Working can be an exciting and confidence-boosting experience for teens with learning and attention issues. 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 he shows he can handle the hours along with his schoolwork, he can ask to take on more shifts if necessary.
Make time for his new commitments.
Talk with your teen about how he sees his job and his schoolwork both getting done. What will he need to put off or give up in order to succeed at both the job and school?
For example, if he’ll be working for three hours after school, he might block out three hours after dinner each night for his “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 him as well as for others in the family to respect his schedule.
If possible, this may be the time to ease up on chores and other responsibilities on the home front, at least until he gets comfortable with his new routine.
Keep communication open.
Have your teen let his guidance counselor or teachers know that he’s 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 his boss, if necessary, during crunch times. Equally important, encourage your teen to be open with his employer about his 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 executive functioning issues. This is an opportunity to help your child understand just how important it is to keep his room in order, his belongings where they should be, and his to-do list up-to-date.
Encourage him to use his phone to set visual or audio reminders about upcoming assignments. Help him get used to laying out his work clothes in advance. He could also bring his school bag to work. With an OK from his boss, he might be able to do some reading or assignments that are easier for him during breaks or downtime.
Know when to make changes.
Check in frequently with your teen to ask how he’s handling his job and schoolwork. You may want to reach out more frequently to his counselor or teachers to make sure he’s alert and on task at school.
If your teen starts showing signs of increased anxiety or depression, or starts falling behind in school, act promptly. Talk to him about his workload and explore ways to help him get back on track.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to his employer and ask if his hours can be adjusted, at least temporarily. When possible, have your child initiate the conversation with the supervisor. You can practice with him in advance so he’s 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 he’s ready to take on the working world again.