Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
|Hebrews 13:5, NLT|
During the school year, two out of three high school students work part-time, and four out of five will have jobs before they graduate.
What do teenagers learn at work?
The usual rationale for teenage employment is that it teaches them to handle money well, to appreciate the value of the dollar, to learn important skills, and to gain respect for work. But from my experience in nearly twenty-five years of youth work, I am convinced the opposite is true.
Most young people who work while going to school learn how to waste money. Believing that the money is theirs, they spend it on whatever they want—music, clothes, cars, electronics, and other luxuries. And because of heavy work schedules, they curtail or miss extracurricular activities at school and programs at church. Family times also suffer when employment hours conflict with mealtimes, vacations, and church.
High schoolers can easily develop an insatiable materialistic desire for “more.” In their book, When Teenagers Work, psychologists Ellen Greenberger and Laurence Steinberg argue that for teenagers work can lead to poor schoolwork, spendthrift habits, delinquency, and in fact contempt for the work ethic. Although most adults believe that work teaches kids thrift, their research shows that most working young people spend their money as fast as they make it. They even found that working long hours under stressful conditions leads to increased alcohol and marijuana use.
In many situations, teenage employment is necessary because of poverty, illness, and other difficult circumstances. But aside from those situations, I believe that much of this “work ethic” is motivated by parental laziness or self-centeredness—a reluctance to work through the money issue or to sacrifice “luxuries” to pay for the increasing expenses of older children, such as car insurance, spending money, clothes, and college.
Real education about money must begin with a family commitment. It is not enough to tell children what they should do; we should discuss financial matters and pray together about them. As parents, we should be honest about the family budget—how much money we have and our spending priorities.
In addition, we should exemplify stewardship: tithing, compassion for the poor, and avoidance of materialism. Our children catch our attitudes; and praying, saving, and giving together will make a real impact.
Compromise is also important. We can give up our adult toys and be willing to be inconvenienced. Use of the family car would be a good place to start.
If a job is necessary, we should bring the teenager’s money into the family financial pool, together deciding how it will be spent and designing a budget. This can be an exciting opportunity to apply God’s Word to real life. And we should encourage our teen’s involvement in church and school activities. Make a job the last resort.