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Summer Employment Turns Down Suicidal Thoughts In Teens


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

There is a new evidence that summer jobs for teenagers appear to be much more than just a way to make some extra money. A new study from the University of Iowa has found that summer jobs can significantly reduce suicidal attempts in at-risk teens, developing self-esteem in them.

According to the research, conducted by Rob Baller, associate professor of sociology at the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Kelly Richardson, a data analyst at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, summer employment and receiving monetary compensation provide teens with more satisfaction than having a job during the school year, being a part of a church, participating in sport activities, or living in a 2-parent home.

The scientists said that the benefit of summer job is primarily associated with development of self-esteem in teenagers, who feel less isolated and more important when they can contribute something into their home. In addition, summer employment does not interfere with school work and attendance in the way a job during the school year would.

The experts also found that at-risk teens are more likely to develop suicidal thoughts if a friend of their friend attempts or commits a suicide. According to the estimates by The National Institute for Mental Health, there are ten other suicide attempts for every one suicide death of a teenager. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of mortality in teenagers.

There are many risk factors that can increase teen suicide attempts, such as heavy alcohol drinking, physical fights, extreme overweight, same-sex relationship issues and rape victimization. Among teens who experience some of these risk factors, getting a paid summer employment with at least 20 hours per week, can be very beneficial and helpful in creating immunity against the friend-to-friend diffusion of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Younger at-risk teens, who are up to 16 years of age, can work just 10 hours a week in the summer in order to get the same benefit. The more teens integrate socially and are being exposed to other people, the better for them, said Richardson.

However, she noted that currently, at the tough time of economic recession, it might be harder for teens to find a job in summer. The percentage of unemployed teens climbed nearly to 22 per cent this year, far higher than the rates for adults, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The UI experts suggested that finding a job within the home or from a family friend could be considered as an option of a summer work for teens.

Researchers were careful and warned that while summer employment can be helpful and beneficial, it should not appear as another reason which would expose at-risk teens to additional problems. "If the work is isolated, [teens] still have the structure but no integration," Richardson said. Working teenagers can be vulnerable to workplace harassment because of their inexperience and the ease with which they can be replaced, Baller said. Therefore, teens in the work should never tolerate any harassment or force, and should be encouraged to immediately speak openly with their parents and supervisors in case they experience it, he concluded.

The findings of the study are an analysis of the information from the 1994-1996 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included friendship networks of 2,000 students at 15 junior and senior high schools. The study will be published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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