Canadian teens overworked

By 
  • October 19, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - Teenagers carry a heavier workload than people often give them credit for.
According to a Statistics Canada report, Canadian teens ranked first in terms of average hours spent on unpaid and paid labour during the school week compared with nine other countries from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

On average Brendan Fifield estimates he gets two hours of homework a day and works between 16 and 20 hours a week as a freelance music director and graphic designer for the St. Michael’s Majors Ontario Hockey League team.

The Grade 12 St. Michael’s College School student leaves for the Mississauga Hershey Centre right after school and stays there until 11 p.m. two weeknights a week.

He said on those evenings he doesn’t have time for homework and instead spends the next morning working on assignments.

“It’s not as much for the money for me, it’s the enjoyment and resume experience,” said Fifield, 17, who hopes to apply to Ryerson University’s radio and television arts program.

Angelica Kuwabara, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Bishop Allen Academy, works three days a week as a cashier at Harvest Markets grocery store because she said she needs the money. “I need it for my own personal use and if things come up at school I need it too. The money that I get isn’t spent on certain things, it’s the cost of hanging out with my friends if I want to go to a movie or just hang out.”

Over an entire week teens did an average of 7.1 hours of school work, homework, paid work and housework per day in 2005, the study published in the online edition of Statistics Canada’s Perspectives on Labour and Income reported.  

“My experience is that they all seek part-time jobs,” said Kim Gottfried, chaplain at Ryerson University. “At the beginning of the year they come out to our events, but as the year goes on we don’t see them as much because they have part-time jobs.

“They never have time to be still. They are not still. They are always on the way somewhere. Go. Go. Go.”

The relatively high workloads can result in student stress, the report noted.  

“The amount of stress it can bring on is overwhelming sometimes,” said Fifield. “You get assigned a 4000-word essay the same day you get an ad assigned to you. You have to time manage because you are committed to both.”

“I don’t get to spend as much time on school work, or with my friends or family,” Kuwabara.

“It’s a big responsibility you can’t just decide not to go if you don’t feel like it,” said Sara O’Sullivan, a 15-year-old Grade 11 student at St. Thomas Aquinas in Oakville, Ont.

Besides her 16-18 hour-per- week part-time job at Tim Hortons, she also plays field hockey six hours a week and volunteers another three hours.

Due to her packed schedule she gets less sleep and finds her stress level  increases around exam time. Life would look a lot different if she didn’t work.

“I would probably have more time on my hands especially on weekends I would sleep in and have more time to hangout around the house and be bored.

But, she said, “I like to have money to go out with my friends and save up for university and I’m going on a trip to Italy with my school.”

“There are people out there that can be condescending or look down on students,” said Fifield. “But when you work people take a different look at you, they see you as an employee. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

Gottfried agreed that working is a good learning experience for students. It helps teach life skills such as time management. But she said sometimes it’s the faith component that gets dropped, while they try to juggle their numerous commitments.  

“My morning shift is 9-5 so I can’t really sit in church,” said Kuwabara. “I used to go to church every Sunday, but my parents said it was OK if I worked (on Sundays), because working three-four evenings during the week, my school work would suffer.”  

Fifield starts work Sunday at 2 p.m., but he arrives at the arena at 10:30 a.m.  “Every warm up I creates mix of high-tempo popular songs in order to entertain the fans and pump up the players. I try to mimic an NHL production for an OHL team.

“A lot of people would consider that overkill and I think I overshoot my expectations.... Not to say church isn’t important to me, and Christianity isn’t an important aspect of my life.

“When I have kids and a full-time job I’ll baptize my kids because I feel that is an important element to have in my life.”

On the other hand, O’Sullivan said if she works on Sunday morning she will attend Mass on Saturday evening.

“I think it’s important to go to church regularly,” said O’Sullivan, who attends weekly Mass. “It’s like something you’re rooted in and helps you see when you are stressed out, you can look forward to it and just take time for yourself.”

Gottfried said not being able to set aside time for prayer is a good sign a student is being overworked as well as physical signs like burnout -— not sleeping, eating properly.

“I would gently challenge them (to ask) where is faith in your life and how are you expressing it?”  

She said it’s important students honestly ask themselves why they are working. What their intentions? Why do they need this money?

“As a student you are being called to study. That’s your vocation right now. Is it worth it to run yourself into the ground?” she said.

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