Too Much Work for High School Students Could Be Trouble

Too Much Work Many teens work part-time during the school year; but more than ever, in the current economic climate more youths are having to take jobs to help out with family finances. Beware that they don't work too much, however: Among high school students, working more than 20 hours a week during the school year can lead to academic and behavior problems.

That's the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of Washington, University of Virginia, and Temple University. It appears in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development.

For the study, researchers examined the impact of getting a job or leaving work among middle-class teens in 10th and 11th grades. Drawing from the full sample of about 1,800 individuals, the researchers compared adolescents who got jobs to similar teens who didn't work, and adolescents who left jobs to similar teens who kept working.

The researchers found that working for more than 20 hours a week was associated with declines in school engagement and how far adolescents were expected to go in school, and increases in problem behavior such as stealing, carrying a weapon, as well as using alcohol and illegal drugs.

They also found that things didn't get better when teens who were working more than 20 hours a week cut back their hours or stopped working altogether. In contrast, working 20 hours or less a week tended to have negligible academic, psychological, and behavioral effects.

"Working part-time during the school year has been a fixture of American adolescence for more than 30 years," notes Kathryn C. Monahan, a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Washington, who led the study. "Today, a substantial proportion of American high school students hold part-time jobs during the school year, and a large number of them work more than 20 hours each week.

"Although working during high school is unlikely to turn law-abiding teenagers into felons or cause students to flunk out of school, the extent of the adverse effects we found is not trivial, and even a small decline in school engagement or increase in problem behavior may be of concern to many parents," she adds.

The bottom line, suggests Monahan: "Parents, educators, and policymakers should monitor and constrain the number of hours adolescents work while they are enrolled in high school."


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