General Etiquette > Family and Children

Kids and Free Labor

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I agree with some previous posters in that I don't see this as an etiquette issue. It seems to be either an issue of different parenting styles/situations or, if there is a conflict with local labour laws or occupational health and safety regulations, it then becomes a legal issue.


--- Quote from: Figgie on October 01, 2013, 08:42:12 PM ---My Dad started working in the potato fields at age 6 and all of the money he earned was used to help support the family.  When he was 14, he took a bus to a larger city and worked in a meat packing plant while living at the local YMCA and sent the money he earned home to his family.

My Mom started working in a restaurant washing dishes at age 13, was a waitress at age 15 and held that and a job at a movie theater until she turned 17 whereupon she was working 20 hours a week during the school  year and 45 hours a week during the summer at the local Woolworths store.  The money she earned was used to help support her family.

I was babysitting when I was 10 years old and by the time I was 12, I was doing full-time 40 plus hours a week daycare for two younger children during the summer.  During the school year I probably worked about 20 hours doing babysitting on weekends/evenings.  The money I earned was used to help support the family, as was the money my brother earned from lawn care and shoveling snow and my sister from her baby sitting. 

My Dad painted houses during the summer (teacher, so he had summers off but no pay at that time) and all of us kids painted with him from the time we were old enough to get up on a ladder.  And no, we weren't paid for any of the work that we did painting...our helping meant that Dad could bid and get more jobs and earn more money and his earning that money meant the difference between food on the table or going hungry.

I've talked with my siblings and none of us felt at all used and abused any more than our parents felt used and abused.  It was just the way things were.  We worked to help support our families and all of us felt/feel a great deal of pride in how much we were able to accomplish and how responsible we were for putting food on the table and keeping a roof over our heads from a very young age.

I never had any objection to my parents putting my kids to work.  The kids did less work than we did, but that is primarily because the family economics had improved from when we were kids. 

I knew my parents were doing the absolute best that they could and was not resentful either as a child or an adult.

--- End quote ---

I think there is a difference between working to provide necessary support to your own immediate household, and working to provide non-necessary financial benefits to relatives you don't actually live with. Working to support the family you actually live with has direct benefit to you, even if you aren't paid.

In the situation described in the OP, the grandparents received direct benefit from their grandson because he provided them with free labor they would otherwise have had to do themselves or pay for. The parents received direct benefit from the grandparents, because they provided (presumably free) childcare/supervision they would otherwise have had to pay for. The one person in this scenario who didn't receive any direct benefit at all was the tween -- he didn't get anything he'd otherwise have had to spend his own resources on.

In a situation like that, I'd say it would have been fair to pay less than minimum wage for the work done, because helping out family is something that most families would like to encourage. It also could have been his parents paying him to help his grandparents, since they were getting childcare for free out of the deal. But I don't think it's fair to expect anyone to work the equivalent of a full-time job without pay unless the family's ability to eat depends upon it. And that was not the case here.

Sophia wrote:

"Yes, I think those were the only two choices.  Work alongside them, or laze about their house without supervision.  Since this is a kid needing supervision, lazing about the house is probably the best of the possible outcomes, with the alternative being getting into trouble.
I guess there is a third.  For the summer, abandon the expensive project that they started before they were asked to watch the kid."

They could work half days, or alternate days, so he's not doing the work we'd normally expect of a paid adult all summer.  They could work for a week and then do something fun for a week so the boy's whole summer isn't buried in hard labor.  They could postpone the work rather than abandoning it.  They could bring him to the flip house but not make him work full days every day for months.  There are many, many options on the continuum beyond the three you presented and it didn't take that long to think of them.  This kid is twelve.

Library Dragon wrote:

"It's not unusual today for teens to be working on family farms during harvest time.  In high schools in my county it's common for teens to be out for a week or two in October for cotton or soy bean harvest.  It's the family business and everyone pulls their weight."

How many of those high school kids are twelve years old?  How many of those teens walked away from their own family farms to work full time jobs for someone else for no money?  That's what happened here.  We're not talking about "the family business" here, because this is the first house they've flipped in nearly a decade, so one could hardly call it their bread and butter.  He's not "pulling his weight", he's pouring adult levels of effort into someone else's hobby without any reasonable way of avoiding it.

magicdomino wrote:

"Can you imagine a 12 year old boy's delight at being told, "Here's a hammer.  Go for it.""

Can you imagine how that delight would wane after three or four hours of it?  How about weeks?  There's a reason why adults have to be paid to be willing to do this kind of work for others.

TootsNYC wrote:

"We have no way to know exactly what the teen in question was asked to do.  He could have been at the job site all day, and yet not doing adult-grade work."

CoCoCamm wrote, "Oh and when I said Tween was used for free labor I mean hard labor. Demolition and it's resulting clean up, putting up sheet rock, laying down floors, acting as an apprentice for electrical and plumbing work, patching up the roof, etc."  I don't see any reason to disbelieve her in this.  And as I keep having to point out, this kid isn't a teen.  I find that people seem to be taking the mental image of some slacking fifteen-year-old, but this kid would have just finished sixth grade.

"As for injuries--my DD hurt her foot in a sports activity--it may dog her the rest of her life."

There's a big difference between sustaining an injury during something that you've actively asked to do and during something that you're made to do without your consent.



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