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A part-time job can be a rite of passage for kids, their first taste of earning a paycheque. But having a job in high school is about so much more than just having money to spend – it’s a learning experience.

The benefits of having a part-time job in high school are probably obvious to anyone who worked in their teens. And many of us did: The labour force participation rate in Canada for people aged 15 to 24 peaked in 1989 at 71 per cent. Today, that number is 63 per cent.

Generally, kids can start working as employees around the age of 14; in Ontario, for example, 14-year-olds can work in stores, arenas, offices and restaurants. And many are: Data from 2022 showed that 36.5 per cent of 15- and 16-year-olds in Canada had a part-time job.

Working early in life is useful for developing an understanding of money and the skills needed to manage it. This knowledge can be life-changing as kids enter adulthood. The best way to truly understand the value of money is to experience it.

While $200 might feel like a fortune the first time it lands in a young person’s bank account, showing them how many bags of groceries that buys will really put it into perspective. With this newfound context, they might think carefully about where and how to spend. The $185 pair of running shoes might not be as necessary as they thought.

Kids can learn to make sure their money lasts until their next paycheque, to put some aside into savings and to plan ahead for expensive purchases. These are invaluable habits that can reduce money-related stress later in life.

Although learning money management skills is one useful outcome of working as a teenager, there are non-financial ones too.

Learning to interact with adults. This might be the first time the teen has been given instructions and feedback from someone other than a parent or teacher. While they might tune out the usual adults in their lives, a manager at work is likely to get their attention.

Time management. Juggling life in high school can be a challenge. With academics, sports, clubs, lessons and helping around the house, adding a part-time job is definitely another ball in the air. Kids have the chance to develop the tools that will benefit them later in life, things like using a calendar, planning ahead with respect to homework and setting reminders for important events and tasks.

It keeps them busy. Some kids are engaged with extracurricular activities that give them a sense of purpose and belonging – and a reason to stay off screens. But for kids who aren’t really into activities, having a job can give them a sense of camaraderie with coworkers and a reason to put their phones away.

Interacting with different types of people. Teens might work with the public in customer service jobs, learning to manage different personalities, including “difficult people.” Or they might work with a team of coworkers, giving them an early peek at what it means to collaborate and compromise. Learning these skills early on could help their confidence levels and make them more comfortable easing into new situations in the future, like postsecondary school and full-time jobs.

In order to realize these benefits, the conditions need to be right. One study showed that work should be steady and ongoing in nature and limited to a reasonable number of hours per week, defined as fewer than 20.

Of course, part-time work isn’t for every teenager. Some are very busy with sports and/or music activities, while others are very focused on schoolwork. But there’s often room for both.

In fact, many school boards have homework guidelines to allow kids to do other things in their spare time.

There’s meaningful money to be made too. If your teen works 15 hours a week at $16 an hour, that adds up to more than $10,000 a year. That’s a tidy sum for a student – even if they spend half of it, the savings can really add up. And once you have a part-time job, it’s time to start thinking about where to stash your hard-earned money.

Anita Bruinsma is a Toronto-based financial coach and a parent of two teenage boys. You can find her at Clarity Personal Finance.

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