- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

Moira Gallagher, 15, of Severna Park, Md., works as a server in a doughnut shop 16 hours a week, participates in sports 10 hours a week and makes a grade-point average of about 3.5.

“Staying busy actually helps me get more schoolwork done,” says Moira, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Md. “It helps me manage my time better.”

Moira is one of more than 13 million teenagers, about 80 percent of all teens, who work part time at some point during their four years of high school, says Jeylan Mortimer, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Ms. Mortimer’s research shows that part-time work can have downsides but that more commonly it benefits a teen’s personal development and has no effect on school performance.

“Parents of teenagers see work as providing skills and knowledge that school otherwise does not — especially a sense of independence and responsibility,” she says.

Ms. Mortimer has studied the topic of working teenagers for more than two decades. Her research includes a study of more than 1,000 students in the St. Paul, Minn., area. She followed those teens from when they were 14 to 15 years old (in 1987 and 1988) until the present.

She studied what type of work the teens were doing, how many hours they worked and what impact the work had on their schoolwork and personal development.

Judy Madden, supervisor for school counseling services at Montgomery County Public Schools, agrees that part-time work can benefit teens but says adolescents need to make sure they don’t overdo it.

“I think that it’s important to make sure that the work really is part time so the youngsters have adequate time and energy to dedicate to their academic work,” Ms. Madden says.

Baby-sitting to waitressing

Ms. Mortimer concluded that younger teens were more likely to do informal work such as baby-sitting and mowing lawns, and older teens were more likely to be in more structured work settings.

These different types of work settings — informal and formal — teach different things, says Neale S. Godfrey, author of “Money Still Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Teenagers and Younger Adults.”

“One big difference is that first paycheck where they see all the money being withheld,” Ms. Godfrey says, referring to Social Security and other taxes. “They get paycheck shock.”

While both types of settings teach teens how to relate to adults, a formal setting is more likely to put demands on dress code and behavior.

Olivia Saeger, 19, of Capitol Hill baby-sat between 15 and 20 hours a week all through high school. This summer — she’s a freshman at Haverford College in Haverford, Pa.— she worked at an upscale D.C. restaurant. She says there were big differences between the two jobs.

“I had to go out and buy clothes for this job, and there was an employee handbook,” Miss Saeger says.

Overall, it was more structured than baby-sitting, and she had to make sure she didn’t speak like a teenager, she says.

“You have to make an effort to use appropriate grammar,” Miss Saeger says. “I think a lot of teenagers don’t feel comfortable speaking to adults because they don’t know how to speak.”

Balancing act

Teens who work during the school year have to make sure they have adequate time not only for academics, but also for other activities that further personal development and interests, Ms. Madden says.

“The other piece is trying to allow time to be involved in extracurricular activities because that’s important for a well-rounded high school experience,” she says.

Ms. Madden recommends that teens talk to guidance counselors, teachers and parents about what amount of work is right for them.

“A youngster has to take the time to reflect and say, ‘What is the workload that I can successfully juggle?’ and that may vary by semester,” Ms. Madden says. “It’s important to be realistic about what they can and can’t manage. Schoolwork has to be a young person’s priority.”

Miss Saeger’s mother, Sarah Hatch, says she has never been worried that her daughter’s academic performance would be affected by the part-time work.

“Her number one job is to be a good student, and she knows that,” Ms. Hatch says.

Miss Saeger, who was a varsity athlete in high school, says the part-time work helped her become more organized and efficient.

“You know you can’t procrastinate because you only have so much time to get your work done,” she says.

But what is the appropriate amount of work?

“There seems to be a consensus that 20 hours a week is the most youth can handle adequately, but there is no magic number because it depends on the individual,” Ms. Mortimer says.

Moira and Miss Saeger both limited their part-time work to fewer than 20 hours a week during the school year. Moira increases her hours to 32 hours a week during the summer.

While most of the teens Ms. Mortimer studied did a great job balancing work and school, some displayed negative precocious behavior, such as consuming alcohol, she says.

