Leisure and Work in Adolescence (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Cultural change has also affected the kinds of jobs adolescents acquire. In 1940, many teens worked on farms or in manufacturing, in jobs where they were supervised by adults (frequently adults who were family members or were known to their families), and they often received some training that was directly relevant to the jobs they would have after high school. Today, teens are much more likely to work in retail establishments, including restaurants, and to be under the direct supervision of other young people rather than adults. It appears that the work teens do today is often less educational than in 1940 and may have less long-term career value (Aronson, Mortimer, Zierman, & Hacker, 1996).

Although adolescents themselves seem enthusiastic about the value of their part-time work, researchers report that there can be some serious side effects. Note that negative consequences are substantially related to hours of employment—the more hours, the more problematic the effects in most cases. The most troublesome finding is that long hours of employment (especially 20 or more hours per week) are associated with increases in problem behaviors like theft (e.g., giving away store products to friends), school misconduct, and alcohol and drug use, including cigarette smoking (e.g., Mihalic & Elliot, 1997; Mortimer et al., 1999; Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995). The effects of work on schooling and school involvement are mixed. Several large-scale studies have found no effects on students’ grades but negative effects on total educational attainment: Years of schooling tend to be reduced for students who invest long hours in their jobs. Other studies have found negative correlations between working and grades even for relatively few hours of work (Largie, Field, Hernandez-Reif, Sanders, & Diego, 2001). Steinberg et al. (1993) point out that negative associations between schooling and work appear to be bidirectional—for example, teens with less school involvement are more likely to seek jobs, and once they are working substantial hours, teens become even less involved in school. In a review of the literature, Mortimer et al. (1999) conclude that benefits from high school employment, like feelings of self-efficacy and self-esteem, are most likely when work hours are short and the quality of the work experience is good. Quality includes opportunities to learn new skills, to use one’s skills, to discuss work tasks with supervisors, to be helpful to others, and to have relative freedom from stressors like time pressure, work overload, and responsibility for aspects of the work that are outside the adolescent’s control.

The research on adolescent employment helps illustrate the power of historical and social context to influence the well-being of adolescents. Many of the students who seek part-time work today would not have done so in the first half of this century. The urge to earn is apparently spawned largely by teenagers’ wanting the material goods and pleasures so prominently advertised and modeled in today’s print media, movies, and television, as we will discuss in the next section. Ironically, the temporary affluence teens experience as a result of working in low-level, part-time jobs actually may, for some, help diminish their chances of pursuing high-paying, education-dependent careers later in their lives (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995).

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