Study: Parents Must Play a Larger Role in the Safety, Health of Working Teens

June 28, 2011
A new study suggests that parents often are not well informed about the safety risks that confront their working teens.

Approximately 80 percent of U.S. teenagers are employed during their high school years. About 38 workers under the age of 18 in the United States die from work-related injuries each year, and an additional estimated 146,000 experience nonfatal injuries or illnesses. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Injury Prevention Research Center and North Carolina State University stress that parents could help their teenagers better understand and prepare for workplace hazards.

“Because parents are so involved with their children about work, they are in an excellent position to help teens ensure that their employers are assuring good safety standards,” said Carol Runyan, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator and director of the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center.

Michael Schulman, Ph.D., study co-author and William Neal Reynolds Professor of Sociology at NC State, added, “…we just want to make sure that parents are also helping their children identify potential risks at their jobs, and helping ensure that their children are prepared to cope with those risks.”

The researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of 922 working teens, as well as a parent of each teen. They found 90 percent of parents helped their teens identify a job opportunity and 82 percent helped their children fill out job applications.

But parental involvement dropped precipitously once the child was employed. For example, 46 percent of parents had helped their teen ask questions about workplace safety and only 36 percent of parents helped their child learn about youth work restrictions.

Additionally, when asked how they would respond if they believed their teen might be doing dangerous work, most parents said they would act in some way, rather than adopting a wait-and-see approach. However, parents whose children had confronted actual safety situations were much less aggressive in their reported handling of the situation than they indicated they would be in hypothetical situations.

Runyan and Schulman said that parents should ask their working teens the following questions:

  • How much training did you receive?
  • If you are handling cash, have you been trained about what to do if there is a robbery?
  • Are you ever alone in the workplace?
  • Are there machinery or tools that could be hazardous?
  • Have you been trained on how to deal with an angry customer?
  • Is there an adult manager on site?

The researchers are planning additional work to determine how to get parents more informed and more involved. Parents, educators, teens and employers can find additional information at the U.S. Department of Labor Web site.

The paper, “Parental Involvement with Their Working Teens,” appeared in the July issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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