This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: A survival guide for parents of teenagers series.
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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.
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 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.
- Teen’s reasons for employment: Does she want to earn spending money or to save for college? Does he want to make connections with employed adults who can open doors to a future career? Or does he want to spend time with older youth who might have access to alcohol?
- Age and Maturity: Is he old enough and mature enough for the job he wants? Is he able to interact professionally with adults? Is he able to problem solve with challenges come up?
- School performance: Are his grades where you would like them to be? Youth who try to juggle schoolwork and paid work are often faced with 50-, 60-, or even 70-hour combined school and work weeks.
- Time away from important activities: Does your teen spend time helping out around the house or neighborhood? Does your teen spend time with family and friends or in extracurricular activities? Would paid employment cut into these activities? Teens also need free time to just relax; be sure they are not scheduled all day long.
- Family or teen financial need: Does she need to make a financial contribution to her own or the household’s current needs or her own future needs?
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.
- Establish expectations, such as keeping good grades and continuing to do chores around the house, for your teen to keep working. If possible, give working a trial period to see how your teen manages.
- Discuss job possibilities with your teen. Help think through opportunities for learning skills relating to future goals and work environment safety.
- Practice interviewing with your teen. Play the role of the employer and ask your teen questions about career goals, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Talk with your teen about job offers. Will this job be challenging or boring? Will it bring your teen into contact with respected and skilled adults? Will the supervisor respect the need to work limited hours? What is the employer’s policy on breaks, overtime pay, and time off?
- Work with your teen to set up a plan for the money they earn. What should be saved and what can go for day-to-day needs and wants?
- Keep track of the number of hours your teen works and monitor activity before and after work hours.
- Track how your teen is doing in school. School performance is too important to be sacrificed for work. Although work can be important to development, it should not undermine a young person’s education.
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.
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.
Labor Standards — Child Labor Laws — Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry — Information about age restrictions, frequently asked questions, penalties, proof of age and more.
Youth Rules! Preparing the 21st Century Workforce — U. 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.
Reviewed in 2018