All Work and No Play Isn’t Necessarily Stupid, But Might Be Inhuman

I was a child entrepreneur. I loaded up paints and stencils in my wagon and painted street numbers on curbs. I mowed grass and raked leaves. I babysat. When I was old enough–15, which was also old enough to drive–I sold clothes at a mom and pop store. These pursuits helped me develop a work ethic, a relationship with money, and a BS detector. But they did not cost me my childhood.

Several states, including Arkansas and Ohio, have rolled back laws that prevent employers from hiring children younger than 15, or that limit the number of hours children can work. As the Los Angeles Times noted, these changes, coupled with educational issues born of the pandemic, threaten to create an underclass of young people: lure kids away from school with wages that seem high when they’re 14, and they’ll by working themselves to death by the time they’re 25, and undereducated to the point that they won’t be able to do much about it.

A pragmatist might argue that the spate of laws deregulating child labor simply prevents employers from being penalized for offering children and their families what they want: an opportunity to make money. As a culture, they might claim, we cut off access to a labor because we have sentimentalized what childhood should be like.

However, this might be a case where the government should protect people from themselves. Kids need to be in school. Not merely because they need to be kids, but because without enough education, they can’t be fully functioning adults. What constitutes enlightened policy here? At what age should a kid (or the kid’s family) be able to say, “I’ve had enough school and I want to make money?” How should such laws be enforced?

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22 Responses to All Work and No Play Isn’t Necessarily Stupid, But Might Be Inhuman

  1. Bill Arnoldus says:

    Child labor laws are in effect to, “ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities.” It sounds like the child labor laws should be in effect if they don’t affect the educational opportunities. If a child drops out of school because they choose, need, or are forced to work, then this violates the child labor laws and is subject to process of law. This means that they’ll be required to go back to school and stop working until it no longer affects their educational opportunities. In my opinion it sounds like the child labor laws aren’t so bad and should not be repealed.

  2. Noah Lee says:

    I do think that there ought to be some sort of child labor laws in place, but I also believe that, in the cases of many children, jobs can be just as educational as school. Also, let’s say that you have an large, under-earning family that needs as many sources of income as possible to support a decent standard of living. Although children working to support these families should not be strived for, it should be an option to help improve the family’s quality of life in cases that are not ideal.

    Sure, we should do everything in our power to make sure that children aren’t being exploited by predatory working practices, but, at the end of the day, a child working a fine-paying and family-supporting job is many times more important than maintaining their traditional youthful freedom.

    In other words, we shouldn’t necessarily encourage widespread child labor, but we definitely shouldn’t fully outlaw it.

  3. Kinsley Collum says:

    I think that child labor laws are important. You wouldn’t want to walk into you local grocery store and see a five year old at the checkout counter. The whole reason child labor laws were introduced was because it was unethical and unsafe for children to be in the workforce. However, that was in the time of regulation free companies, heavy machinery, and little technology. In modern times, we have better laws and regulations, thus it’s much more common to see teenagers working in local stores. Like my parents always said, I think you should be able to work when you are able to drive. Setting a standard of driving age, lets kids ages 15 and up free range to work. I think driving age is a great age for kids to start working, so that way they have their own way to transport themselves to a job, they are responsible enough to drive (meaning they are hopefully responsible enough to work a job), and they are preparing for the early years of adulthood. For the families that need their kids to work, I would see where having younger kids go pick up the neighbors leaves, mow grass, or walk the dogs, be a “source of income”. These small but necessary task can earn the family money without taking away the kids childhood years.

  4. Gracyn Young says:

    Of course, child labor laws are important, I think that goes without stating. However, what if the child is willing to work? I’m not talking about when the parents could use a little extra help, and push their child to “help out,” but rather when a child desires a little extra spending money their parents don’t allot. For the “spending money” argument, I believe there is an age limit that should be in place. Why would a child need all of this extra money when they can’t even drive? I think that 13-14 would be a decent age to allow children to work because at that point, they may have older friends who can drive, or at least, in most cases, can be trusted to go out alone.

