the long run? I believe teens should work while in school.

Working Teen

Photo by hyperscholar via Flickr.

Possible Negative Results if a Teenager Works:

There are three possible negatives associated with teenagers working:

  1. Sacrifice social life
  2. Less time for other extracurricular events
  3. Fatigue

My response to the “social life sacrifice”position: These are possible negatives, but they are also only recent inventions of our generation.  We think teenagers need time to relax and play.  While I think there is some value to that, it can be carried to unhealthy extremes.  Think about a generation or two ago.  Grandpa and Grandma’s social life was the family.  Their extracurricular events were called chores.  I can only speak from my experience, but my grandparents turned out alright.  One of the fallacies of our generation is that we believe for kids to be happy they need to be able to do whatever they wish.

My response to the “less time for extracurricular events” position: The main consideration is balance – some work, some play, and some school.  Focus on allowing your children to experience different activities, but don’t define their childhood based solely on participation in extracurricular events.

My response to the “fatigue” position: Most teens I know are fatigued from staying up late with friends going out to Taco Bell in the middle of the night (or they are tired from a lot less wholesome activities).  If they are going to be tired, it might as well be because of some good, honest work.

Why life skills are more important than grades

Grades serve two practical functions in life.

  1. Good grades open the opportunity to go to another school or to continue on to higher levels of education.
  2. Good grades may help in securing your first job.  Once you have worked that first job your future employers are going to care more about your work performance than your school grades.  Unfortunately, too many parents pass along a paranoia about grades to their children.

Questions for parents to answer: Would you rather your teenager learn to master geometry or learn to work when tired?

About the Author

By , on Jan 5, 2010
Craig Ford
Craig Ford is a fulltime missionary in Papua New Guinea who writes Money Help For Christians and Help Me Travel Cheap, a frugal family travel blog. He is the author of Money Wisdom From Proverbs, has a Masters of Divinity degree, and (most importantly) eats homemade pizza with his family every Friday night.

Leave Your Comment (21 Comments)

  1. ????? says:

    Kids should be able to work. And if parents don’t want them to work then at least let them work during the summer if you are worried about your child’s grades!

  2. Also, I have to say, some teenagers who do work end up buying drugs for themselves, and selling them for more money. That’s why it is a bad thing; parents do not know what their child is doing with the paycheck the student is getting”

  3. Pinyo says:

    @Yolanda, thank you for sharing your personal experience — you’re awesome.

  4. Yolanda says:

    I worked as a teen. I also participated in every organization offered at my school, cheered, went to church, did plenty of chores, and remained a honor student.

    It is my opinion that teens should work. For me, working was not an option in my house. I had to use my pay to buy school clothes, pay for a car, gas, and any expenses that I had from cheering.

    I never felt overwhelmed, cheated, or wronged. I did feel prepared for life. I fully understood how to pay bills and save money. What I learned most was how to prioritize financially (i.e. paying car payments are more important then buying pizza for all my friends)

    While I say that I agree, I do respect others opinions. I can say that sometimes when you have strong opinions about a topic, it is difficult to respect the opinion of others.

    I also recognize that some students may be able to maintain A’s and never study, while others have to study for hours a day to get A’s. This is not to imply some people are dumb it is simply to say that some people are different.

  5. Jay says:

    look i understand why teens want a job but as soon as it interferes with thier school work it is time to stop. But i do think jobs for teens would help create responsibility for teens

  6. Al says:

    Yes, why not work at Micky D’s in high school, and get lower grades (possibly B’s and C’s) so we can not get accepted (with scholarships) into college, and then have to work at Micky D’s for the rest of our lives! Waaahhoo!

    We will learn how hard our parents work when we are parents. There is a thing called childhood.

    School is work (harder actually), and maybe work brings home money, but parents should be doing that. The most important thing during teenhood is learning. Its harder to learn when you’re old. So it’s better to learn geometry now that when you’re 40.

  7. Gholmes says:

    I agree with Financial Samurai, study comes first. If you set a goal or if a goal is required, you should “run the race to win”.

    As a father of a teenage son who plays basketball and baseball, active in his youth group & church and attends Young Life events, why add another activity work.

