Many of us may fondly (or perhaps not so fondly) remember our first jobs as teens. Jobs like serving slices at the local pizza place or bagging groceries at the corner store are common ways teens earn money in their spare time. Today’s teens are still looking for ways to earn extra money but may be more aware of the trade-offs associated with taking a summer or part-time job. With college admissions becoming tighter, teens feel the pressure to study more and accumulate volunteer hours whenever they can. Are there still benefits to being employed as a teen? Let’s take a look at the benefits and challenges of having a job as a teen.
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Changing Patterns of Teen Employment
A generation ago, teens being employed (at least part-time) was quite common. Many of our own parents probably recount stories of working over the summer or after school. In the last two decades, however, this pattern has changed dramatically. Since the year 2000, teen labor force participation has dropped by almost 17 percent points.1 That’s after an already consistent, but less steep decline since 1979.1 The number of teens entering the workforce is decreasing. But why?
Economists tell us that several factors are probably at play. Over the last few decades, teen enrollment in school has risen,1 and more students are graduating from high school.1Additionally, beyond high school, more teens and young adults are enrolling in post-secondary education.1 Put together, this indicates that teens are not disengaging from the labor force due to lack of interest or laziness; they are choosing education over employment in many cases.This focus on education extends to the summer months too. During these months in which many teens might have previously taken a job, many now opt for unpaid internships or volunteer work to help them enhance their college applications.2 Still others are not taking a break from academics during the summer. In recent years, as many as 42 percent of teens have enrolled in school during the summer. 2
The labor market itself also contributes to the decline of teen employment. Compared to decades ago, fewer entry-level jobs exist that teens can easily snag.3 More companies are moving toward automated phone lines or self-serve modes of operation, which limit the need for staff. Furthermore, some suggest that older workers (age 55+) have begun to re-enter the labor market in part-time jobs to supplement their retirement income.2
Benefits of Teens Having Jobs
Despite the decline of teens in the labor force and an increased emphasis on education, getting job experience as a teenager still has benefits. Of course, the obvious benefit of having some spending money is often a strong motivator for teens. Although the work experience teens garner is often limited to entry-level positions, it can still be beneficial to their professional and personal growth. Working as a teen offers the chance to establish positive relationships with adults in the workforce that can serve as references for future jobs.4 Learning how to get to work on time and managing relationships with co-workers are both key personal skills that will benefit teens in any future position.
Some teens mention that part-time jobs have helped them learn crucial social-emotional skills as well. Being able to control one’s temper or ask for help are just a few of the less tangible skills that teens learn on the job.2 Having and keeping a job also fosters a sense of independence and confidence in teens. They are able to purchase some items with their own earnings and gain self-esteem knowing that they can contribute to society with responsibility.4
Downsides to Teen Employment
Given that teens have a limited amount of free time when they are not in school, the choice to be employed comes with obvious trade-offs. Spending their after school or summer time in a job means that teens will likely not be able to participate in education-related activities like internships or volunteer work. Depending on a teen’s long-term professional plans, this choice may have an impact on their future employment or college admissions. Furthermore, balancing a job with schoolwork can be challenging. Research shows that teens who work 20 or more hours per week tend to have lower grade point averages.5 It can be challenging to find enough time to study when working quite a few hours per week.
Being employed may also limit how many extracurricular activities in which teens can participate. If your teen has a love for sports, drama, music, or other activities that require a substantial time commitment, a job could seriously curtail those options. While being fun, extracurricular activities also help support a teen’s college application.
Lastly, having a job as a teenager has the potential to add stress to their life. Teens today often experience a lot of pressure to do well academically, prepare for college, and still participate in family life and chores. Adding a job to an already busy schedule can be an added stressor for some teens.5 With less “downtime” to relax, teens could begin to suffer from mental health problems like depression or anxiety if the pressure becomes too much.
Supporting Wise Decision-Making
As we can see, the decision for a teen to take on a job is worthy of careful consideration. Although there are clear benefits, there are also aspects of teen life that children might miss out on while choosing to be employed. If your teen is considering getting a job, it can be helpful to discuss all these issues with them before they make a decision. Supporting your teen in making a smart employment decision brings them one step closer to being ready to enter the adult world.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.
- Bauer, L., Moss, E., Nunn, R., Shambaugh, J. (2019) Employment, Education, and the Time Use of American Youth. The Hamilton Project, https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/EA_Youth_LFPR_FINAL.pdf
- Belsie, L. (2017) Summer Jobs For Teens Wane Even as Research Finds Big Benefits. Christian Science Monitor, https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2017/0720/Summer-jobs-for-teens-wane-even-as-research-finds-big-benefits
- Desilver, D. (2021) During the Pandemic, Teen Summer Employment Hit Its Lowest Point Since the Great Recession. Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/07/during-the-pandemic-teen-summer-employment-hit-its-lowest-point-since-the-great-recession/#:~:text=Besides%20the%20pandemic%2Dspecific%20reasons,later%20in%20June%20and%2For
- Miller, D. (2017) Teen Employment Has Many Benefits. Youth First, https://youthfirstinc.org/teen-employment-many-benefits/
- Morin, A. (2021) The Best Part Time Jobs for Teens. VeryWell Family, https://www.verywellfamily.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-afterschool-jobs-for-teens-2610471