On the Job, After School

A lot of teens are busy right now making a list and checking it twice: Don't forget to set the alarm, finish Spanish homework - and apply for a job at the video store.

An after-school job. It's a practice held in high regard in the United States. Part-time employment, the general view goes, can help high-schoolers learn responsibility and good organization, as well as amass funds for college.

But that ideal does not always match reality. Some teens benefit from employment, particularly if it's a job or internship that builds skills, or one with limited hours. Others, though, spend a significant amount of time scooping ice cream or reshelving jeans to earn money for extras, not basics or college tuition. That work can compete with school, sometimes bringing down grades and interfering with the top goal of getting a good education that will lead to meaningful work.

American students of all economic backgrounds are at the head of the class internationally when it comes to after-school jobs. According to the Third International Math and Science Study, which compared student abilities around the world, American seniors worked far more hours than students in any of the 21 countries surveyed in this part of the study.

Indeed, according to Laurence Steinberg, author of "Beyond the Classroom" (Simon &Schuster), half of working high school seniors, about one-third of working juniors, and about one-fifth of sophomores with jobs clock 20 hours or more per week.

Critics charge that such practices can exhaust students and confuse priorities. Mr. Steinberg also states that working long hours prompts higher drugs and alcohol use.

The effect on grades is unclear. Many experts, including Steinberg, say that academic performance drops in relation to the numbers of hours worked. That finding is tempered, however, by the suggestion that academically weak or uninterested students may be more inclined to work longer hours and focus on the job more than on school.

We'd be interested to hear about parents' and teens' experience with after-school jobs. Was it positive? Did it interfere with other commitments? What was the motive for getting a job? Would you recommend working to others, perhaps with some reservations?

Send us your thoughts and we'll print some of the replies. Please respond by e-mail or regular mail no later than October 16.

* E-mail your responses to: newcomba@ csps.com, or you may write: Learning Editor/ Jobs, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

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