    My parents didn’t force me to get a job, in fact, they discouraged it for fear I would begin to slack on my schoolwork. But that was not the case. When I turned 16 I sent my resume to a pharmacy in Petal, and a couple of months later, I was working a few hours after school as a clerk. The hours were not enough to distract me from my schoolwork, as I usually got off at a reasonable time to not be utterly exhausted and still had the motivation to complete what little homework, if any, that I was assigned. I still work a couple of weekends a month, despite coming to MSMS, and I find that though it is stressful at some points, it is a good escape. It helped me develop a work ethic, understand healthy spending habits, such as how to save, and even introduced me to the world of networking.

    I’m thankful that I was, and am, able to work, but I often wonder “What if I had started sooner?” Would it come with the same outcomes and lessons, or would I have become burnt out by the time I needed to move away to school? Etc., etc.

    The openness of it all calls for a case-by-case basis, and to be honest, I’m not sure how one would approach that.

  5. Elijah Camba says:

    I feel like child labor laws were important to protect children. But I also understand that one could argue that it allows for kids to have access to making money and working hard. My Little Brother is spouting prospects about making clothing and food business. However, I feel like allowing kids to work at such a young age and not punishing managers and CEOs for making harsh working conditions is very reminiscent of Industrial America and the various dangers kids faced working in factories. I feel like we could be heading back to a time where Profit mattered over one’s own safety, and by profit, I mean company profit. After all, more workers, specifically naive and vulnerable ones, mean more money.

    So in all, I’m not happy that there are policies being passed that pull back child labor laws. But my question is what can we do about it besides post an opinion on a website and go on about our lives? What can we do?

  6. Vishnu Gadepalli says:

    Child labor laws are necessary because they serve as a guideline for employees who are minors and for employers alike on how these minors don’t spend all their time working and also so that they aren’t taken advantage of. These laws were put in place to ensure the safety of children as a change to previous harmful practices and it is important that they are upheld. This being said, if a 14-17-year-old is able to work and balance it with their school/social life, they should definitely consider it not only because they will make money, but because they will learn valuable things that can be applied to the real world and even their prospective career. I believe that everyone should graduate high school because you cannot do virtually anything in the real world without a high school diploma. I don’t think a person should simply abandon their education for a job as a teen until they graduate high school because by then they will be legal adults and will have a diploma since they would have completed some level of schooling.

  7. Max Feng says:

    Child labor laws are put in place to protect children from exploitation and ensure that they receive an education. For example, in Mississippi, children who are 14-15 years old have limited working hours on a school day, are prohibited from working at hazardous jobs, and require a work permit. I agree with these restrictions. In middle school, classes are taught on a broader scale as the education system creates courses that only introduce very complex topics. However, when students are 15, they are allowed to take classes that dive deeper into these topics. There is a possibility that this deep dive can pique students’ interests and encourage them to continue their high school education. In other words, I believe that moving the minimum working age to 15 is justified. It is at this time that students can really see if high school is for them. The limited work hours also provide students who may be uncertain about pursuing high school an opportunity to experience the working world and determine if it is what they want.

  8. Myia Williams says:

    Laws against child labor are crucial. I believe that children under the age of 16 shouldn’t be allowed to work. I believe that if you are under the age of 18, you are not yet mature enough to manage being in the workforce or prepared to enter the working period. Kids should devote more time to studying than working. Its awful that children have to think about unemployment at such a young age, but occasionally parents are unable to work, which makes the kids want to help support their family.

  9. Vivian Peng says:

    I think Child labor laws are important for protecting children from exploitation and ensuring they have access to education. Working long hours can negatively impact a child’s growth, both physically and mentally. While some families may want their kids to work for money, it is essential to consider the future effects on their opportunities. Education is crucial for success in life, so limiting accessibility could lead them into poverty with fewer options. It’s vital that we balance protecting children’s rights while also allowing room for personal development towards becoming responsible individuals over time.

    As a society, I believe it is a responsibility to ensure that children are given the opportunity to grow and develop in an environment that prioritizes their well-being. I completely agree. Yet I see no issues in children participating in age-appropriate activities or part-time work that can help them develop important life skills and a strong work ethic, as long as it does not interfere with their education or put them in danger.

