Poll Shows Parents Torn When Teens Enter the Workforce
As summer nears, teens may want to apply for their first job or try to boost their hours for the season.
Not all parents think this is such a good idea though, according to a new C.S. Mott Children's Hospital poll.
“Teen jobs can be super positive and I think we see that in our data, but there's also the risk of potential physical and mental health” problems, said Sarah Clark, co-director of the Mott Poll at the University of Michigan.
For teens, these early work experiences can gain them money for the things they want or need, and help to build their self-esteem. But parents worry their kids might get overloaded.
Parents expressed concerns about kids with jobs not getting enough sleep. They also had concerns about scheduling and transportation, the impact on grades during the school year, stress and workplace safety.
More than 1,000 parents of teens were polled. About 8% said their 14- and 15-year-olds had jobs, compared to 42% whose teens were 16 or 17 and more than half (53%) of those who had 18-year-olds.
The teens use the money they earn largely to pay for personal items or save it. Less than a third of parents whose kids work said they paid for activities. Only 8% said the money earned helps pay for family expenses.
About 26% of the parents surveyed said their teens work 20 or more hours a week.
“It helps a lot with gaining independence, especially as they get older,” said Dr. Stephanie Lee, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatrician at Penn State Health.
“Teenagers, in terms of their social development, are learning how to take on more responsibility, learning how to work with others in teams outside of the school setting, preparing them for the workforce depending on what their plans are after graduating,” said Lee, who was not involved in the study.
Parents may want to help their teens find a job in a field they may choose to work in after graduating, such as business or hospitality, Lee suggested.
Having a job that has predictable hours can be beneficial, Lee said, so that it doesn't interfere with other responsibilities or interests.
“If it's unpredictable, if it starts to interfere with them getting their homework done or them getting involved with after-school activities," Lee said, that is when it can turn into a negative.
Lee said parents should talk to their teens about expectations before they start a job, explaining what is acceptable behavior from an employer and what is not.
Parents should coach their teens that it's OK to say no. These jobs should be secondary to school, she said.
Pros and cons
About 76% of parents polled cited money management as a positive impact, while 70% cited self-esteem, 63% said time management and 28% said social life.
Among the cons were sleep, according to 16% of parents, and impacts on activities and social life (11% each) and school grades (4%).
About 87% of parents said how a job fit into their teen's schedule mattered when thinking about whether a job was appropriate. About 68% cited the convenience of getting them to and from their job as a key factor. Other important considerations included the learning experience (54%), pay rate (34%) and the other teens who work there (25%).
It is important for parents and teens to research child labor laws in their state before starting their job search, Clark said. Only about 29% of parents polled considered themselves very informed and 52% somewhat informed about their state's laws for teen employment.
Almost half of all parents noted at least one job-related problem that they knew about, Clark said. There were likely more that the teens didn't share, she said.
These problems ranged from not getting the number of hours expected -- either not as many as promised or being asked to work more hours or later hours.
“That is a great opportunity for parents to jump in and help teens figure out how do you navigate that with your manager,” Clark said. “Those are, frankly, difficult conversations for a lot of adults to have.”
Not every job will be a good fit or continue to be so, and parents may be able to see that more clearly than their offspring.
Stress and anxiety would be among the reasons to leave a job, Clark said.
Teens may internalize some of what's happening in the workplace that they think is their fault. They may, for example, think they're not getting more hours because they're not a good employee when really it might just be that business is slow.
“I really think parents have to recognize that they have a really important role upfront in helping the teen find an appropriate job,” Clark said. “But their role doesn't stop there. They have to stay in it and they have to keep asking about the job and hearing those anecdotes and really have their antenna up to make sure that there aren't things going on that make the job a problem.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on developmental milestones for younger and older teens.
SOURCES: Sarah Clark, MPH, co-director, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital Poll, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH, spokesperson, American Academy of Pediatrics, and pediatrician, Penn State Health, Reading, Pa.; Mott Poll Report, April 17, 2023