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Teens Should Be Taught Pay Is Not For Pleasure

Grades Should Not Suffer for Part-time Job

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My teenage son has been employed all summer and has done an excellent job. He hasn't missed a day of work and I've been thrilled with his show of initiative. He will be a junior in high school when school resumes in a few weeks. He has enjoyed earning his own spending money and does not want this to end just because school is resuming. So, he has asked for permission to work during the school year for more spending money. When I hesitated, he offered to help pay for his car insurance. We're so proud of the responsibility he has shown, and paying part of his car insurance was his idea. My husband and I are afraid his schoolwork might suffer if he works, but we also don't want to deter his sense of responsibility and the pride he is developing by working. To let him work or not to work - we can't make up our minds. What do you say?

Pam T. 
Aiken, S.C.

Dear Pam:

Your son believes he can perform his primary job, the demanding task of being a student and still be responsible enough to work for a paycheck. If he does, that will be quite an accomplishment and you should be proud.

But stop for a minute and consider what message your child is getting about the world of work.

As adults we must bring home a paycheck to cover basic living expenses first. Then, if anything is left over, we can consider frills or pleasure items. Yet teenagers who work often get the message backward. They learn that their paychecks are for pleasure first.

Notice your son offered to pay part of his car insurance, not part of any basic living expenses such as the electricity bill in the home where he lives, or part of the grocery bill to stock the refrigerator from whence he eats.

I'm not diminishing his idea to help but it's misplaced because he wants to pay for his pleasure - his car - and not necessities like food and shelter or even insurance payments for yours or your husband's car.

It's no wonder that we have an epidemic in this country with children as they become adults remaining tied to their parents' checkbooks. In many families, the child's paycheck goes toward the latest technology gadget or for vacations with friends while parents are expected to foot the bill for the child's gas, car payments and car insurance.

I believe parents must emphasize the traditional work ethic of being responsible and self-supporting, and not the notion that work is only to pay for pleasure.

Pam, work is an excellent opportunity to teach your son about real life.

The first step is for you and your son to take a long look at the family expenses and all the basic necessities you pay for him - mortgage payments, insurance, telephone bills, utility bills, groceries, laundry, car, car maintenance, etc.

Once your son is fully aware of what his life costs are, he should let you know how much he will contribute toward these expenses from his paycheck before he spends any of it on his pleasure items.

No matter what your economic situation, your child should be encouraged to contribute something - even a dollar - to cover basic living expenses first before leaping to the pleasure purchases.

Since your son has only worked during the summer, he needs to be prepared to demonstrate how he will balance schoolwork and his paying job. Have him set up a system to keep track of every grade in every subject and average his grades weekly, also keeping a cumulative average for each grading period. Along with his weekly grades summary, have your son record how many hours he works each week at his after school job.

As a condition for keeping his outside job, have your son show you his grades at the end of each week so you can monitor his school paycheck (his grades). By keeping his averages up-to-date, you will be able to see well before report cards come out if your son's grades are slipping.

Your son should also be prepared to have a plan of action to make sure his primary job of being a student doesn't become secondary to working for pleasure. If it does, Pam, you will have to eliminate the distraction because his education is more important at this stage in his life.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.