“Alcohol use increased with the number of hours worked, but it’s hard to tease out the causal order,” Ms. Mortimer says.

In other words, she says, it’s difficult to determine whether some of these teens would have started drinking anyway.

The only negative effect of working part time that Moira has found is she has less time with her friends.

“I have to get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. So when my friends hang out at someone’s house, I have to leave at 10, and they can stay out until midnight,” Moira says. “And I can’t go to a movie that starts at 10.”BENEFITS ABOUND

ONE OF THE MANY BENEFITS OF WORKING PART TIME WHEN IN HIGH SCHOOL IS FIGURING OUT WHAT YOU WANT — OR DON’T WANT — TO DO WHEN YOU GROW UP, SAYS ROBERT DUVALL, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL ON ECONOMIC EDUCATION. THE NATIONWIDE NETWORK PROMOTES ECONOMIC LITERACY IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.

“ONE OF THE DISCOVERIES YOU MIGHT MAKE IS, ‘I DON’T WANT TO BE FLIPPING HAMBURGERS WHEN I’M 40, SO I AM GOING TO MAKE SURE I’M IN A DIFFERENT PLACE WHEN I’M 40,’ ” MR. DUVALL SAYS.

MS. MADDEN AGREES.

“SOMEONE WHO THINKS HE WANTS TO BE A DOCTOR AND THEN HE FINDS OUT THAT BLOOD MAKES HIM ILL BY WORKING IN A HOSPITAL, THAT’S A GOOD THING TO KNOW,” SHE SAYS.

A PART-TIME JOB CAN ALSO BE A POSITIVE STEPPINGSTONE TOWARD A FUTURE CAREER, MS. MADDEN SAYS.

“IF YOU CAN MANAGE TO FIND A JOB IN A WORKPLACE THAT WILL HELP YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, THAT’S GREAT,” SHE SAYS. “THAT CAN ACTUALLY HELP MAKE YOU MORE ACADEMICALLY FOCUSED.”

MISS SAEGER, FOR EXAMPLE, WANTS TO BECOME A PEDIATRICIAN AND ATTRIBUTES SOME OF THE INTEREST TO HER MANY YEARS OF WORKING AS A BABY SITTER.

“WORKING WITH KIDS HAS DEFINITELY ADDED TO IT,” MISS SAEGER SAYS. “I JUST LOVE CHILDREN AND GROWING CLOSE TO THEIR FAMILIES.”

ANOTHER BENEFIT OF PART-TIME WORK IS LEARNING ABOUT MONEY AND ITS MANAGEMENT, SAYS LEWIS MANDELL, A PROFESSOR OF FINANCE AT THE UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO’S SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT IN BUFFALO, N.Y.

“WHEN PEOPLE ACTUALLY GO OUT AND WORK, THEY TEND TO THINK MORE ABOUT HOW TO SPEND THEIR MONEY WISELY,” MR. MANDELL SAYS. THEY LEARN HOW LONG IT TAKES TO MAKE X AMOUNT OF DOLLARS, HE SAYS.

“IT TURNS OUT THAT TEENAGERS WHO WORK MANAGE THEIR MONEY BETTER THAN THOSE WHO DON’T,” HE SAYS.

MOIRA SAYS SHE SPENDS SOME OF HER MONEY ON ENTERTAINMENT AND FOOD, BUT A CHUNK WILL GO TOWARD A CELL PHONE AND CAR INSURANCE.

“MY DAD SAID, ‘YOU WANT A CELL PHONE? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PAY FOR IT?’” MOIRA SAYS.

THEN THERE ARE THE MORE INTANGIBLE BENEFITS OF PART-TIME WORK — THE FRIENDSHIPS, THE FUN AND THE SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT.

“IT’S STILL WORK, BUT WE KNOW ALMOST ALL THE CUSTOMERS, WHICH IS NICE. IT’S LIKE ‘CHEERS’ BUT WITH COFFEE,” MOIRA SAYS OF HER WORKPLACE.

