NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Kids (Not) In Crisis

November 17, 1998

Two recent reports are critical of the impact of work on teen-age children. Many analysts, however, think the reports are solutions in search of a problem. According to "Protecting Youth at Work," from the National Research Council:

  • Teens who work -- especially more than 20 hours a week -- during the school year are more likely than non-workers to get in trouble for misconduct.
  • Drug and alcohol use in more prevalent among working teens.
  • Injury rates for teens are twice those of other workers.
  • For every additional hour a child works, there's a corresponding increase of dropping out of school altogether.

The council recommends limiting the hours of work of 16 and 17 years olds and wants the U.S. Labor Department to approve "commendable workplaces for youth."

Critics, however, are suspicious of encroaching national nannyism, and make these points:

  • Inevitably, as teens are exposed to the real world, more will develop problems.
  • For the vast majority, however, work before adulthood helps them discover their likes and dislikes, enhance skills or discover talents they didn't know they possessed.
  • It is improper to let a young person's aspirations be hindered by one-size-fits-all national work rules governing decisions a family ought to be making.

The other study, from the University of Michigan, bemoans the loss of unstructured playtime for kids because of parents' long work hours. Again, critics wonder where the problem is. Preteen participation in organized sports is up 50 percent since 1981, and in the same period kids under 13 spent about a third less time watching television.

Source: Editorial, "Solutions In Search Of A Problem," Investor's Business Daily, November 17, 1998.


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