  10. Rushyendranath Reddy Nalamalapu says:

    Childhood is an essential segment for developing adolescents and functional people in society. Seeking employment as a child allows them to supplement the household income. Sometimes that is considered a greater priority than education. Education is necessary for a purposeful career and a good life with retirement. However, it is important for growing adults to have the freedom to choose their path in life. Children should not be denied the opportunity to follow their ambitions.

    There should be some restrictions for younger children to enter the workplace. The earliest children can enter the workforce should be the summer before they turn 16. There should certainly be restrictions in that their work does not interfere with their academic performance. If the student is failing and working almost a part-time job, then there should be a legal implication to restrict their working hours. Children always have the option to drop out once they turn the age of 16, regardless. At this age, they generally have a grasp of time management, basic math life skills, and general common sense.

    Enforcing this would be simplest if they were monitored in school, because of the national requirement for children to attend school under the age of 16. A counselor or appointed individual for the district can monitor a list of students who have a job. If their grades are severely lacking, then the appointed individual has the authority to require the employer to reduce working hours.

  11. Makayla Houston says:

    Childhood is something that you have when you are growing up. Once you grow up it’s all just gone with the blink of an eye. Holding onto that and soaking up all the glory childhood brings is essential for any child development. The laws that we put in place against child labor are crucial. I believe that children under the age of 16 shouldn’t be allowed to work. When a child is under the age of 18, they are not yet mature enough to manage being in the workforce nor are they prepared to enter the job at such early or late hours of the day. While the number 18 means a lot to some people, it is at this point when some kids stress about college and that is enough to worry about without having to worry about a job on top of that. Developing children; no matter what age you are; should devote more time to studying than working. It’s heartbreaking that children have to think about unemployment at such a young age. While there are some cases where the parents are not able to work, and all the child wants to do is help their parents out, so they don’t have to worry about anything.

  12. Jacqueline Smith says:

    I think it is helpful to many students to be able to work. However, I think as long as a person is a working minor, they should be required to be enrolled in school. I agree with most limitations that minor workers have.

    On the other hand, if there is a need, during the school year, students should be allowed to work 10 hours a day on weekends, and maybe 4 hours on school days. However, I don’t see the point of enforcing stringent time limits when students are out of school. Most of the time, if a minor gets formally hired, it’s not a job that is physically or mentally demanding. If there isn’t an absolute need, education should be the priority, so 4 hours on some weekdays and 8 hours per day on the weekend sounds reasonable.

  13. Laykin Dixon says:

    Child labor laws are very important. People need their education and it is very important to get it I feel as if you should graduate from high school before you decide you want to work the rest of your life. I started working at the age of 14 but I didn’t decide to just work because I find education is more important. Before MSMS I worked every weekend and most days throughout the week and it was just a lot. I feel education should be a priority rather than working to get money.

    Children are meant to enjoy their time as a child rather than working everyday. Working takes away from your life. When I worked and went to school everyday I never had time to enjoy hanging out with friends or family. Or just even going to football games. I think people shouldn’t be allowed to work during the school year until they are 18. During the summer is different because it teaches responsibility.

  14. Raegan Calvert says:

    I’m going to be honest, to fully explain my outright anger at the possible (and current) changes in child labor laws, I’d have to talk about my disdain for this country’s mantra of “pulling yourself up by your boot straps” and this notion in America that to be a good person is to be a good worker. [ For those intrigued by this idea, I recommend reading “The Right to Be Lazy” by Paul Lafargue 😉 ]

    “To protect children from themselves” is a charming notion, but I don’t know if that’s my main issue with this topic. School almost seems like ‘capitalist bootcamp’ where children are taught how to work well, prioritize their grades over their mental health at times, and produce workers that know how to listen mindlessly to authority, whether it be their office bosses or classroom teachers. (okay, sorry, I really don’t mean to sound like an outright communist.) I believe that school should be a place to instill passion and love for education, and I simply don’t see it doing so whatsoever. Not many children think to themselves “gosh, I just love school,” so of course, the labor force entices them because at the very least, they’ll be getting something out of their boring, mindless work.