    If his grades were to suffer he would have to make school his priority. His grades are not suffering because his other activities are what he loves to do.

  8. Craig Ford says:

    @jasi
    I agree about the amount of time we spend working being way too much. I think that by working some when you are younger you actually get more choice in the future because of your skill set and less debt.
    I like the idea of working in the summer and focusing on school during the school year.
    @Andie,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. It does definitely underscore some legitimate reasons for teens to work.
    @Ryan
    You’re right that every job offers some good lessons along the way. It is true that your end goal makes a big difference. Do what is best for your situation according to your goals. Sounds like great advice to me.

  9. Andie says:

    I’m a new parent and have a PhD and I see the merit of this article. My parents wanted me to focus on studying and I was satisfied with my allowance, so I never worked. My first bit of work came when I was 23 and I had no practical work ethic. I had gotten by on being smart all the previous years. It took a bout of clinical depression and not finishing my master’s degree on time for me to dig out and learn how to manage my time and work hard. I want my child to work as a teenager so we can learn together how to manage a plate full of responsibilities because having to learn it on your own in your twenties is hard.

    And to those who think a B is deadly on a high school transcript, I had several on my transcript and I got a 4 year scholarship to a top 5 school after graduating from a normal high school (not magnet, not IB, not charter, nothing).

  10. jasi says:

    I think a Summer job is nice for extra spending money but I don’t think children should work during a school year. School IS work. Socializing is a part of growing up and learning how to get along in the world. Also, that is a great deal of stress for a child. Don’t we spend the bulk of our existence working anyway?

    While there are many really good lessons to be learned by work, one season a year should suffice. There are a great many social, educational and family oriented lessons that should not be under valued.

  11. Ryan says:

    I started working at age 14 and think it has taught me quite a bit more along the way than most of my formal classes, at least in things I can use in the real world. Each job has a different lesson that can be learned. For example, I worked at a nursing home, which taught me patience, or while working as a bartender I went from being completely shy to having the ability to hold conversation with anyone. I think throwing yourself out there into challenging positions at a young age will teach you how to adapt and hopefully even save some of your own very hard earned money.

    In relation to this article I do think it depends greatly on what you’d like to do when you get older. I never had intentions of going to med school or to become a lawyer, rather I dreamed about being a real estate investor and entreprenuer. College isn’t really necessary for these things and I was lucky enough to have good grades in high school to go to a good college, but I’m not sure my future will be judged as much by college as it will be by work experience.. I think there is a way to mix both without affecting grades that’d be ideal so you have the potential and freedom to make all possible choices. I plan on making my kids (if I ever have any) work if they want spending money starting in high school.

  12. I worked for $3.12/hr at McDonald’s in high school for a bit (in my about page). My manager was a tyrant, and scolded me for practicing my Spanish with my colleagues. At least I got a B in Espanol!

    I would only encourage my kid to work during school, if they reall really wanted too, and/or if they could study while working! lol

    @ Josh – Donno what Craig wrote to be deserved to be called “bigot”.

  13. Nina says:

    @ Craig Ford

    I mean no disrespect, honestly. After I saw your reply to the other comments, I do not mean anything rudely, rather I just pointed out my personal experience with work..and how it’s not a great idea unless it’s an easy office job of some sort.

    It’s true that you should care about your children, and it was nice how you commented back with respect. Cheers.

  14. Nina says:

    I also have to disagree respectfully. What Snowy Heron said is difficult to really say because parents raised their children and work hard to support them, as if I have children in the future I won’t work hard to support them? Only good grades will give a good college then a good job therefore I won’t work so hard in a minimum wage job. So if I don’t work hard now, I’ll make it more difficult.

    Appreciation from every child is expected when parents are working hard to take care of their children, but if you’re a teenager and have a chance to do well in school, I don’t understand why you’d have to work to “prove” to your parents that they work hard to care for you.

    Anyway, I agree with a lot Josh has said.. along with me having a job slightly above minimum wage. I worked as a cashier and it was the most stressful thing I’ve ever had in my life, AND it was only two days a week because hours were constantly cut. I am not that big, I’m no a weakling, but if you work all day carrying and bagging gallons of soda, and standing in the same spot, lifting heavy boxes of dinnerware sets, you’d be aching by the end of the day doing it for 7 hours.

