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.
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.