Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Child Labor Laws Are Bad For Society

Psychologist Robert Epstein, author of The Case Against Adolescence, argues that teenagers should be given less freedom and more rights.

In every mammalian species, immediately upon reaching puberty, animals function as adults, often having offspring. We call our offspring "children" well past puberty. The trend started a hundred years ago and now extends childhood well into the 20s. The age at which Americans reach adulthood is increasing—30 is the new 20—and most Americans now believe a person isn't an adult until age 26.

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways.
Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become.
. . .
Are you saying that teens should have more freedom?

No, they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they're not free to join the adult world, and that's what needs to change.

Not sure I agree with everything he says here, but he does make some interesting points. One observation I have made numerous times is that our society has no "Right of Manhood" (or womanhood, for that matter). Most cultures have that point where you become an adult, to go out and make your way in the world, but we have no real point where we celebrate reaching adulthood. We graduate high school, but that is just preparation for college. We finish college, but then we become "entry level" employees. There is never a solid transition, and the cultural emphasis on youth means we keep pushing the age of responsibility back.

P.S. For an alternate view on child labor, go here


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