To Work or not to Work

Having a part-time job while you’re still in school can sound like a great idea. Now, I’m not talking about feeding your neighbour’s dog or getting $10 to mow Grandma’s lawn - all good, but not quite the same as joining the work force officially. Think of all that money you tell yourself! You’ll be getting skills to help land a job after school’s finished, and it’ll make you feel good about yourself. But is it all good, or are there any downsides? The question is, is it a good idea to get a paid job when you’re still going to be at school for a few years? Firstly, you need to consider what type of job you’re thinking of having. Many teens work in a family business from a young age. Often this is an ‘informal’ job so you don’t necessarily have regular hours or a uniform. Other examples of informal jobs are babysitting or helping a family friend out when their shop is busy. A formal job on the other hand is usually when you are employed by someone you don’t know, you have regular hours or a roster, and are paid a set amount of money per hour. 

I guess a lot of us forget that while we are at school we already have a full-time job – study! Well, that’s the idea anyway. Of course school doesn’t need to take up all our time, but we are expected to attend for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job before we’ve even included homework, excursions or extra-curricular activities! It’s important to take study seriously even if school isn’t our thing and we don’t plan to continue education as an adult. 

When I was 14 I decided against getting a job. Partly it was because I didn’t want to work on a Sunday. Weekends were when my family went to the farm and to church, and I didn’t want to miss out. But my friend Mel asked her parents if she could keep her job right through Year 12. She felt that working gave her week structure, and she was able to balance her job with her other commitments. We chose different things because of what our priorities were, and were both happy with our choices.

 So here are some more things for you to consider if you’re thinking about getting a job or reconsidering the job you’re in. Ask yourself: 

>> What are my plans for the future?
A part-time job can be a great way to experience what it would be like to work in a particular profession. Work experience can help you to answer that terrible question, “What are you going to do when you finish school?” It might show you what you don’t want to do as a career, and it can teach you very useful skills like discipline and commitment. 

>> Do I need the money? 
We all seem to want more money and sometimes we have really valuable uses for it, like saving for travel and education, or helping out with family expenses. But the desire for more money will never go away, so if that’s your major motivation for having a job it can get old really quick. You can start feeling like you need lots of money to buy lots of things that you could easily survive without. Money is useful, but more money does not equal more happiness. If you do have a job, think about how much you would like to save, whether you want to make regular donations to charity, and whether it would be useful to help out your family. 

>> How do I want to spend my time as a teen?

Having a job will always mean sacrificing time you used to spend or could spend on lots of other things in life. It’s important to consider the impact it may have on your family and friends. You can end up missing holidays, parties, excursions and sporting commitments because you have to go to work. Think about how many hours you would ideally like to work. Generally girls will find that one or two afternoons a week and possibly a shift on the weekend is manageable when still at school, but it will still mean making a choice for money, and against other things. 

>>Have I weighed up all the stuff that’s important to me? Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it? 

Be careful! In the end, it’s important to be thoughtful and take your time when deciding about whether you should get a job, and if so, how much time you should make available for it. It’s easy to get pushed into doing more work than you’re comfortable with, and this can lead to rising stress levels. Unfortunately, people do sometimes get exploited at work. You can be underpaid, expected to fulfil duties that you’re not trained for, or even be asked to work in an unsafe environment. Ask yourself what is most important to you. Too much work can very quickly become something that steals your peace of mind because you’re missing out on precious time relaxing, growing and enjoying life. There’s no answer that applies to everyone as to whether a job is a good idea while you’re still at school, but it’s so important to think about it realistically before you sign up. Be wise and prioritise what’s important to you! And remember, no one ever cried about having less time at school, but regret about being too busy can steal heaps of your joy for years to come! 

Written by Hannah Pollard 2012

Photos by Susanna Smith