Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Kids and Work

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.


jml said...

Good questions.

Factors to consider when answering them:

* School is a very artificial environment.
* The Bible says many more good things about hard work for material reward than it does about academic achievement.
* Sport is as much a luxury as coffee and video games. Although physical activity is necessary for a healthy body, it doesn't have to be recreational.
* The Bible doesn't ever clearly define when children stop being children.
* My hunch is that most 15 year olds would have worked in most of the cultures mentioned in the Bible.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comment. Maybe I didn’t explain myself very clearly. I wasn’t arguing that school or sport is better than paid work (and they were just examples anyway). I agree that school and sport can both be activities that can be pursued for wrong motives. For example, sport can easily become a wasteful indulgence (rather than good excerise or something that gives us pleasure) that gets in the way of other equally or even more important things (with apologies to any sporting tragics out there). And seeking to excel at school can also be wrongly motivated. My point was that just as adults need to consider their motivations for work and the use of income derived from paid work, so too teenagers need to learn to have a balanced and biblical understanding of work and its place in life. There life balance issues here too. My question was simply, what does 10+ hours of paid work do to the average teenagers life and and what is the consequence of the extra disposable income that is derived from it. Can the average 15 year old deal with this without good parental support? I was also questioning how an extra 10+ hours taken away from other activities that can impact on the individual teenager’s life and that of the rest of their family.

Your point about many ancient civilisations having children working is correct. I’m not sure we want to go back there, but even in many developing countries today that have subsistence economies, it is common for children to work long hours. When doing some work in Nepal several years ago I found that many families were reluctant to let their primary aged children attend school when harvest was on. However, I also observed that when children were helping with sowing, or reaping or threshing grain or simply tending animals and carrying water, they were often doing it with their families. There were many other associated benefits as well, and I had trouble (in my own mind) arguing for the importance of general education over helping the family to survive. But I was reminded of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which provides a wonderful insight into how God expects parents to teach their children to live his way (his commands) “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”. I could even imagine this happening in the field as the families harvested grain together.

So, having a 15-year-old work 4 nights plus Sunday morning at a fast food restaurant is quite different to a Nepali 10 year old working in the fields with their family. And the Nepali child doesn’t have to contend with the risks of materialism or self-indulgence from the income they derive. As an aside, many subsistence economies have other issues to deal with such as the fact that often it is girls that are denied the education and forces to work long hours.

You’re right that the Bible has a lot to say about work. Our teenagers need to understand these teachings as well as every other teaching that relates to how we handle wealth, the need to live simply, being generous, being self sacrificing etc etc. This was the main point I was trying to make.

David McKay said...

I've noticed positive and negative results from kids working in their teens. My son-in-law-to-be impressed me with his diligence in earning a little money sweeping a neighbour's tennis court and saving up to buy a car, which he and our daughter used for about 6 years after their marriage.

I don't think he worked long hours at the part-time jobs he did, and he wasn't obsessed with earning money.

I've also noticed kids whose part-time jobs made them so tired, they were pretty sleepy at school and not really with it.

[On the other hand, a former colleague used to love to trot out the anecdotes about when he taught Daryl Braithwaite English, and how he told him to quit the band and concentrate on his studies...]

I've know kids who had part-time jobs which prevented them from attending their church's youth group, who clearly missed out on gtting to know some of the other kids at church, because they were too busy working, not to mention missing out on the teaching geared to teenagers.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi David, glad to see your post. Yes, my experience mirrors your's there are some teenagers who benefit greatly from paid employment and others who experience some negative outcomes (as do their families). The key is a right attitude to work and the money that is derived from it. The issues are the same for a 15-year-old as they are for a 30-year-old and the Bible's teaching is clear for both groups.