WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests it's possible that too much work might turn a youngster into a juvenile delinquent.
Researchers found that fifth-graders who worked the most at jobs such as baby-sitting and newspaper routes were the most likely to smoke, drink and get into fights.
The findings don't prove that overwork directly leads to trouble, but they raise questions about the value of work, said study author Rajeev Ramchand, an associate behavioral scientist at the Rand Corp.
"We know [working] can be positive, but the time they spend working is associated with worse outcomes," he said.
According to the study, previous research has suggested that older kids who work are more likely to abuse substances and get in trouble with the law. The study is apparently the first of its kind to look at work and younger kids.
The study authors examined the results of a 2004-2006 survey of 5,147 fifth-graders and their parents in Birmingham, Ala., Houston and Los Angeles. The findings were published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
After adjusting statistics from the findings to account for factors such as household income, the researchers found that the fifth-graders with jobs were two times more likely than other children to have used alcohol within the past 30 days. The rate was two times higher for tobacco use and three times higher for marijuana use. Those who worked were also 1.5 times more likely to have ever been in a fight and two times more likely to have run away from home.
The researchers defined working as having a for-pay job such as yard work, door-to-door candy sales and baby-sitting. About one in five fifth-graders said they had a job.
Why might a job be a problem? It's possible that parents may stop monitoring their children as much when they're working, Ramchand said.
"Parents need to keep track of what their kids are doing, ask questions about what they do at work, just stay involved," he said.
Frederick Zimmerman, an associate professor who studies children at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the study shouldn't make parents fret.
"Millions of parents and their school-age children find informal work to be a healthy and productive part of growing up," he said. "Nothing in this study should cause parents any concern about having Billy baby-sit or Susie mow a neighbor's lawn."
Indeed, he said, "there are just too many plausible alternative explanations for these results for me to worry that informal work itself has any adverse effects on behavior among fifth-graders."
Still, the study does provide helpful new information, he said. "We know very little about kids and work, especially this kind of informal work. So, in that sense, this study may be useful in launching an academic dialogue, though it should not and will not be the last word."
Boston University has tips on raising children.