    After working there for about 7 months, I decided to quite, with only my $100-140 pay check every two weeks after taxes and how stressful the job was. It distracted me from all the family get-togethers on the weekends, distracted me from studying (and I’m not making dumb excuses just to stay home and play games, I actually do study).. I have never had time for myself, no time cleaning my mess, my room, organizing my work, NOTHING.

    I ended up dropping my math class because I was on thin ice, and hardly passing because of this. Every day at work, I always get yelled at for things management has never told me, I always clean up a very understaffed messy store by myself, and it’s sickening.

    Before I got my job, I used my time to clean my home, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and do basic things to make my parents smile. I also attended Islamic lectures and enjoy socializing there and learning more about my faith.

    Also none of the skills at work really helped me, only tired me out more and gave me more stress. All I did was clean up after customers’ messes, and put items through a scanner and pushed buttons and counted money. I already know how to count money because I took math in school and it’s something I do all the time because I buy things.

    @SnowyHeron

    Whether my boss cares about whether I am happy or not, there’s no need to see disrespectful from a boss.. and I could just learn this from hearing other stories or when I finally find a good job after college to realize this myself. There’s nothing to understand about taxes right now.. I can’t even do anything about it while it just takes money out of my paycheck..I DO go to places on time.. I go to school on time. And appropriate attire? If you consider an uncomfortable shirt and tie as one, I guess. Other than that I don’t have a specific dress code to fit what’s “appropriate” I am not mainstream or do I get the “latest” clothing and styles.

    And knucklehead teens? Not every teenager is a moron and a knucklehead.. that’s just a stereotype. I don’t go around clubbing or drunk driving.. I don’t hang out outside smoking with my friends, I don’t curse or cause trouble in a neighborhood, I don’t waste my time playing video games and watching tv on my free time.. I don’t even watch tv at all.

    Anyway..

    After I quit my job, I was SO HAPPY.. I actually had time to study and some time to read!

  15. Craig Ford says:

    @All
    I had left some responses earlier, but I guess they didn’t post. I’ll try and see if I can find my responses so I can address you comments.

    @Josh
    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I will take your advice and think about what is best for my kids. Hey I’ll even commit to spending the rest of my life doing what is best for my kids. In light of that comment I’m going to go play with my kids now.

  16. Josh says:

    I would have to disrespectfully disagree with what you’re saying. Being a teen who basically worked myself out of a slump of grades and focus and into a phenomenal school, I really take offense to this article. It seems that your main premise is based off of the idea that every high school teen’s free time is spent being a couch potato. “One of the fallacies of our generation is that we believe for kids to be happy they need to be able to do whatever they wish.” That is completely false and really questionable. And yes, I have a “Grandpa” too and he didn’t do chores 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I’ve held multiple jobs, most for minimum wage and they served no purpose but to increase my money and ruin my sleep and grades subsequently.

    You obviously haven’t had a minimum wage job because you would know that the people work there because they couldn’t do well in school. It’s not to learn nice little life lessons about discipline. I learned more about discipline making a’s in college and learning to sacrifice my free time for study(i.e. waking up at 5:30 and studying on the weekends). I’m studying physics for christ sake. It’s not like I’m going to be raking in millions right out of school now am I? I’m going to be getting a phd soon and I will not be making nearly as much as my brother who partied his way through a petroleum engineering bachelor’s degree.

    I am more well rounded than most people I know, frankly. I participate in sports, I have a monstrous group of friends, I meditate daily, I play video games even. I don’t need some bitter bigot telling me what I should be doing with my time.

    Geez, I’m ridiculing a master’s of divinity. Really? And you’re ridiculing the mastery of geometry? Come on man, get real. It’s too typical. Would you tell Euclid or Newton that he should get a job so he can learn to WORK WHEN TIRED? Really? It’s beyond belief what you say here. Do you think these two, for example, just gave up when they wanted to chill out? It’s the same for every person who does good in college, because that’s what college teaches you.

    Here’s a few pointers man-

    1)Stop trying to be Steve Pavlina. It’s obvious that you try to be really progressive in terms of self help but, judging by this article, you lack a significant deal of perception that is needed. You just look like a bitter bigot as stated before.

