Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Many teens have hectic schedules and do not get adequate sleep. One mother was concerned about her daughter, Amy, who participates in schools clubs, holds down a part-time job after school, and doesn't begin studying until 9:30p.m. Bedtime for her is around 11:30 p.m. Then, she arises at 6:30 a.m. the next morning for school, which starts at 7:50 a.m. Amy seems very tired by Friday, but still makes good grades and refuses to quit her part-time job.

Is Amy’s after-school job and resultant fatigue typical or uncommon among teens? In my hometown, while I grocery shop at Krogers, take in a movie at Paramount Cinema, or dine at Arby’s, Taco Bell, or Big Boy restaurants on West State Street, I quickly see the significant numbers of Fremont teens working full- or part-time jobs. Yes, the “Cutlery Captial of the World” reflects the national trend- U.S. teens work longer hours at after-school jobs than their peers in 18 other Western countries.

Amy’s situation is typical. So typical that child-labor experts recommended to Congress that children under 18 should have limited work hours after school. Many parents question whether or not their teens should work on school nights. I offer three issues for parents to consider.

The first concerns adolescent sleep deprivation. Researchers found that lack of adequate sleep in teens is associated with deficits in memory and information processing, along with irritability, decreased creativity, increased potential for drug/alcohol abuse, and diminished ability to handle complex tasks. Adolescents need more sleep, not less, as they progress through the teen years. They need nine hours sleep per night to avoid the consequences of sleep deprivation.

Researchers also revealed that 20 percent of high school students fall asleep in school (Maas, 1995) and that the symptoms of sleep deprivation are worse in earlier starting high schools (Allen, 1991). Not surprising, students who lack sufficient sleep have poorer grades.

As I trudged through the research findings, I wondered how much of teen “illnesses” confronted by school nurses and behavioral problems dealt with by parents, assistant principals, and the juvenile courts could be avoided if teens got adequate sleep.
Unfortunately, a second caveat of after-school work involves injuries. Researchers sampled 91 emergency rooms to find out how many teens ages 15-17 were injured while working in restaurants. They found 108,060 injuries were sustained while on the job- 63% occurring solely in fast-food restaurants, mostly from grease burns (Hendricks & Layne study). Overall, each year roughly 70 teens die from work injuries and 70,000 sustain injuries bad enough to merit hospital emergency room treatment. Most of the deaths and injuries result from driving cars or business vans or using heavy equipment and power tools.

The third issue for parents to consider involves school performance. Parents worry if their teens can juggle school and work demands. Ironically, one study found that students who work 10-20 hours/week after-school have higher grades than those who don’t work at all! Another contradictory study revealed that students working about an hour a day do better than those who don’t work. But, teens who work over 3 hours a day have lower grades than other students.

Regardless of the contradictions, as a rule of thumb, the hours teens work after-school should be limited. Assume the worst case scenario, that your teen’s after-school job may hinder his/her school performance. Then, plan accordingly. Carefully monitor the demands of your teen’s employment and academic performance. For some teens, grades come easy. For others, they don‘t. Regardless, insist that your teen’s main job is school. A verbal or written contract can be agreed upon before the job search and the job schedule will be modified if school grades suffer. If need be, an academic nosedive equals pulling the plug on the after-school job.


Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. has retired from his positions of School Psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership & Policy Studies at Bowling Green State Univeristy. A portion of Ad sale revenue from this site is donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. Contact him on the secure Bpath Mail Form.