Working and volunteering: Pros and cons for teens

Your teen is ready to take on new responsibilities outside of school. Two options? Volunteer or look for a paying job. Compare these two paths.

This chart, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of volunteer work and paid jobs, may help you and your teen decide which to try first.



Paid Job


Pros: Donating time and helping others can take the focus away from a teen’s own challenges. It builds empathy and compassion.

Cons: For teens with significant social challenges, the idea of volunteering may not be appealing.

Pros: Earning and spending one’s own money or contributing to the family can cultivate pride and self-worth.

Cons: A teen may not be ready to handle the stress and expectations of a paying job.


Pros: Volunteer groups are generally welcoming and eager to accept those who want to help.

Cons: Teens who need clear instruction and specific jobs in order to stay focused may not find enough structure in some volunteer environments.

Pros: Reporting to a job regularly and being part of a staff can provide a sense of belonging that a teen may not find at school.

Cons: Teens who have trouble with social cues may find it difficult to navigate the politics of a workplace. Employees may have little interest in being compassionate or inclusive.

Skill Building and Credentials

Pros: Volunteer supervisors may be more patient and supportive when teaching tasks and overseeing a teen’s work. Volunteering shows a teen is civic-minded. It’s an excellent activity to include on a resume or college application.

Cons: Skills gained may not be as practical as those from paying work.

Pros: Meeting demands of regular work teaches responsibility and professionalism. Having a paid job shows enterprise and commitment, which can open doors to future jobs.

Cons: The employer or supervisor may not be as patient or accommodating if a teen needs extra guidance or support.


Pros: Opportunities may be more interesting, fulfilling, and inspiring than paid work. This is an important benefit for teens with attention challenges.

Cons: The emotional payoff of volunteering may be too abstract for some teens to appreciate.

Pros: A paycheck is a concrete incentive. It can keep a teen focused and on task.

Cons: Entry-level work can be mundane and repetitive. If teens have difficulty staying engaged, they may lose interest in the job after a short time.

Level of Commitment

Pros: Volunteering can be done in smaller doses and with less of a time commitment. Volunteer work may be easier to find than a paying job. Some opportunities may only be occasional, such as pet adoption events.

Cons: If a teen needs a regular and predictable schedule, the sporadic nature of some volunteer work might be difficult to adjust to.

Pros: Regular work with regular hours provides structure and activity. This is a bonus for teens who aren’t busy socially or who have difficulty handling free time.

Cons: It may demand more hours per week than some teens can handle. And it could be difficult to change or reduce hours if a teen needs more time for schoolwork.

For any teen, working more than 15 hours a week could have a negative impact on grades. It’s a good idea for teens with learning and thinking differences to be even more conservative when scheduling hours. A good first job experience can boost your teen’s confidence—and you can help make sure the job is the right fit.


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