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Decades ago, a high school senior was forced to choose between working more hours at a grocery store and playing a final year of varsity baseball.

He was on his own at the time, so the prospect of extra money from his after school job had tremendous appeal. Fortunately, the father of a friend intervened with wise advice. Said he: “You’re going to work the rest of your life. But you have this one last chance to play baseball with your high school friends. If you can, play ball and enjoy being a kid as long as possible.”

The teenager took his advice. Now, he cherishes the memories from that last spring of high school ball - even the wind sprints following practice. He wouldn’t trade that experience for the extra bucks he would have squandered. Kids still are forced to chose between after school work and school activities today. Some need money to survive. Most want it to pay for fuel, dates and clothes. Parents and guardians should encourage teens to enjoy high school to the fullest, from student government to sports, from Key Club to setting up for the Senior Prom.

We’re not saying here that a student shouldn’t work at all. A part-time job of eight to 10 hours can give a teen self-esteem, a sense of responsibility and spending money. And most can fit a small job into their schedule by reducing their television watching. Studies show, however, that too much work - 20 hours a week or more during the school year - can be hazardous to a teen’s health.

Do the math.

Teens generally spend 35 hours a week in school and another 10 hours studying homework. Adding 20 hours to that makes a 65-hour work week. At 20 hours, they start dropping out of after school clubs and sports, and devoting less time to school work. But some still find time for drinking, smoking and sex.

A 1994 study of 20,000 Washington state high school students found that about 31 percent of students who worked more than 20 hours reported regular drug use, compared with less than 20 percent of the students who worked fewer than 20 hours. Experts attribute the increased substance abuse to teenagers having more disposable income and exposure to adults.

For some, problems begin when work exceeds 10 hours.

A paycheck is nice. It provides a taste of independence. But a high schooler’s main job is to become educated - and possibly take time to help build a homecoming float or two.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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