Working Teenagers

Q. My son is only 16 and wants to work three to four hours each day, plus all day Saturday and Sunday. We understand he's trying to save up for a car, but we feel his grades will suffer. What are some guidelines?

It worked for me:

While attending high school, my daughter enrolled in the Working Student program. This allowed her to get out of school at noon, and she immediately went to work and got off at 5 p.m. Because this was part of a vocational-educational program, we agreed to see how it would work for a couple of months. She knew if her grades slipped, she would have to quit. She kept up her grades and worked between 20 and 25 hours a week. This was a successful program for her because her boss let her hours drop to around 15 during exam time. -- Kathy L. of Oklahoma City

Teaching secondary English for 20 years has given me the opportunity to see firsthand the effects of employment on my students. There are some very responsible children, who with their parents' guidance, work perhaps 20 hours a week, including weekends. It allows them to not only earn, but to see what Uncle Sam takes out of their checks. In addition, it provides them the chance to work in the grown-up world and exposes them to "real world" responsibilities. For kids who work more than 20 hours a week, and when they work incredibly late hours, they become sluggish and sometimes fall asleep at their desks in class. Often these students are unprepared for the day because they haven't had the time or energy to do their homework. The main job of these teens should be school. -- Elizabeth Coble of Nashville, Tenn.

We tried to let our son work a few hours for extra money. His taste for expensive things kept growing, and he had to work more hours to pay for them. After he flunked two of his classes, we made him quit and wouldn't let him work until he pulled back up to at least a B average. This took the rest of the year. Now he has another job and keeps his hours around 15 each week. -- J.C. of Wapakoneta, Ohio

From Jodie: In this challenge, like so many others, it's almost a "do-and-see" type of situation. If the child's grades are good, and he has the time and desire to work, maybe give him a chance. First, find out why the child wants to work, and if you can come to an agreement. Try these

guidelines: Keep the hours limited to 15, and make them daytime hours if possible. Make sure you are aware of his exact responsibilities. Have a chat with the boss and talk it over with his teacher and/or counselor. If the type of work and hours seem reasonable, sit down together and write some realistic rules and consequences. Rule No. 1 should be that school work come first.

NOTE: Are you letting your children under the age of 2-years-old watch TV? Do you agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics? No TV - at all?

Recommendations from Jodie: If your children are interested -- quality educational programing for children 16-months and older is perfectly normal. If parents will supervise it in small increments -- and not use it for a baby sitter -- it may not be so harmful. Pay close attention to the ratings and include all aspects -- videos, computers, etc. Don't be too worried -- many children this age usually can't handle but somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 minutes anyway. Once or twice a day of good quality educational and fun programs is sufficient. Veggie Tales is my favorite -- along with Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. Just remember: nothing will take the place of playing and interacting with mom and dad, grandparents, child care providers, etc. Reading to your children -- along with puppet play -- is an outstanding educational ritual providing enjoyment for all!

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