MISS SAEGER SAYS SHE, TOO, SEES A LOT OF BENEFITS OF WORKING PART TIME DURING HIGH SCHOOL.

“YOU FEEL REALLY GOOD ABOUT THE MONEY YOU’VE EARNED ON YOUR OWN, AND I REALLY GOT A SENSE OF INDEPENDENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY,” SHE SAYS.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “WORKING AND GROWING UP IN AMERICA,” BY JEYLAN T. MORTIMER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2003. THIS BOOK EXAMINES THE BENEFITS AND POSSIBLE DOWNSIDES OF PART-TIME WORK FOR TEENAGERS WHO ARE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL. IT SHOWS THAT HAVING PART-TIME JOBS CAN INCREASE CONFIDENCE, FOSTER TIME-MANAGEMENT SKILLS, PROMOTE VOCATIONAL EXPLORATION AND ENHANCE SUBSEQUENT ACADEMIC SUCCESS.

• “MONEY STILL DOESN’T GROW ON TREES: A PARENT’S GUIDE TO RAISING FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE TEENAGERS AND YOUNGER ADULTS,” BY NEALE S. GODFREY, RODALE PRESS, 2004. THIS BOOK DISCUSSES THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF WORK TEENS SHOULD DO WHILE IN SCHOOL AND HOW THEY SHOULD SPEND THE MONEY THEY MAKE IN A RESPONSIBLE WAY. IT AIMS TO HELP TEENS MAKE SOUND FINANCIAL DECISIONS, SUCH AS CHOOSING THE RIGHT BANK AND ESTABLISHING BUDGETS FOR CLOTHES, CARS AND ENTERTAINMENT.

• “COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO MONEY FOR TEENS,” BY SUSAN SHELLY, ALPHA BOOKS, 2001. THIS BOOK AIMS TO TEACH TEENS HOW TO GET MONEY, SAVE AND INVEST IT, BUDGET IT, SPEND IT WISELY, AND KEEP TRACK OF IT. IT PROVIDES INFORMATION ON HOW TO SAVE FOR A FIRST CAR, MAKE SENSE OF A CHECKING ACCOUNT STATEMENT AND ESTABLISH A GOOD CREDIT HISTORY.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, 200 CONSTITUTION AVE. NW, WASHINGTON DC, 20210. PHONE: 866/487-9243. WEB SITE: WWW.YOUTHRULES.DOL.GOV, A SITE DEVOTED TO WORKING TEENS. THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR PROVIDES INFORMATION ON STATE AND FEDERAL LAWS THAT APPLY TO YOUNG WORKERS.

• NATIONAL COUNCIL ON ECONOMIC EDUCATION, 1140 AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS, NEW YORK, NY 10036. PHONE: 212/730-7007 OR 800/338-1192. WEB SITE: WWW.NCEE.NET. NCEE IS A NATIONWIDE NETWORK THAT PROMOTES ECONOMIC LITERACY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE. NCEE’S MISSION IS TO HELP STUDENTS DEVELOP THE REAL-LIFE SKILLS THEY NEED TO SUCCEED. IT AIMS TO TEACH YOUNG PEOPLE HOW TO MAKE RESPONSIBLE CHOICES AS CONSUMERS, SAVERS, INVESTORS, CITIZENS, MEMBERS OF THE WORK FORCE AND EFFECTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN A GLOBAL ECONOMY.

ONLINE —

• THE WEB SITE WWW.ITALLADDSUP.ORG, RUN BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL ON ECONOMIC EDUCATION, IS GEARED TOWARD TEENS INTERESTED IN LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE THEIR MONEY. THROUGH ONLINE GAMES, IT SHOWS TEENS HOW TO BUILD GOOD CREDIT, INVEST AND SAVE MONEY.

• THE WEB SITE WWW.TEENANALYST.COM, RUN BY A STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, GIVES TEENAGERS TIPS ON TOPICS RANGING FROM HOW TO INVEST TO HOW TO CONDUCT ONESELF IN A JOB INTERVIEW.

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