Should high school students have a job? Or is study their work?

This post is sponsored by Commonwealth Bank.


When I was in Year 10, I got my first job. I was a checkout operator at a convenience store. I worked Saturday mornings, and one night a week, about 10 hours in total.

Most of my friends had similar jobs, at department stores, fast food outlets. The more glamorous girls got themselves jobs at popular fashion stores. The money wasn’t any better than ours, but they got a 10% discount on their clothes and accessories.

Those girls without actual jobs also worked – babysitting was generally easy to come by. The pay wasn’t great, but if you picked the right family it was easy money. Perfect for studious no-out-on-Friday nights girls such as myself.

My kids aren’t up to working for cash yet – just the odd badly washed car or dog, but I assume they’ll be on the hunt for a casual job once they turn 15.

It came as a surprise to learn that many parents now prefer their kids not to work, and use all their spare time for study and school-related activities. ‘The pressure is so much more intense now,’ one acquaintance said, ‘Study is my daughter’s job until she finishes year 12.’

‘Really?’ I said to my friend Lou, a teacher and mum of four teenage sons.

‘Really,’ she said.

I’ll point out here that Lou’s boys all had jobs while at school –at the local car wash, and giving flute lessons (18 year old Karl is musically gifted).

‘Some parents are very stressed about their kids’ academic performance,’ said Lou, ‘I get that. They don’t want their kids to miss out on a university place because they were working to save money. They say there’s plenty of time for work, but only a small window for study.’

As a parent, when do you turn off the money taps?

‘So why are your boys working?’ I asked.

‘Because I think it’s good for them.’ Says Lou, ‘And I don’t want to buy their sunglasses.’

This kind of thing brings out the Libran in me. I can see both sides.

I understand kids need to do well and have fun – and that we need to minimise the pressure on them where we can.


At the same time I wonder if the parents of these non-working teenagers bankroll cool clothes, iDevices, outings and holidays?

As a parent, when do you turn off the money taps?

It’s popular to say that it’s more difficult for kids now; that the competition in schools is more intense, but I wonder if that’s true.

I finished school in the mid-eighties, when university was free, but places were fewer. The unemployment rate hovered around the 8% mark and interest rates were over 15%. Plenty of families didn’t have the cash to buy jeans and cars for their student kids. Even bikes and bus passes put pressure on family budgets.

My mates and I got jobs when we were at school because we wanted to buy nice things that our parents said we didn’t need, but that we wanted.

Who knows whether we’d have done better at school if we’d used those Saturday mornings and Thursday nights to study?

I don’t regret working. Being behind the checkout of at a convenience store taught me the importance of showing up on time and working with people different to my family and my classmates. I liked getting paid too, and having the financial independence of being able to buy a music album without asking my parents for money.

I hope my kids get part-time jobs. Because no way am I paying for the music they will be listening to in a few years’ time.

As Australia’s leading financial institution, the Commonwealth Bank is committed to helping young Australians develop strong management skills and form sensible saving habits that can last a lifetime. Along with a range of savings accounts, including one designed especially for under-18s, and their well-established School Banking program, they offer a diverse range of initiatives designed to promote financial literacy. For more information visit their site.

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So, should high school students have a job? Or is their study their work?

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