Sue Scheff: Jobs and Drug Use

Source: Connect with Kids

“They end up experimenting in such a way that the use of that [extra] income is not really going toward beneficial things for them.”

– Dr. Richard Winer, Psychiatrist

For just seventeen, Adam Shapiro’s work experience is impressive. “I have worked at my synagogue… like three hours a week probably on a Sunday. I was assistant teacher. I’ve ref’d soccer before,” he says.

But with major exams this week, the jobs will have to wait.

“Are you studying the rest of the week?” his mom, Karen, asks him,
“Yeah,” says Adam.

“The number one priority for us is his studies. So, if he wanted to work and make extra money that was great, as long as it did not interfere with his studies,” explains his mom, Karen.

Previous studies have found that kids who work just ten hours a week admit to cheating more often in school and taking less challenging courses.

And a new survey by the Rand Corporation finds that kids who work are also more likely to use drugs and alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

The difference between them and their unemployed peers: lack of supervision for one and extra cash.

“They end up experimenting in such a way that the use of that the use of that income is not really going toward beneficial things for them,” explains Dr. Richard Winer, a psychiatrist.

He says parents need to keep a close eye on where the money is going, and how the job is affecting their child. “Their sleep patterns, their eating patterns, their social skills among peers as well as family member… if there’s a distinct change that’s taken place then it’s probably worth looking into to that, because that might be kind of a warning sign.”

Finally, he says kids will do better off if they take a job for the experience, not just the money.
“If you enjoy your work, it won’t feel that taxing to you,” he says, “and [it] probably will have less likelihood of being an impediment to your academic work as a teen or as a college student.”

Adam, who already has been accepted to college early admission, says that’s exactly what happened to him.  “I ref soccer, and I enjoy, I love sports… so, I try to find a happy medium in between working, getting paid… and doing something I love.”

Tips for Parents

The Department of Labor estimates that 80 percent of high school students will hold a job at some point before graduation. Most teens are working for spending money. Few are contributing to family expenses. The National Academies assessed how work affects the health, education, development and behavior of young people. Their research found advantages and disadvantages for students that work.

Among the advantages of a job are that it can …

  • Help develop responsibility and time management skills.
  • Provide experience in dealing with people.
  • Provide opportunity to acquire specific job skills that might transfer to subsequent work situations.

Research has also shown the following negative consequences of work, particularly when a teen works more than 20 hours a week:

  • Work can interfere with schoolwork and academic achievement
  • Work can take precedence over extracurricular activities and social experiences that are an important part of adolescent development
  • Work can interfere with sleep
  • Students who work long hours – more than 20 hours – are more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in other deviant behavior.
  • Many students who work long hours get insufficient sleep and exercise and may spend less time with their families.
  • Students who consistently work more than 20 hours per week also complete less schooling.

Though working can help to acquire specific job skills, the reality is that many teens are employed in jobs that utilize low-level skills and do not provide any valuable learning experience. The National Academies and others recommend that Congress give the U.S. Department of Labor the authority to limit the number of hours worked during the school year by all children under 18.

Currently, under federal law, students under 16 cannot work more than three hours on a school day and 18 hours in an entire week. The government has not set guidelines for 16 to 17-year-olds. The National Consumers League recommends that 16 to 17 year olds be restricted to no more than four hours per day and 20 hours a week during the school year.

The North Carolina State University Family and Consumer Sciences offers these tips for parents and kids to make the most of a teen’s job:

  • Agree to make schoolwork the number one priority
  • Set clear expectations about the conditions of acceptable employment (type of work, how much work, maintaining good grades, etc.)
  • Have the teen work out expectations and conditions with employer (e.g. must have time off during finals week, must finish by a certain hour on school nights, etc.)
  • Consider working only during school vacations and/or vacations.
  • If money is not the issue, consider an unpaid or volunteer work that will serve the teen’s personal growth and long-term career interests.

Before your teen sets his or her heart on a job, make sure he or she is aware of the potential hazards of the job. According to the National Consumer League, the five worst and dangerous jobs for teens to hold include the following:

  • Driving and delivery, including operating or repairing motorized equipment
  • Working alone in cash-based businesses and late-night work
  • Cooking with exposure to hot oil and grease, hot water and steam, and hot cooking surfaces
  • Construction and work at heights
  • Traveling youth crews

As a parent, you need to teach your child the skills to keep a job by excelling in his/her chosen field. The YouthRules! Initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) offers parents the following tips for teaching their child the importance of appearance and courtesy on the job:

  • Know the dress code. If business attire is expected, wear it.
  • Make sure your clothes are clean, pressed and fit you properly. Shoes should be polished.
  • If you’re supposed to wear an identification card, wear it.
  • The basic rule is clean and neat: Bathe and brush your teeth before your work day. Hands and fingernails should be clean. Hair must be clean and neat, in acceptable styles and colors.
  • When you answer the phone at work or meet customers, always say, “Good morning (or afternoon or evening). Thank you for calling [name of your employer]. May I help you?”
  • Be friendly and sociable. Remember to say “thank you” and “please.”
  • Even if someone is rude to you, remain polite and keep your good attitude.


  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • National Consumers League
  • North Carolina State University Family and Consumer Sciences
  • The National Academies
  • Rand Corporation
  • U.S. Department of Labor
  • YouthRules!