    To address the laws which governments ‘enforce’ to protect child labor laws, they’re not strict ENOUGH. I have been a 16-year-old employee and I know for a fact that companies don’t worry much about overworking us. I worked over 40-hour weeks during the summer, and on many nights when I was scheduled to close, my name would blink in the system (a way to remind managers that I had reached the limit for numbers of hours I could work as a minor) but if the penalty is a charge of money to the company, huge chain stores like McDonald’s don’t exactly feel the sting in their millions when those charges hit. It’s the same for not giving your employees break time, which I was the victim of during many, many of my 8-hour shifts where I would have to stand for the entire time (you see, sitting was against the rules and we could be written up for it.) I knew a fellow student, the same age as me, who worked constant overtime and constantly took the shifts of adult employees because his family desperately needed the money, and (to nobody’s surprise) the boy dropped out in junior year to pursue work full time. I think the age of 16 is reasonable for working, its the same age kids get access to their own transportation and are in need of a little spending money. However, the easy ability of many companies to exploit these kids however they please is not right, and the laws should be far stricter, definitely not laxer.

  15. Jonathan Kiesel says:

    Children should always have an ideal educational environment and an ideal working environment if they so choose to work after school, but as of today, some children have neither of these things, and even some of them could, its already hard enough for them to know where they can work besides a franchise or their dad’s local business. Furthermore, if everybody does not already have the equity needed to achieve a base standard, then the “pulling yourself up by your boot straps” ideology does not work out since not everybody has the same starting point in their lives. I guess if we’re looking for a way to quantify this, then what we really need to ask is 1) What is the base standard for Americans? and 2) At what age or point in their lives should everyone achieve this base standard and consistently construct and improve themselves afterward?

    The worst part about this problem is that not everybody can agree on this essential part of our culture, which is a possible reason why laws, such as for child labor, are misguided. I think it’s after middle school that a teenager should seriously consider how they should progress through their lives, while others might say that you shouldn’t have to worry about jobs or other career ideas until you graduate from high school (and we certainly don’t hold that view here at MSMS), and some others could say that your life doesn’t start until you get your bachelors.

    I think child labor laws need to make it accommodating for willing young workers and therefore should be stricter, especially on employers. Perhaps the number of hours someone works should correspond to how old they are up until they’re adults, and maybe employers should be straight up arrested if they are caught overworking children against their will. I think child labor is a great way to expose the next generation to a common working environment that they might not otherwise have if they were only at school, but if we can’t do it safetly (as we’ve failed multiple times in history), then its not worth trying at all.

  16. James Talamo says:

    I think that the current restrictions we have in place, with age 16 being the point where one can start working, is the best system. It’s a good middle ground where we avoid having young kids dropping out to chase a low wage (as much as we can anyway), while still allowing young people to help provide. Also, for those who really want the extra income, then there’s also hustles like cutting grass, car washing, etc. It should never be on a child’s shoulders to provide for the household. The teens that already work are already being overworked as is, as they fill up positions in low income, high hour jobs like fast food or retail. Rolling back the age of the labor force simply will lead to younger and younger kids being overworked and burdened by a job that isn’t really worth the work, by an industry that cares nothing about their workers

  17. Avery McMechan says:

    My opinion on this matter is certainly going to be in the minority. When I lived in Nebraska for a few years just about everybody in town knew that if you were 14 you worked. It didn’t matter whether is was a summer gig, a cash paid job, or a ranch hand, you worked in some capacity by the time you were 14 unless your parents were rich, extremely opposed, or both. There was nothing wrong with it either, the parents made sure their kids were paid fair, treated fair, and weren’t hurt or exhausted by the work. The kids got their own money to spend on what they wanted, and the employers got a slighter cheaper option that worked out better for them, everybody was happy. There’s nothing wrong with a teenager working to get their own spending money, and in my experience in Nebraska, it never bothered the schools, the parents, or the students. I also wish that a high school diploma was all that was necessary for people to earn that would allow them to work sustainable jobs, although I know thats not the case. Being honest in the working world, there’s no need for Calculus as a carpenter, no need for Literature as a retail manager. The vast majority of the working class doesn’t benefit from college education, so the diploma is where I’d wager is fine for a student to be fed up with education and begin working.
    I understand that’s not the sentiment of the working world in the eyes of many students and parents of MSMS. However as someone who’s lived all over the US, I’ve seen the working class of the real world and the truth is that the working class doesn’t need to be educated, and they won’t often be. There’s a admirable dedication in the working class that education simply doesn’t understand or appreciate. Some people benefit much more from being able to work with their hands and learn real world skills more than sitting in a classroom learning about advanced chemistry or english poems that they’ll never use again. For those reasons, the law should be that if you’re 12 or older, and your parents aren’t opposed, you should be able to work.

