Should Teenagers Work While They Are Students

Do teenagers need early job experience or is it enough that they manage difficult schedules of school, homework, sports, and chores? Should teenagers work while they are students and if so, what are the benefits of teens working?

We talked to a Child Psychologist about the importance of teen part-time jobs and share our list of the top 5 jobs for teenagers.

Should a Teenager Work While in School?

In this day and age, high school students are overscheduled, overtired, and over-activitied. Many can barely keep up with the demands of school, let alone get a job in the real world.

And why do teens need real-world jobs anyway? How will slinging popcorn at a movie theater or offering supersized options at a fast food restaurant, prepare them for college or the corporate, surgical, or legal jobs we have already hired them for in our minds?

Isn’t Getting Good Grades More Important Than Working?

Getting good grades seems like a job in and of itself. “School is your job” is a phrase teens often hear. Parents are willing to support their children’s scholastic endeavors if their children keep up their grades. Parental stipends have replaced the pocket money these same kids used to get from after-school and weekend jobs.

Related Article: 10 Great Reasons Why Students Should Get Paid for Good Grades

Don’t Teens Miss Out on Life Godd Experiences By Not Working?

Unfortunately, this mentality comes at a price, warns child psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Gatt. “This is all fine and good. But what about the rich life experience of engaging in your first part-time job? Scooping ice cream, seating others at a restaurant, or bussing tables. These first jobs are often not glamorous. To the contrary, they are often quite labor intensive, and unlike any other chores and tasks that are required of us in other areas of our lives.”

Benefits Teens Get from Working

Dr. Gatt worries that many students are missing out on valuable years of skill-building in non-academic areas of their lives.

Dr. Gatt says that by working, teens learn:

  1. To communicate with co-workers, their boss, and frequently the public.
  2. Planning skills in order to be on time (time management, and promptness) and prepared (showered and groomed)
  3. How to be congenial when feeling tired, stressed, or overwhelmed.

Dr. Gatt continues, “They learn these 3 important life skills all while trying to juggle personal and educational needs.

Teens sometimes have big emotions, and they figure out how to put on a smile and put their own needs to the side to perform a duty politely.”

Job Benefits They Won’t Learn in the Classroom

Dr. Gatt points out that these are skills that are unlike any others that will be learned in the classroom, but instead directly relate to needed life skills. “The family is the perfect first training ground for these types of skills. However, the first job is the natural next step in honing these abilities.

As a parent, you hope that your kids learn how to make mistakes and recover from them with neutral third parties, outside of the family. They need a space in which to own their actions and behaviors, adjust to the demands of work and life, and fail and recover when the stakes are low.”

What Percentage of Teens Work a Part-Time Job?

The percentage of teens in the workforce is at an all-time low according to the Brookings Institute.

“The teen labor force participation rate reached an all-time peak in 1979 (57.9 percent) and gradually declined until about 2000, when it then dropped precipitously to a 2010–18 plateau of about 35 percent.”

Source: Blog
decline in teen labor force participation chart

Image courtesy of

How Many Hours Should a Teen Work While in School

The question of how much your teen should work while they’re in school is not cut and dry. It depends on several factors including how busy your child is with other obligations, how much time their school work demands, and how much they need to work if their job is providing their own financial support or support for the family.

As a good rule of thumb, a teen should generally not work more than 20 hours a week. Anything more than that will likely be overwhelming if they are also trying to balance all of the obligations which come with being a student.

A job which requires 10-16 hours a week would be a good fit for most teenagers. This amount of time will feel significant, but shouldn’t interfere with their other duties.

Deciding how much time is appropriate for your teen might involve some trial and error. Most jobs which employ teenagers provide flexibility on hours and shifts so they can adjust as their schedules demand. If your child is getting overwhelmed, they might be working too much or simply not managing their time well enough. Once you’ve assessed they can make the necessary changes.

Remember that children need to struggle, and that as painful as it is to watch, it’s very important for their development. Learning time management and prioritization isn’t easy, but it is an important benefit of this first real world experience.

Consequences of Teens Not Working

Dr. Gatt is raising the alarm about the consequences of this trend. “First jobs create intense pride, self-confidence, humility, and self-awareness. Kids who would never take out the garbage at home suddenly are waking up at 5 am to get to a job where they have to visit the dumpster multiple times a day. Without a parent nagging and cajoling, a sense of responsibility takes over, and teens start growing into young adults.

