Deciding if teens should work

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 the number of hours that can be worked, how the money will be used, transportation and other issues.

Finding employment

Jobs are often 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.

Other places teens can find jobs:

  • Workforce centers.
  • Newspapers.
  • Schools.
  • Community bulletin boards.
  • Friends.

Teens can create their own jobs by advertising to:

  • Baby-sit.
  • Mow lawns.
  • Shoveling snow.
  • Wash 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.

An employment/age certificate is required in most states for young people under age 16. Check the table of employment/age certification issuance to see if a certificate is required in your state. To secure a work permit, contact your local school office and be prepared to show proof of age.

Evaluating employment options

Work experience can promote healthy development in some adolescents. Those benefits occur only under certain conditions and with the guidance of parents. It can also build responsibility, good work skills and self-confidence. Moderate intensity and steady work can foster time management skills.

But it is important to find a good balance between school and work. Lower grades 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.

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.

Benefits only occur when parents work with the teen to set guidelines and restrictions. 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

A great 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 part of the extra earnings under income. 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.

Teenage involvement in family money management makes 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.

Related Resources

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

Sharon M. Danes, Extension specialist and professor in family social science

Revised by author

Reviewed in 2018

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