  18. Bryanna Boggs says:

    Child labor laws are in place to protect the normal-wellbeing, including the physical, intellectual, and emotional development, of children. It is important that these laws are reviewed periodically in the interest of the children. However, though my opinion might be a minority, I think that working at the age of fourteen or fifteen is reasonable. In my family, my siblings started working at fifteen, while I started working the day after I turned sixteen. This was important to us because we were responsible for funding our education and whatever else we wanted, including our car insurance. Though this setup is not usual for smaller families, I’m looking at you only children, it was necessary for my parents to provide us with a healthy lifestyle. By working, me and my siblings were able to save and allow ourselves opportunities we might not have had if we hadn’t had the opportunity to work. However, we did not work for our families’ well-being, but our own. There is a concern with family members forcing children, especially those in high school, to put aside their education to work. This is a problem and should be regulated with child labor laws. As for the concern that children will voluntarily drop out of school in order to pursue a part-time job, this has always been an option. At the age of 16, you are given the opportunity to drop out of school, however, the most common reason for this is family-related. And though this can be connected to their employment, most people drop out of high school so that they can support their families, restricting child labor laws would only prevent them from the financial support they need, which can only come about legally. Whether or not they can not work legally will not influence their decision to drop out.

  19. Kermit Oville says:

    Child labor laws are placed to keep children safe. Jobs that are offered to children, at a ripe age of pre-teenage years, are not jobs that are careers. Careers and jobs are quite different. Many people use their jobs to fund their careers. The workforce is taking away many of these children education. This leads these children only being able to work a minimum wage job or working jobs that require little education with little pay offered. The child labor laws that are in current effect allows children to work respective hours, which allows children to balance their studies while working.
    I believe that there is not an age where a child should choose working a low paying job over their education. Education is vital in the society that we live in. Many decisions are made based off the degree of education that you possess. Even though many people learn more on their jobs than in school, many people find opportunities to higher status/paying jobs through connections made through education.

  20. Anthony Bradley says:

    I think that anyone under the age of 15 should not be able to work. Before then you should only focus on school. After you turn 15, you have the thinking skills to decide if you want to work as well, but you should still be required to go to school. You should be able to work when you are old enough, but being required to go to school is a must. Providing the chance at entrepreneurship is very important, but making sure that teenagers still put the correct amount of effort in school is just as much important.

  21. Bradley Kuebler says:

    The reason we have child labor laws is to prevent the overworking and exploitation of children by business. I believe that it is completely necessary to have these laws in order to prevent kids from associating mindless labor with success rather than education. I believe that only allowing children who are 15 or older to work is completely solid and even limiting their hours on weekdays is okay. I believe that weekends should be free reign but I also believe that if there is any school related issues, such as attendance, failing classes, behavioral issues, etc, then the student’s hours should be limited more heavily or they should not be allowed to work in order to prevent the prioritization of temporary monetary profit over the value of education in the long term.

  22. Komal Patel says:

    I believe that child labor laws are crucial for protecting young children from being taken advantage of. Because these laws stemmed from the exploitation of children, I do think that these laws are in place for a reason. So, rules that limit working until a person is around 15 or 16 makes sense to me. This would allow kids to focus on schoolwork and be more knowledgeable about their future and how the job they take will help them. Most importantly, I feel that it would be idealistic to assume that each young person wanting a job wants it for extra pocket money. Kids are very easily forced into situations that don’t seem harmful in the moment.That being said, I do think there are merits for children being allowed to work. Kids could learn more responsibility and feel more capable at an earlier age. Maybe I am cynical, but I do believe that people will take advantage of vulnerable children if they find a ‘legal’ way too.

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