How do we expect a college graduate to begin working a grown-up job without this foundational experience before the stakes are so high?

These first jobs allow a transition from adolescents doing chores because they want an allowance and their parents make them, into young adults who do a job because of the sense of accomplishment and pride, and a paycheck from an employer.”

Dr. Gatt says that there is nothing like a first job to stimulate a teen’s sense of internal motivation and self-efficacy. “The goal is to raise intrinsically motivated adults – ones who take pride in their work, can weather setbacks and mistakes, and are not only motivated by a paycheck, but also the internal feelings of accomplishment, self-sufficiency, and achievement.”

EQ v. IQ

The problem with teens focusing exclusively on high school subjects, and abandoning this real-life learning opportunity, is that they are missing out on an opportunity to build their Emotional Quotient (EQ). Academic success largely hinges on IQ or intelligence quotient. IQ is often measured by abilities in the areas of logic, problem-solving, math, and language. While you might learn some of these skills in the workplace, most early learning comes through school. IQ is necessary and important, but it is not enough.

EQ represents a person’s emotional quotient or emotional intelligence. It is also incredibly important and tends to be learned and honed in more real-life situations. Kids learn EQ early at school, but less so in the classroom, and more so on the playground. EQ is a measure of how we can read a room and interact with others. It measures self-awareness, motivation, empathy, and emotional regulation.

The History of EQ

Until the early ’90s, EQ was a relatively obscure idea. In 1995 a book by Daniel Goleman entitled Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ, hit the scenes.

This book catapulted to best-selling status, and the world never looked back. Goleman followed up his book with an article in the Harvard Business Review in which he argued for the importance of EQ in leadership. Since then, several studies have supported his thesis.

The argument for the importance of EQ seems pretty self-explanatory to parents. We dedicate an outsized amount of time trying to teach our kids to regulate emotions, keep their hands to themselves, comfort friends, share toys, and just generally behave in socially acceptable ways (less public nose picking, more pleases and thank yous).

Teen Jobs Can Help Build EQ

It is easy to see how kids who are engaged in academic endeavors at school 8-10 hours a day and then bury their noses in high school homework for another 2-3, are missing out on vital opportunities to build EQ. One of the core benefits of an early job, even just a few hours a week, is the required interaction with strangers.

Teens build EQ skills in relation to family, friends, classmates, and teachers all throughout early childhood and into their teens.

However, their opportunities to build those same skills as they relate to strangers are more limited. First jobs can fill that gap and teach teens how to interact with managers, bosses, co-workers, and the public. Learning how to manage those relationships will be vital for real-world circumstances and occupations.

Preparing Elementary-Aged Children for the Workforce

If you’re looking at your less than exceptionally motivated elementary-aged kids and wondering how on earth they’re ever going to be able to scoop ice cream at Baskin Robbins if they can’t even make their beds, you’re not alone.

Fear not. Kids are ever-evolving, learning, and growing creatures, who are absolutely capable of making the transition one day. Just remember when you thought they’d never get out of diapers. Then Voila! Big kid underwear. Kids are magic. It’s our job to shepherd them into the incredible people they can become.

If your kids have a few years before they can carry a tray without dropping it on a customer, Dr. Gatt has some recommendations for early skill-building.

“This same sense of accomplishment is achieved through a well-structured chore and allowance program.

Kids feel a sense of accomplishment, self-sufficiency, and pride in seeing the outcome of their specific task. Clean rooms, made beds and folded laundry can reinforce the positive outcome of earning. Young kids can earn privileges or money.

However it is structured, this positive reinforcement is directly linked to one’s sense of self-reliance.”

Recommendations: Good Jobs for Teens

If your teen rolls out of bed 5 minutes before the bus comes and barely gets their shoes on, you might now be actively searching for job listings. Here is our list of top categories that will benefit high school students.

Movie Theaters

A teenaged girl working at movie theater serving popcorn

Asking patrons how much butter they want on their popcorn might not be glamorous, but it has its perks. Movie theater jobs tend to have flexible schedules and plenty of part-time shifts.

If you’re a teenager, chances are you like to go to movies with friends, so perks such as free tickets and popcorn could save you real money.

In addition to the work benefits, there are psychological benefits of a job that requires you to interact with the public.

Teens learn to listen, help, and direct customers, smile even on rough days, be on time (time-management), do humble jobs such as sweeping up someone else’s popcorn, bond with coworkers, trade shifts, shower, and dress appropriately.

