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