Should your children be holding down part-time jobs while they're in school? The temptation to let them become profit centers instead of black holes in the family budget may be irresistible, particularly toward the end of high school, when teen-agers may have satisfied academic requirements and be just marking time till graduation.
And the work ethic is strong enough that many parents feel a paying job is necessarily good for the kids.
The Rand Youth Poll in New York estimates that 2 out of 3 young people aged 16 through 19 work part time during the school year or full time during the summer; and 45 percent of boys and girls 13 through 15 work part time as well.
But a number of educators and researchers have warned that holding down a job can spell trouble for teen-agers, especially those whose earnings are not really needed at home. Employment may not only detract from teen-agers' schoolwork but may also enable them to spend more than they ought to on cars and unnecessaries - plus alcohol and drugs.
Ellen Greenberger and Laurence D. Steinberg, of the University of California at Irvine, studied the work experience of 531 high school sophomores and juniors in Orange County. They found that at least for some students, part-time work led to falling grades, absenteeism, and more use of alcohol and drugs.
''It didn't matter what kind of jobs they had. The critical factor was how many hours were they were spending at work,'' Dr. Greenberger says. The researchers determined that 15 hours' work per week for sophomores, and 20 for juniors, marked the cutoff point beyond which young people were likely to start having problems.
''Working teens are working largely for immediate personal consumption - clothing, records, drugs, alcohol - and contribute little to their families, although poorer children do contribute somewhat more than the rest,'' Dr. Greenberger says.
''Working has been overrated, and schoolwork and extracurricular activities have been too long undervalued'' as contributing factors in young people's long-term success, she adds. ''Most kids' jobs are not interesting or related to their (adult) careers.''
In Bozeman, Mont., Lou Gappmayer, principal of Bozeman Senior High, echoes Dr. Greenberger's concern. ''Holding down a job can be profitable, but a lot of young people are doing it for the wrong reasons - to support an auto instead of to help out their parents.'' He adds, however, that in recent years, a number of teen-agers are indeed working to help out at home, particularly those in ranching families.
He recommends the Distributive Education Clubs of America, which place high-schoolers in retail shops, where they earn dollars and academic credit, and get close supervision from school and their employers.
What's generally not recommended are jobs in fast-food shops - though many young people take them. ''It's not a good experience,'' says one educator. ''The work is so mindless, with so little responsibility, and little opportunity to interact with adults - as they would have waiting on them in a retail store, for example.''