Children and the 60 Hour Work Week

Child labor
refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.

International Labor Organization, 2012

Maybe it is time that we, as a society, took a step back and reconsider what constitutes child labor.
  In the above quote from the International Labor Organization it is clear that a core value in a society regarding its children is to provide an education.  What if, however, a child’s education becomes so time consuming that it deprives a child of his or her mental, physical, social and moral rights?

That is why the World Congress of Play has chosen as one of its missions to actively fight for a child’s right to free play.  We believe that there is a crisis in play in which children are being deprived of the educational, emotional, physical and moral benefits derived from playing freely without adult supervision. 

I did a little back of the envelope calculation of how many hours a 21st century an American child spends in some kind of adult supervised or mandated activity.

Here is my calculation:

School                                                                      7 hours

Organized afternoon sport or supervised play    2hours

Homework                                                                3 hours

Total                                                                         12 hours per day

                                                                                 60 hours per week

That number is of course higher in some countries and there are families who push for even more hours.   In addition, this does not include organized, parentally managed activities that take place over the weekend like sports leagues.  Disturbingly, there is now a push to extend the school day and the school year.  How many more hours will a child have to work a day?  When does a child have an opportunity to engage in unsupervised play?

If you work 12 hours a day and if recess is limited in school to 15 minutes, when do children have a chance to just run, hop, scream, twirl around and do what their bodies insist they do which is play mindlessly with no rules and no grownups.

American children, and in fact children many of the world's children have little of the fun that children did just a generation ago.  They spend tedious hours, sitting at desks or engaging in structured activities supervised by adults. 

How did helicopter parenting which would appear to be the ultimate in care taking turn into a system of prolonged work hours in search of entry into elite schools and jobs.  When children are put on waiting lists and given aptitude tests for elite pre-schools when they are less than three we can see that the anxiety, formally in possession of stressed-out middle age adults trying to hold on to a job, has now encompassed elementary school and younger children.

Physical movement and play are essential to a child’s mental, emotional and physical health.  We adults can vaguely remember how slow time used to pass when we were children.     We can, if we try hard, recall the overwhelming need to move.  Imagine what it must be like or a child to spend 12 hours a day being forced to follow a regimen that is largely sedentary.

What can we do about it?  I will write about that in my next posting.

3 thoughts

  1. Screen time (that is, time in front of ipad, computer, smartphone, TV, etc) is also taking away from free play.
    I set a timer and turn off the electronic devices when the timer goes off. So what if there is 3 minutes worth of protest from a child who sounds like an addict going through withdrawal? So what if they grumble for a few minutes, they will soon wander off to amuse themselves without technology or adult interference (except when necessary, of course!)
    Also, excessive drilling in homework should be abolished. For individual children that have mastered a skill, further drilling only kills their interest. A few kids might be excused by the teacher if additional repetition serves no purpose for them (while providing it for the others who need the practice).
    Free play is essential to childhood. I don’t remember much of the TV I watched, but I do have great memories of the games I played. Let’s allow our kids to develop memories of their own.

  2. You have educated and delighted me. Thank you.
    As a public health professional, I am very concerned about the health and welfare of women and children because they comprise the most vulnerable segments of society world-wide.
    Without free play time, a child has no opportunity to explore natural interests, aptitudes, talents, raison d’etre….
    I wonder how much of this “structure” folks give their kids is based on the parents’ determination to have the bragging rights that little Denver made it into XYZ pre-school.
    Daniel Goleman wrote the book I’m currently reading titled, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.” He summarizes research suggesting that a balanced approach to human development optimizes children’s ability to focus on a task and also to have fun, think creatively; both are important.
    I played “Barbie Dolls” for several years until I was nearly 13 with my neighbor. We had elaborate (to us, at least) story lines, character development, crises. The play was as much of an interaction between us as pre-teens as it was among the male and female, multi-racial (OK, just one Black female among the White dolls) dolls in our hands. No soap opera could rival our stories.
    Still, I had both piano and violin/viola practice daily, and maintained high grades. In retrospect, I would say that those play sessions in my neighbor’s house were among the most enjoyable times of my life in those years.
    To this day, I love a good story (even if it IS true), and continue to hone my writing / storytelling skills.

  3. My mother is probably reading this and laughing. (Hi, mom!) To her, no one should work more than 40 hours a week unless they’re getting paid major overtime. But that’s not because she’s a slacker. Quite the contrary, actually. She started her career as a bus driver and worked her way up the ladder with no college degree while raising two children, at times as a single mother. She’s a hustler. But she doesn’t work in an industry where 50, 60 and 70+ hour workweeks are the norm, and she understands the value of a break from time-to-time.

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