What Is the Difference Between Teens Who Work During High School & Teens Who Don't?

By Beth Greenwood
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A summer job or a part-time job during the school year are seen by many teens -- and parents -- as a rite of passage and a first step toward independence. In addition to the money, working during high school can benefit many teens. Teens who work learn a number of skills that serve them well later in life, such as discipline, customer service skills and money management. A job can also give a teen confidence and a sense of accomplishment. There can also be some disadvantages and some risks.

Work Hours

A teen who works between 10 and 15 hours a week during the school year tends to earn higher grades than a teen who doesn’t work at all, according to the Family Education website. Thirteen to fifteen hours seems to be the breakpoint, however, as teens who work 13 to 20 hours a week are more likely to have lower grades. The extra hours of work may cut into homework and also decrease time for social or extracurricular activities. Family Education also says that teens who work longer hours may be more likely to use illegal drugs or alcohol, possibly because older co-workers may encourage them to indulge or set a poor example.


Teens who work are more likely to start smoking at a younger age than teens who don’t work, according to a November 2007 article in the “American Journal of Public Health.” Researchers evaluated three different scenarios in almost 800 teens, most of whom were African-American. In each case, there was a strong association between working and smoking. Teens who worked more than 10 hours a week tended to start smoking at younger ages than those who did not work, and teens who started working between grades 10 and 11 were three times more likely to begin smoking than those who did not start working then.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a fact of life for many American teens, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Changes in the circadian rhythm, or internal clock, make teens feel sleepier at a later hour and want to sleep later in the morning. School start times and other activities can compress the time a teen has available for sleeping, however, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. Adding a job to the mix can complicate things further. In addition, shift work -- working between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. -- might even predispose a teen to multiple sclerosis in later years because of the disruption in circadian rhythms, according to an article in the November 2011 “Annals of Neurology.” The study showed teens who worked shifts had twice the risk of developing multiple sclerosis compared to teens who did not work shifts.

Working from Necessity

Teens who work long hours are more likely to drop out of high school, which can affect their employment opportunities for the rest of their lives. A fall 2012 study by the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts evaluated the effects when teens had to go to work because of family financial needs. The study reported that 16 million families are headed by parents who can only obtain low-wage jobs. Teens go to work to help support their families, but the workload often prevents them from concentrating on their studies or interferes with school schedules. Older children in these families are particularly at risk, according to the study, as they take on adult responsibilities at a young age.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.