At a glance
Work offers important self-esteem benefits to teens.
Your teen might have to give up some things to make time for a job.
Your teen might need to cut back on chores until they learn to balance their job and schoolwork.
Working can be an exciting and confidence-boosting experience for teens with learning and thinking differences. Success on the job can provide a welcome relief from challenges at school. It can help build a resume for future employment. And a regular paycheck can provide an important sense of empowerment.
School, though, can easily get shortchanged in the process. It can be particularly hard for teens with organizational issues to juggle work and school and stay focused. Here’s what you can do to help your teen strike the right balance.
Encourage a slow start.
Studies show that work starts to take a toll on grades when teens spend more than 15 hours on the job each week. It may be wise for your child to work even fewer hours.
Employers know that high school students have academic commitments. They often use several people to fill what could be one full-time position. It’s often possible to work just weekends, or perhaps two afternoons and a weekend day each week.
Consider regular hours.
A steady and predictable work schedule can make it far easier for your teen to manage time wisely. Once your teen shows they can handle the hours along with schoolwork, your teen can ask to take on more shifts if necessary.
Make time for new commitments.
Talk with your teen about how they see their job and their schoolwork both getting done. What will your teen need to put off or give up in order to succeed at both the job and school?
For example, if your teen will be working for three hours after school, they might block out three hours after dinner each night for their “other job” — doing schoolwork. Highlight these times on a calendar and post it in the kitchen or somewhere else centrally located. It will be a visual cue for your high-schooler as well as for others in the family to respect your teen’s schedule.
If possible, this may be the time to ease up on chores and other responsibilities on the home front, at least until your teen gets comfortable with the new routine.
Keep communication open.
Have your teen let guidance counselors or teachers know that they’re taking a job. In many cases, school staff can be quite supportive of teens who are working and offer strategies for prioritizing schoolwork. They may even be willing to share information about upcoming projects and due dates.
Knowing what’s coming can help your teen plan ahead and even request a change in hours from their boss, if necessary, during crunch times. Equally important, encourage your teen to be open with their employer about the workload at school. If a boss isn’t accommodating or flexible, your teen may be better off finding work elsewhere.
Make organization a priority.
Even without a part-time job, staying organized and on-task at school can be a challenge for teens with . This is an opportunity to help children understand just how important it is to keep their room in order, their belongings where they should be, and their to-do list up-to-date.
Encourage your high-schooler to use their phone to set visual or audio reminders about upcoming assignments. Help your teen get used to laying out work clothes in advance. Your teen could also bring their school bag to work. With an OK from the boss, your teen might be able to do some easier reading or assignments during breaks or downtime.
Know when to make changes.
Check in frequently with your teen to ask how they’re handling their job and schoolwork. You may want to reach out more frequently to their counselor or teachers to make sure they’re alert and on task at school.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your teen’s employer and ask if their hours can be adjusted, at least temporarily. When possible, have your child initiate the conversation with the supervisor. You can practice with your teen in advance, so they’re prepared for the conversation.
If you don’t see prompt results, consider putting work aside for the time being. It may be just a matter of months until your teen’s ready to take on the working world again.
Working more than 15 hours per week may take a toll on grades.
Organization is key to balancing schoolwork and jobs.
Your teen may gain extra support from counselors and teachers by letting the school know about their new job.
About the author
About the author
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.