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Does your teenager need a part-time job?

Many Canadian parents believe that a part-time job will prevent their teenager from becoming lazy and entitled, and will help them build positive character traits and good financial habits. After all, “We” had to do it, and look how we turned out right? Well… sort of.

There is substantial evidence indicating student jobs are a positive motivator– to a point. Part-time jobs can be an important stepping stone to reaching adult independence, but there is an opportunity cost in having a part-time job. To figure out the right balance of work hours, curricular hours, and leisure hours, begin by determining exactly what your teen hopes to get out of the job.

Some common goals or outcomes are:

    • A paycheque
    • Life skills such as time management and ability to take direction
    • Job-specific skills
    • Résumé material
    • Interaction with potential mentors and productive co-workers
    • Learning life’s many lessons from the best teacher of all: Experience.

Not all jobs are created equally, and it is important to find one which offers more than just a paycheque.

Not all jobs are created equally, and it is important to find one which offers more than just a paycheque. In fact, it could be argued that money is the least valuable goal on the list. The value of a great mentor, smart co-workers, or educational environment is difficult to quantify.

While it is a popular notion that most teens have more than enough free time to handle a part-time job, evaluating how much actual leisure time teens have can be difficult. Katherine Marshall, a senior analyst with Labour Statistics Division at Statistics Canada, has done extensive research on teenage lives and found teaching and modeling positive time-management techniques are essential.

Canadian teens spent more time doing unpaid and paid labour during the school week than any of their peers. During an average week (including Saturday and Sunday) teens work more than seven hours per day – nearly the same as the average Canadian adult. Marshall found a moderate amount of after-school labour had both positive short-term and long-term outcomes for the majority of teens; however, there was a tipping point around 15-20 hours of work per week where consequences began to outweigh benefits. No specific number of hours will work for all youth, but working too many hours in a less than ideal part-time job can cut into homework and extracurricular time.

How much part-time work is enough to realize benefits without sacrificing the other very important elements of their teenage years?

From a financial standpoint, it is important to consider how time invested in homework or scholarship applications may have a greater return than hours spent working in an entry level job. If your teen is on their way to developing sound time-management skills, then working after school a couple nights a week is not likely to damage their studies and will hopefully merely replace “screen time.” On the other hand, if your teen begins to pull away from fulfilling extra-curricular activities and/or their studies, then the juice is not worth the squeeze.

While practical considerations such as paying for post-secondary education might have an impact on how many hours your teen works, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Losing out on scholarship opportunities or even failing a course is not worth picking up an extra shift at the local gas bar or fast food joint. Character doesn’t come cheap, but a part-time job isn’t the only way to pay for it.

If your child is resistant to getting an after-school job, but is passionate about pursuing goals in another area of their life, perhaps it is worth considering if it can provide them with the same life skills. For example, can becoming a member of the debate team, hockey squad, or volunteering with a local Habit for Humanity group help achieve many of the same outcomes an after-school job could? Each child is unique. Finding the right job or the right activity to hone their personal skillsets is important. There is certainly an argument to be made that a part-time job is not the only way to raise a smart, driven, well-rounded teenager.

If your kid does end up getting a part-time job, here are some more tips to help you teach them about finances at any age.