Restaurant Jobs

A teen girl working in a restaurant washing dishes - part time job

Waiter and Waitress jobs at nice restaurants can be hard to come by for teenagers, but they can work their way up by starting as a host/hostess or washing dishes.

Restaurant jobs frequently come with a level of stress that is new for some teens.

The environment can be fast-paced with a lot of moving parts. Patrons want their tables now. They want their appetizers yesterday.

They expect you to remember whether they want cheese, ice in their Coke, or dressing on the side. Mistakes are met with a full gamut of humanity – some patient, some not so patient, some downright rude. Managers are frequently requested, and glasses are shattered.

All of this controlled chaos makes for a great training ground for future difficult and stressful jobs.

It will build a level of resilience students desperately need as they enter the less sheltered years of their lives.

The pride they will feel after a long shift, the successful handling of a mean customer, or an afternoon of memorizing and delivering orders, will be unlike anything they’ve felt in childhood. If nothing else, they’ll forever be good tippers, and everyone likes a good tipper.


A teen working at day care helping kids paint a cardboard car.

Caring for children in a structured environment is a foolproof method to make your teen patient. You might just be tempted to sit outside the daycare where they’ve gotten their first job, and watch a toddler throw peas in their direction.

Children can teach us a lot, and they will teach your teen patience, kindness, humility, and the value of cleanliness, and did I mention patience?

Daycare centers also follow very strict protocols, from the handling of food to the documentation of booboos.

Teens will learn how to comply with legal regulations, even if they think they’re pointless or dumb. They will have to read the emotions of toddlers who can’t necessarily communicate their feelings verbally.

Little kids look up to and emulate teens, so your teen will see how their behavior has a direct impact on those younger than them.

And, at the end of the day, they will get to experience the beautiful happiness of babies and children. Making kids happy with stories, books, music, and jokes make it all worthwhile.

Grocery and Retail Stores

A teenaged girl working as a grocery store cashier.

Stocking, checking, and managing are all good options for teenagers looking for a first job. Evantually they can work their way up into other positions, stocking shelves and cashiering.

There are perks associated with discounts, depending on the store, and the shift flexibility will allow them to work around their high school, sport, and family obligations.

Retail also offers some unique opportunities for seasonal work around holidays and busy seasons.

Teenagers will end up spending a lot of time on their feet in these positions, interacting with the public.

There is a wide variety of specific job types, from checking to stocking, but each requires some interaction with the public. They will learn to be courteous, respond to urgent requests from managers (“clean-up request on aisle 9”), organize merchandise, check prices, do data entry for inventory, and not eat co-workers’ food in the staff refrigerator.

Retirement Homes

teen working at a retirement home

On the opposite end of the age spectrum as childcare, retirement, and care facilities also provide excellent job opportunities for high school students.

These positions often require students to exercise and hone a variety of skills, from kitchen and meal prep to emergency medical care.

In certain care facilities, the residents might have cognitive impairments which require significant levels of patience, kindness, and empathy.

Teens will interact with, and learn to respect, their elders. They will come to understand that with age often comes wisdom and that sitting down for a game of chess with someone’s grandfather might just teach them more than how to castle a king and a rook.

This is a job where a teen will feel truly needed.

Residents often take an interest in the lives of the employees and care about them quite a bit. Teens will be able to have a true impact on the lives of others.

In addition to the usual requirements of showing up on time, and showered, students will learn about the world outside their little bubble.

Elder care can involve big issues around other people’s family dynamics, inheritance issues, loves, and losses. Sometimes teens can take a very myopic view of the world, and forget that there is a world outside of themselves that they can affect in a positive way.


Teenagers have a lot on their plates, and it might seem daunting for you and them to add one more thing.

Your student might already seem overwhelmed with high school, extracurriculars, and sports.

Consider, however, how the skills and work experience they would learn in a job could help them manage all of those things, and prepare for college and future employment.

The vast majority of our kids aren’t going to be pro athletes, but we still put them in plenty of sports. We recognize that sports teach lessons outside of the specific skills involved.

Teen jobs are very similar. We all have hopes for our kids beyond asking whether you would like hot fudge and nuts on top of your sundae, and sleepily dragging trash to a curb after a long shift.

What we must learn to realize is that those hopes will be more readily realized if our children acquire the underlying competence that those jobs bring.

Responsibility, self-sufficiency, confidence, grit, humility, empathy, patience, and resilience are not only job skills, they’re life skills.