Should Students Focus on Education Instead of Employment?
Not necessarily according to experts who say the key is finding balance
High school has become less about passing notes, baking in home economics, and choosing the most popular extracurricular activity, and more about preparing for college—and the financial and academic obligations coming along with it. But with a recent study finding that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and clinical depression than did youth of the same age during the Great Depression era, should students focus on education instead of employment?
Not necessarily, experts said. Kids are fine to both work and go to school, and parents should encourage balance, not giving up a job altogether, they said.
"They are equally important. Saying to a kid, 'Your only job is to get good grades' is naive and it shortchanges them," said Susan Beacham, CEO of Money Savvy Generation and a nationally recognized kids and money expert. "Deal with the elephant in the room and teach a child how to manage money early and to consider a job a 'paid-for' sport. We underestimate how much our kids can do. These kids will not break."
Finding that balance is definitely a struggle for many students. A study found that only 52 percent of college freshman said their emotional health was above average - the lowest reported level in 25 years - with major contributing factors being both finances and future plans. Among high school students, 27 percent worry about how they'll pay for college, more than the percentage of those who worry about even finding a job once they graduate (22 percent).
And the pressure is intensified because "students know their generation is likely to be less successful than their parents," as Jason Ebbeling, director of residential education at Southern Oregon University, told the New York Times.
The Times noted that to some extent, students’ decline in emotional health can result from pressures they put on themselves. Seventy-five percent of college freshman say they are above average in their drive to succeed and their academic ability -- likely the same drive that contributes to the stress.
Parents need to help their high school and college-age children better manage such stress by teaching them to manage their expectations -- and to let them know that it is okay to fail, experts said.
"We have a generation of parents that try to protect our kids from pain," Beacham said. "Student expectations are too high. Every kid today expects to be able to live at the same standard that they had when they lived with their parents at home—ain't gonna happen. Kids today would consider going to a community college for two years and living at home a failure. Their expectation is that they've got to go to a top 10 school and take loans out and start debts so they can be perceived as a success."
Falling down and getting back up is part of a healthy growth process for young people, said Sherri Yeary, author of "Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage." Parents too often obstruct their child's path to adulthood when, as she once told Loop21, they "never let them try something and fail."
"Once the kids are in college their 'helicopter parents' will not be there to remind them to hand in work and manage their own schedules," Yeary said.
Thus, having the experience of working while going to school can be very instructive, she said.
"High school is the perfect time to allow our youngest generation the opportunity to learn to balance their part-time work and their studies," Yeary said.
Every young person differs in their study, skill, and work ethic, said Farnoosh Torabi, host of "Financially Fit" on Yahoo! and author of "You're So Money," a financial guide for young adults, and, as such, their work experience should be tailored to those realities.
"Education trumps employment at that high school age, but that doesn't mean it cancels it out," she said. "If you want to get into college, and you're the kind of student who needs to study all the time to get that grade point average, then do that -- don't risk your opportunity because you wanted to work 20 hours a week. Some kids are just better at multitasking than others, some have ADD, some kids are better when they have 10 things to do. But also parents should be open to the idea of a job. If your child says, 'I want to work,' your instinct shouldn't be to say no, it should be, 'Ok, come back to me with a plan."