Summer job may lower teen suicide

BY TESSA McLEAN | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

Summer jobs may be more than a way for teenagers to make some extra cash. According to a UI study released Wednesday, a summer job can also make at-risk teens less likely to commit suicide.

The study notes summer employment is more of a deterrent than holding a job during the school year, attending church, participating in sports, or living in a two-parent home, according to research by Rob Baller, a UI sociology associate professor, and Kelly Richardson, a data analyst at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“Teens have greater self-esteem when they are employed,” Baller said. “I think there is something extra in bringing something into the home.”

The accomplishment teens get from receiving monetary compensation provides more satisfaction than being part of a church group or sports team, he said.

The study also found at-risk teens are more likely to consider suicide when a friend of a friend attempts suicide. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that for every teen suicide death, there are 10 other teen suicide attempts.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens.

“A lot of it is social integration,” Richardson said. “Jobs that give people more exposure to others, especially where they can see friends, are better.”

But Richardson noted that tough economic times could make it hard for teens to obtain jobs this summer. The percentage of unemployed teens is close to 22 percent, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The UI researchers suggested finding work within the home or from a family friend as options for summer work.

Researchers were careful to note that while summer work can be beneficial, it shouldn’t expose at-risk teens to additional problems.

“If the work is isolated, [teens] still have the structure but no integration,” Richardson said.

The study analyzed data from the 1994-96 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included friendship networks of 2,000 students at 15 junior and senior high schools. There may be other factors that keep teens busy these days, Richardson said, such as Facebook and MySpace in addition to those considered in the data.

Baller agreed, but he noted the risks are most likely the same because while teens benefit from more social opportunities with increased technology today, they could also be hurt by the increased exposure to news on suicides.

Heavy alcohol consumption, physical fights, obesity, same-sex attraction, and rape victimization are all risk factors for teen suicide.

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