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'Don’t get a job' says Aussie mum to teen son

Do jobs in teens build character or burn kids out?

Composite image of a TikTok still showing a mum with the caption 'I don't want you to get a job', and a teenage boy in a hi-viz vest.
An Aussie mum has encouraged her son not to get a job, (Source: TikTok / Getty) (TikTok/Getty)

An Aussie TikToker has sparked an interesting debate after she posted a video sharing her response to her teen son’s desire to get a job.

In the video, Esther Boyd (@saltyfilmm on TikTok), explains that her son, 15, has expressed that he wants to get a job. Boyd then shares her reasons for not wanting him to get a job, most notably that he will likely work for the rest of his life, so why start so early?

“Go find something that you really wanna [sic] do that they probably won’t pay you for. I can fund your existence,” she said, explaining that she would rather he focus on hobbies or gain experience by learning from someone in a field he’s passionate about.

Jobs vs internships and hobbies

The hot take that divided commenters raises an interesting debate about the value of working during teen years. Many have long believed that working young fosters independence, time-management skills, social confidence and a solid work ethic.

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But, in a culture of burnout and low levels of work-life balance, does Boyd have a point? If children don’t need to work, should they?

The idea of allowing kids to focus on hobbies or seek out more meaningful experiences like internships or volunteering sounds interesting in theory. More flexibility, fewer late nights, less compromise on their school work. Could this be a better way of getting kids life-ready without having the pressure of traditional employment?

I find myself questioning what this actually looks like in reality. What internships are available to a teenager – particularly when they’re occupied with school for the majority of business hours? Do teens know enough about what they really want to do in order to maximise that opportunity?

Benefits of teen employment

Outside of anecdotal benefits like time management and work ethic, working can offer financial and career benefits. Those who don’t work in their teens may find it harder to obtain employment at an older age due to competing with those who have worked before. In terms of money, working could fast track access to resources like cars or even property, and build financial independence from the family much sooner than in those who don’t work. These significant factors may even raise the question of whether there are greater risks associated with not working.

Potential downsides of teen jobs

Adolescent work is a moderately universal experience. But working during the teenage years does come with some drawbacks. Allowing kids to earn their own money may seem like a simple way to teach money management. But, in the absence of appropriate financial education, it risks having the opposite effect.

Several now-adults that worked as teens told me they simply spent all their earnings due to the belief that there would always be more coming from the next shift.

Then comes the debate of priorities. Does a job take away from an individual’s focus on schooling, particularly if that student isn’t naturally predisposed to successful academic outcomes?

A high school teacher from Tasmania told me of a trend observed in year nine students who worked.

“The kids I teach are shattered because they are required to work late shifts until 10:00pm or 11:00pm and, if they don’t, they suddenly stop getting shifts,” she explained.

‘Shift politics’ during casual employment can be a very real problem. I speak from experience when I say getting the “good” shifts isn’t a given, often offered on a ‘first in best dressed’ arrangement, or worse, a ‘whoever’s been here the longest and has the most social capital’ basis. In such cases, the ideal of working a couple of short shifts a week evolves into working late nights and weekends, perhaps missing out on opportunities to socialise and/or complete school work.

Substance abuse and poor grades

Research into adolescent employment has been divided for some time. Some studies are able to demonstrate positive outcomes of teens working. These benefits tend to be in line with self-reported benefits from those who worked in their teen years, including social skills, work ethic and management of time and money. Others establish negative outcomes of working during the teenage years, including increased alcohol and substance abuse and poor grades.

The Youth Development Study sought to understand the arguments for and against adolescent employment. The longitudinal study followed a community-based panel from middle adolescence through early adulthood.

Researchers established that the outcomes of employment during the teen years were dependent on both the individual themselves, and the patterning of work through high school.

Essentially, it’s too simplistic to reduce adolescent work as either “good” or “bad”.

The research showed that motivations towards work were closely related to both the individual’s socio-economic status and their interests in school. Some students thrive in a more adult-like working environment than they do in school, while others view their work as more of a side line to their main focus of academia.

Case by case

In essence, the near-universal belief that adolescent work is always a good idea is reductive, despite there being a raft of genuine benefits. Instead, it pays to look more closely at the individual, the work, and the surrounding environment.

Instead of assuming that the very act of working will guarantee positive outcomes, we can explore how the job will enrich the fabric of the child’s life experience more broadly, and ensure they’re adequately supported to benefit from the experience of working.

This could include:

  • Teaching or accessing appropriate financial education to optimise the benefits of earning their own money

  • Working with the child to establish the right work environment and patterning to suit their academic and/or career preferences

  • Educating children on the risks of work and creating a safe environment for them to report difficulties

  • Exploring the child’s motivations (intrinsic and extrinsic) in a work environment to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses

  • Listening to the child’s own preferences and motivations for working, and considering the cost of working and of not working

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