Kids and Work

July 03, 2007

I noticed an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that discusses issues surrounding teenagers, work and Workchoices. The topic of children and work is one that I've reflected on many times over the last 20 years as I have watched the rapid increase in the number of teenagers who work part-time (ABS has reported that 53% of children aged 15-19 work part-time). The herald piece quotes Randall Pearce, from Think: Insight and Advice who frankly I don't know, so I can't comment on the quality of the research. And I don't want to use this post to take a political swipe at Workchoices and the impact of federal industrial relations laws on young workers (but others might want to explore this topic). The article simply raised for me a wide range of issues surrounding children working that have worried me for some time. As a Christian I want to open up discussion about the merits of teenagers working part-time and the impact that this has on their lives, their attitudes and their beliefs. How does the Bible inform our views on the wisdom of our teenage children working long hours and having large amounts of disposable income. It is obvious that children need to grow up to undertstand the importance of work and how the Bible sees work. And many will argue that part-time work teaches teenagers many positiove things. But, I'm still left with lots of questions. Here are some of them:

* What impact does part-time work have on families? If teenagers as young as 15 years are working 10+ hours per week, how does this impact on the ability of families to eat meals together? To spend time together?
* How does part-time work have an impact on teenagers ability to have involvement in activities such as church or sport, with possible impacts on physical and spiritual well being?
* What is the impact of teenagers having large amounts of disposable income to spend on things they want? What do they learn from their experience - both positive and negative?
* As parents, what are the dominant factors that shape our positive (or negative) attitudes to our teenagers working part-time?
* As parents, have we considered the potential impact that part-time work might have on teenagers learning at school? Their ability to sustain friendships with other teenagers? Their ability to be part of varied family activities? Their physical, emotional and spiritual well being?

In a paper presented at the 2005 American Sociological Association conference, Timothy Clydesdale suggested: 1) that most American teens view work as a necessary nuisance, money as a lifestyle essential, and leisure as a purchased commodity, 2) that most American teens are blinded to their conformity to these American patterns of consumption, and 3) that American teens have learned these patterns from their families, their religious communities, and their local communities -- not because these communities send these messages explicitly, but do so implicitly as they pattern their own behaviors along these lines.

I've requested the paper from Tim and will read it with interest. But this quick summary offers a pretty bleak picture from one sociologist. I'm intrigued that he suggests that religion can contribute negatively, as can families and communities. I'd welcome your thoughts, or suggestions about other useful publications in this area, I might just explore it further in a future CASE magazine.

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