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Parent Resources

I Need to Get a Job

This fact sheet is part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers series.

student workingColleen Gengler, Extension Educator — Family Relations

Revised May 2016 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science.

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Many teens hold jobs during their high school years. A job can have positive and negative consequences for teens. State and federal laws govern teens’ work experience. Get the facts you need to make the best choice for your teen.

Benefits of Working a Job

When teenagers work less than 20 hours a week, they may experience several benefits. Working may increase teens’ ability to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviors, as well as increase self-esteem, feelings of competence, and independence. Through employment, young people can learn ways to manage time and money, carry out instructions, adapt to rules and routines in the workplace, and work effectively with others. They can develop valuable skills relating to future careers and may have contact with adult employers who can give positive recommendations. In fact, youth who work less than 20 hours a week are more likely to go on to college and earn their degree (Mortimer, 2009).

Employment can also allow savings toward future education. For some families, it may be necessary for teens to contribute to the family’s income or pay for their own needs.

Drawbacks of Working a Job

When teenagers work more than 20 hours a week, negative effects may overshadow positive gains. Studies (Mortimer, 2009) have found that teenagers who work more than 20 hours a week are more likely to experience harmful effects in their school, family, and personal lives. Adolescents who work half time or more report higher levels of emotional distress, substance abuse, and earlier sexual activity. Sometimes youth are exposed to older co-workers who may provide access to alcohol or drugs. Other adverse consequences of working long hours include fatigue, sleep deprivation, less exercise, less family time, poor school performance, and problems with the law.

Working long hours is not the only problem teens might experience as a result of holding a job. Teens may spend earnings on frivolous items that contribute little to health or well-being.

State and Federal Law

State and federal labor laws set the minimum age standards for minors who work. The U.S. Department of Labor requires that in most cases youth must be at least 14 years old to work. Laws regulate the type of work a minor may perform. Often, teens under 18 are prohibited from holding certain jobs and from operating specific machinery due to safety risks.

State law often limits the number of hours per day and week as well as the times of day that minors can work. Typically, the number of hours minors may work on school days will be less than on non-school days. Most states establish the maximum number of hours that minors may work, but this number is not the ideal number of hours that your teen should work. Consider carefully just how many hours of paid work are healthy for your teen.

What to Consider

When making the decision whether your teen should work or not, take these factors into account.

Make Work a Positive Experience

Once you and your teen decide that finding a job is a good idea, continue your involvement. Parents play an important role in helping their teen have a positive working experience. They can help the teen select a safe, appropriate place of employment.

Remember that teens are still developing physically, intellectually, and emotionally and that their development can influence their skills and abilities on the job. It’s important to choose a job that matches your teen’s abilities, and to remember they are learning and gaining skills from participating in a variety of activities that include family, peers, school, community, and paid work.

Sources

Mortimer, J. T. (2009). Working and growing up in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mortimer, J. T., & Larson, R. W. (2002). The changing adolescent experience: Societal trends and the transition to adulthood. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Related Resources

Labor Standards — Child Labor LawsMinnesota Department of Labor and Industry — Information about age restrictions, frequently asked questions, penalties, proof of age and more.

Youth Rules! Preparing the 21st Century WorkforceU. S. Department of Labor — YouthRules! is an initiative to promote positive and safe work experiences for teens by distributing information.

The fading of the teen summer job — Pew Research Center — This Fact Tank blog post shares trends on teen employment.

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