It's 7am and I am just about awake. It's cold and not quite daylight outside. As I fill the kettle, I see the newspaper girl ride up to my neighbour's, sometimes with a dog in tow. I know exactly how long she has to finish her round, walk to the bus stop for the school bus, and be wide awake for double maths. I don't know how she does it.
Across the country, boys and girls are delivering newspapers to earn themselves a fiver. We've come a long way since they cleaned chimneys – but is it a good idea for your child to have any part time job when they are in full time education?
My first Saturday job was in a fabric shop where I was expected to advise customers on the correct amount of material they'd need for a pair of curtains or a ball gown. To say I was out of my depth is an understatement. I had nightmares about women all over the north wrestling with fabric that wasn't fit for purpose. I suppose it was character building.
Viki, a 38-yearold mum from Cornwall, recalls, " From age 15, I had three jobs: stacking loaves for a bakery in the morning, doing a Football Pools round once a week and working at a pharmacy evenings, weekends and holidays. My mum was widowed young, had three girls and we needed the money to keep us going. I did well in my A levels and went to a good university." Even if finances are not an issue, Viki strongly believes in teenagers working and expects her own children to do so when they are older.
But competition for university places is tougher than ever – A*s are the order of the day and GCSE grades count too. Is it worth your child potentially jeopardising their chances by having a part time job?
The law permits children to work two hours a day when they are 13, but not before 7am or after 7pm. Your child must be 16 before they can do an 8 hour day's work, and most employers will not employ them until they are 16.
I doubt if there are many parents who don't support the idea of their teenager earning money: they learn to save and budget; it encourages independence; it improves social skills; they learn about commitment and responsibility and they might make new friends. Or better still, as my friend Helen told me, "My niece has just saved her waitressing wages and bought her own iPod "
So, which job?
Which job, if any, is best? A paper round sounds tempting - hop on a bike, walk round a few streets before school, and earn anything from five to ten pounds. The reality is different however. Your child might have to get up at 6am, lose an hour's sleep, and on winter mornings they will be out in the pitch dark, with all the safety issues that raises. I've lost count of the mums and dads I've seen delivering papers by car, which was probably not what they bargained for when they encouraged their child to find a job.
• Be realistic. If your child is struggling to keep up with their school work, are they going to be able to cope with the demands of a job?
• Every child is different. If your child is super organised - bag packed the night before, homework ticked off, sports kit always ready and waiting, (does such a child exist?) well, they will be fine. But if, as in many households, the mornings are manic and somehow, just somehow, you push them out the door with 30 seconds to spare, do you need the pressure of a paper round as well?
• Maybe consider other jobs which avoid the early morning start.
Babysitting for example. There is no legal age at which a child can be responsible for another child, but realistically most won't be ready until they are 14 or 15 and only then if they are mature and you are on hand as back-up.
Dog walking, pet sitting, car washing, working in a stables, and gardening are options. If your child is going into a stranger's home, you need to ensure they will be safe.
When your child is over 16 they can join the shelf-stacking brigade in the supermarket. But for how many hours a week? Some stores are happy for teenagers to work one day a week, such as Saturday or Sunday. Others require a full day and two evenings until 9pm or later. That's a big commitment on top of GCSEs or A levels. Would your child cope? Would you cope? If you aren't on a bus route you might have to taxi them there and back.
For two years our Saturday evenings were dominated by picking up my daughter from the supermarket - the last bus home having gone two hours ago. And Helen's niece had to forgo many parties by always being at work on a Saturday evening.
It's great for teenagers to have part time jobs but, speaking as a parent who has been there, never underestimate the impact it may have on your time, and on their studies. And remember that siblings are different: my daughter, who is fabulously organised, managed her job really well, whereas my son, a budding Del Boy, kept himself solvent through buying and selling on Ebay, without ever setting foot outside the house. For some reason, it was always me who had to take the parcels to the post office.
What do you think? Do you have a teen at school who's also got a job?
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