By David Pflughoeft Special to Published Mar 22, 2008 at 5:10 AM

Talk about "lovin' it!" One of the of McDonald's ad slogans from back in the day was "Change back from your dollar." Boy, has that changed today, especially for teenagers. Today at McDonald's most meals cost around six bucks, with shakes and other desserts driving the total toward $10. That's a huge dent to any teen's wallet.

While everyone is talking about a possible recession, teenagers face unique circumstances when it comes to juggling money, a job and all the other items on their plate. After spending a grueling, mostly boring day in the confines of the local prison cell -- I mean high school -- many teens are forced to jump in their motorized piles of junk and creak away as fast as possible to their minimum wage jobs.

Mike, 18, said, "I have school, then rugby and weightlifting every day after school and then I also work around 20 hours a week at my job. All of this leaves little time for homework, relaxing with friends, or even sleep."

Work is an incredibly important reactant in the formula of adolescence and it certainly helps to develop a strong product for adulthood and the real world. Although it's imperative that teenagers gain work experience, this gain comes at a price: the loss of time with friends, family and self. Some teens have had to give up sports to be able to work and earn money.

Tim, 16, dropped out of baseball and football in order to have money to hang out and spend, or to save for college. As young people progress into their teenage years, it becomes harder and harder to rearrange and fit schedules to match friends in order to have hang out time.

"Work does force teens to become somewhat less social, but I think it's necessary for you to learn to manage your time and money and to prepare you for college and beyond," says Tim.

Let's return to familiar territory with another flashback. In the year 1978, when my father was at the tender age of 16 and had just received his license to terrorize the road like all other KISS-obsessed, hair-helmeted kids, the cost of gas was a measly $0.63. He could fill up his tank for the cost of seeing a movie at the theater in 2008.

Granted, inflation has had an impact on the equation, but gas prices today are the biggest pillagers of a teenager's wallet, with the cost of one gallon of fuel around $3.25. My friend Mike, 17, drives a Mustang, and while it looks sleek and outshines all the other piles in the school parking lot, its huge engine makes it anything but cheap to drive.

Mike also has a girlfriend. "We go out once or twice a week. That varies though, depending on how much I work and how much money I have for the week," says Mike. He has learned that girlfriends are a nice, but costly pastime.

Money can't buy you happiness, but it does buy items of necessity and items and opportunities for entertainment. Unfortunately for teens, most of the items they want are getting bigger and bigger price tags. Even the simple, entertaining act of seeing a movie on a Friday night costs an arm and a leg in terms of teenage finances.

The cost of gas, the ticket ($9), popcorn, soda and treats, and then the gas to drop people off and pick up a snack on the way home can add up to being a $40 night just to see a movie. That's a lot of moolah for a teenager to just absent-mindedly throw away in one night after earning minimum wage at his job.

Teens, it can be struggle to struggle to pay all your "bills" (car, phone, college savings, etc.) but we may as well learn now that work is hard and chews up time.

But that doesn't mean that teens shouldn't work; in contrast to the multitude of teenagers that do work, there are also many who don't work at all, who depend on mommy and daddy to finance every activity and purchase. These teens will have a false sense of reality when they enter into the real world and are forced to work and pay from their own pocket.

Work sets us up for success. The long tiresome hours spent add up, and the wages put in the bank now will be very helpful in college. But more than anything, working now provides teens with a priceless sense of responsibility.

Working teaches us how to manage our time between work, friends, and other activities and what comes first and must be accomplished first. It also begins to teach us the process of managing our finances, learning what we are able to buy, and what we must forgo.

Ah ... look at the time. Well, in the timeless words of seven vertically challenged workers, "Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It's off to work I go!"

David Pflughoeft Special to
David Pflughoeft is a 17-year-old junior at Menomonee Falls High School, where he plays football, baseball and basketball. He also is passionate about video games and writing. His stories have appeared in newspapers across the country.