PARENTING
09/08/2011 03:17 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2011

Back To School: Is It OK For Your Teen To Work During The School Year?

Dear kindly social worker, they say go earn some dough. Like be a soda jerker, which means like be a schmo. It's not I'm anti-social. I'm only anti-work. Gloryosky! That's why I'm a jerk!" -- "West Side Story"

Not all teenagers think work is a four-letter word, but some kids really should spend more time learning to spell than flipping burgers.

To work or not to work?

Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist who has written 23 books on parenting, says the answer to that question is not one size fits all.

"The answer to this one is a case-by-case scenario for each teen and their family," she says. "There are clear pluses, but also minuses. The biggest one is how much would this take away from education and the teen's ability to study? When in doubt, start at a shorter time on the weekend and work up."

Borba suggests parents should consider the following when it comes to letting their teens work:

  • Finances. "For many families and teens, that extra money is crucial, not only for the family survival, but for the teen's chance for education," Borba says.
  • Motivation. Is this teen a "self-starter"? He doesn't need you to jump start him, she says. Remind him to get his homework done and make sure he can handle the extra effort.
  • Hours. How many hours is the teen taking on -- and for how much time and when? In the evenings? During the weekends?
  • Existing schedule. Does he already have band, football and school newspaper? Or would this be the only thing he is doing in addition to regular studies?
  • Grades. Would this job jeopardize your teen's grades? For some teens, the extra work paralyzes them. For others, it stimulates them.
  • Job. Is this position going to help him with a career, get his foot in the door for advancement or pair him with a mentor?
  • Stretcher or shrinker? Would this give him a needed boost to his self-esteem, keep him occupied and away from risky peers, help him learn new skills that could boost his grades or just increase his ability to handle life?
  • Safety. Consider the job's location. Is it safe?
  • Transportation. Is the job far from home or convenient? Will he need his own transportation?
  • Past performance. What does his past "record" look like -- how did he fare with past jobs and family interference?

Once these questions are settled, Borba says parents can sit down with the teen to figure out the plan and set expectations.

Amy Wickstrom, a family therapist, blogger and mother of two, agrees, saying all these factors need to be considered.

"If your teen stays up several hours past bedtime to finish homework as a result of being at work, your teen may not be getting enough rest, may not be able to think clearly at school the next day or may be irritable with others," she adds. "The pros and cons of the decision must be weighed to determine whether working is truly in your teen's best interests."