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Getting Through Tough Times

Deciding If Teens Should Work

Sharon M. Danes, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science

Revised August 2015 by author.

Encouraging teenage family members to find jobs is one way a family can increase its income during tough times. Many part-time jobs are available that fit into student schedules.

Pay is usually minimum wage, but can make a significant contribution to the family income and help defray some expenses. Parents and teenagers need to discuss and determine the number of hours that can be worked, how the money will be used, transportation and other issues.

Finding Employment

Jobs are frequently available for teenagers at restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail businesses. Directly contacting the business about applying for a job can often lead to a job. Many business websites provide online application forms.

Workforce centers, newspapers, schools, community bulletin boards, and friends can help direct you to other jobs. Teens can create their own employment by advertising their availability for baby-sitting, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, or washing cars.

Federal Job Partnership Training Administration funds jobs for teenagers as part of summer youth programs and youth-in-school programs. School counselors or principals have information on these programs.

Special programs at workforce centers may make jobs available for teenagers as part of summer youth programs and youth-in-school programs. School counselors or principals have information on these programs.

An Employment/Age Certificate is required in most states for young people under age 16. Check this table to see if a certificate is require in your state: Table of Employment/Age Certification Issuance Practice Under State Child Labor Laws. To secure a work permit, contact your local school office. Proof of age will be required to obtain a work permit; a copy of your birth certificate may be needed.

Evaluating Employment Options

Mortimer (2010), in her study about the benefits and risks of adolescent employment, indicates that work experience can promote the healthy development of some adolescents. Those benefits occur only under certain conditions and with the explicit guidance of parents.

Benefits are experienced when the work intensity is moderate and the work is steady in duration — this can foster time management skills. What is important is an appropriate balance between school and work. Developing responsibility, good work skills, and self-confidence are other dividends that can result from teen employment.

Detrimental effects, such as lower educational attainment, can occur when teens work more than 20 hours per week for more than 10 weeks per year. With this workload, teens tend to lose interest in school and their grades tend to drop (Johnson & Lino, 2000).

Additionally, youth who have no clear goals for the use of their earnings spend more on luxuries and develop extravagant spending habits that can lead to financial problems in adulthood. Also, these young people are more likely to spend earnings on alcohol and drugs (Bachman, 1983).

The beneficial characteristics only occur with involvement of parents who work with the teen to set guidelines and restrictions (Bachman, 1983; Johnson & Lino, 2000). Here's a list of ways a teen's income can be managed. Use it to guide a discussion with your teen on how his or her paycheck will be spent:

  • Use a portion for routine expenses incurred by the teen such as school lunches, clothes, gifts, dues, and recreation. Save the remainder as an education fund.
  • Contribute a portion to the family household budget and keep a portion for the teenager's personal expenses.
  • Contribute the entire wages to the family budget and give the teen an allowance.

Teen Contributions to Family Budget

An ideal way for the teen to become familiar with the expenses of the whole family is to assist with developing the family budget. Have your teen figure the family budget without any of his or her earnings included. Then, add in a portion of the additional earnings under income and adjust selected expense categories, particularly in areas where the teen normally has expenses. You could also have your teen figure the budget including his or her total earnings. Such a comparison will help the teen and the rest of the family see the impact of his or her contributions to the total family budget.

When teenagers are highly involved in family money management, it's easier for them to understand the family financial situation and why they can't have some of the extras their friends may have. The hands-on involvement is a good tool to help teens develop their ability to set goals, make choices and see the value of the family working together.


Bachman, J. G. (1983). Premature affluence: Do high school students earn too much? Economic Outlook USA, 10(3), 64–67.

Danes, S. M. & Stumme, P. (2014). Adjusting to Suddenly Reduced Income. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension.

Johnson, D.S. & Lino, M. (2000). Teenagers: Employment and contribution to family spending. Monthly Labor Review, September.

Mortimer, J. T. (2010). The Benefits and Risks of Adolescent Employment. The Prevention Researcher, 17(2), 8–11.

Other Recommended Resources

I Need to Get a Job — Reviews the research about teens seeking and holding a job. English | español

Rural Minnesota Life — Provides information for Minnesotan rural families, including the other 16 Getting Through Tough Times fact sheets.

Youth & LaborU.S. Department of Labor — Current information on labor laws.

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