    2)Try and think about what is actually good for your kids, not how you can get back at your sour emotions from how your own parents raised you. This is all too common especially in the religious community.

    As you can tell, I probably wrote more in the rebuke to your ideas than you did for your article. needless to say this is something that my life is basically built off and for you to just say this crap is just unreal.

  17. Melissa says:

    I had jobs growing up as a teen and respectfully disagree with you. I think young people should be given the chance to concentrate on their studies instead of worrying to help pay for their “car loan” or experience “life skills.” If you are doing your job as a parent,there are certainly a good amount of things you can do to make sure your child is well rounded.

    By the way, there was a typo in the following paragraph:

    “Most teens I know are fatigued from saying up late with friends…”

  18. Craig Ford says:

    @ Snowy
    It was great to hear from a person who does not agree just in theory, but agrees based on the experiences of her kids. Sounds like you’ve done a great job laying a solid foundation for your kids.

    @Leo
    There are some awesome entrepreneur jobs for teens. Thanks not only for your suggestion, but also for you detailed advice on how teens can kick start a side job.

    @FS
    Hey, if you’re going to disagree at least you’ve got the class to do it respectfully. Thus, in the good spirit of your response I will offer my own respectful disagreement.

    True, you do only have one chance to get good grades. However, you have years to build a solid character and work ethic. This, I believe is more important to a company than grades.

    Put two students side by side. One has straight A’s, but little involvement outside the class room. The other, has A’s and B’s, but has excellent references from mentors, teachers and employers.

    I’d pick the student with A’s and B’s. You?

    I honestly don’t remember all my high school and college grades. For the rest of my life I think my character and work ethic will be more important than those ancient documents.

  19. Hi Craig,

    I will have to respectfully disagree. You only have ONE chance of getting good grades which accumulate from 9th-12th grade. With poor grades, you have a tougher time getting into GOOD college, and landing a good job. You will suffer millions in lost wages just because you got a B in Calculus, instead of an A. Trust me on this folks!

    If youre teen can’t multi-task as well as s/he should, FOCUS ON STUDYING!

  20. Leo says:

    Hear hear!

    I would also encourage entrepreneur-ship.

    Several years ago I helped a couple neighbor kids get a snow shoveling business started. We lived in Miami so it never really took off but… just kidding!

    We simply sent postcards to 300 of their neighbors. We told them these guys were available to mow the lawn, clean the pool, shovel the sidewalk, rake the leaves, move furniture and anything else that was legal.

    They got phone calls immediately. We addressed each postcard like this:

    To Our Neighbors at
    123 Main St.
    Anytown, NY 12345

    Don’t waste your time trying to get names to put on a postcard. “To Our Neighbors at” works just fine.

    The kids could walk along the streets near their home making note of house numbers. No need to pay for a mailing list.

    If they print the postcards at home they can mail 100 for less than $35.

    If they do this consistently, they could have a pretty good little business or source of extra income relatively quickly.

    Be sure they get the e-mail address of all their customers so they can reach them in the future.

    As the leaves start to fall, they can send an e-mail reminding customers that they are available to rake the leaves. Encourage them to let their neighbors know as well.

  21. Snowy Heron says:

    I strongly agree that teens should work. They need to understand how hard their parents have worked to provide for them. They need to understand how to get along with a boss who could not care less about whether or not they are happy. They need to understand about taxes. They need to understand that they need to be places on time and appropriately attired. Getting and having a job is just as much of an education for knucklehead teens as going to school is.

    By the way, my youngest of 3 just turned 20, so no more teens!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Disclaimer

The information on this site is strictly the author's opinion. It does NOT constitute financial, legal, or other advice of any kind. You should consult with a certified adviser for advice to your specific circumstances.

While we try to ensure that the information on this site is accurate at the time of publication, information about third party products and services do change without notice. Please visit the official site for up-to-date information.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.

Notice

Moolanomy has affiliate relationships with some companies ("advertisers") and may be compensated if consumers choose to buy or subscribe to a product or service via our links. Our content is not provided or commissioned by our advertisers. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of our advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers.