Laptops and loose-leaf paper are on sale everywhere I look, which means it must be back-to-school season. For teens, it’s a time filled with the excitement of new clothes and old friends balanced by a fear of the unknown social and academic challenges that lie ahead.
I don’t have to tell you how parents feel, but I can tell you that you are not alone in your concern.
With nearly two-thirds of Canadian students working during their last year of high school, millions of parents and educators are asking themselves the same question [Statistics Canada Youth in Transition Survey].
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information out there on how part-time work affects grades. Most studies focus on graduation rates.
I am guessing that with your daughter saving for university, you’re worried more about her grades than about her actually graduating.
But there seems to be some valuable lessons to be learned from the graduation-rate studies.
Research indicates that most students can work up to 20 hours a week and still succeed in school. Many experts recommend around 15 hours per week or less.
According to the Youth in Transition survey, students who worked 11-20 hours per week had the same drop-out rate as those who did not work at all. Students who worked 1-10 hours per week had the lowest drop-out rate. The drop-out rate increased above 20 hours per week and tripled when students worked more than 30 hours per week.
Many experts believe that part-time work offers benefits to the student beyond extra pocket money. They learn time-management skills, money-management skills, teamwork and interpersonal skills.
Working also provides valuable work experience and may make the transition from school to full-time work a little smoother.
The key issue seems to be the number of hours a student works. Exceeding 15-20 hours a week puts her academic achievement at risk.
Know what your teen is capable of handling when it comes to managing school and work and negotiate what you think is an appropriate number of weekly work hours.
Ensure that your daughter’s employer agrees to the limit you and your daughter have set and understands that school comes first.
Your daughter can help her employer by giving lots of notice about times when she might not be able to work as much (e.g., during exams) and times when she can work more hours (e.g., during Christmas break).
One last thought, this may be a good time for your daughter look for a job that will provide her with practical experience in a career or field that she’s most interested in.
Working as a cashier or waitress might pay a little more, but if she’s interested in veterinary medicine for example, she might want to look for a part-time job at a clinic.
Working in the field she is interested in will provide her with valuable related experience and contacts that might help her get her first job out of university. The experience will also give her a chance to “test drive” the career before she chooses her major.
Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. This column is provided for general information.