Child Labor



Child Labor

What images come to your mind as you read the title of this article? Probably you are thinking of the sweatshops of Asia and third world countries where young children are being exploited as cheap labor. We think of them working in poor and dangerous situations producing inexpensive goods for those living in developed countries. You may even think of the earlier days in our country where children also worked long hours in unsafe factories.

Or you may think about some children and youth working presently in family operated businesses. Some of our Amish and Mennonite fathers are being cited by the Department of Labor because their children work in these family operations

However, the goal of this article is to look at the value of child labor in our families. I am thinking of the positive values that children obtain when they learn to work at a young age.

Naturally, my mind goes back to my own boyhood days. I well remember my father getting me out of bed at 4:00 AM to go out to the pastures and bring in the cows. Next was helping with the feeding and the milking of the cows and the cleaning of the barn and milking equipment. In the summer, there were weeds to hoe in the cornfields and garden, hay bales to be brought to the barn, and numerous other farm chores. The work was hard and tiring. But do I regret it? Not for one moment. The teaching from my father is so valuable that I would not trade it for anything.

Many verses in the Bible teach the merits of hard work. I would encourage you to take a concordance or topical Bible and look up the words work and labor. You may be surprised at how many you find. We will look at just a few.

First, let us see what Solomon, the wisest man on earth had to say about work. “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Proverbs 10:4-5). “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).

We read further in the New Testament about the direct relationship between our ability to work and our privilege of eating. I realize this can be taken too far. There are cases where people are not physically able to work. But the lesson is that children can be taught to work and also to enjoy their work. “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you; that ye walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies, Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with all quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

So what are the practical lessons that I learned from my Father at an early age?

First, I learned responsibility. There were jobs on the farm that were mine to do. It was not a matter of maybe or if I got to it. The job was mine to do and I did it.

Second, with responsibility I learned accountability. I very vividly remember one time when I was to bring the cows home for the evening milking. I went with my brother to the pasture and got the cows started homeward. Something distracted us and we ended up playing in the pasture for a long time. When we finally showed up in the barn, the milking was almost finished. But my Father was there waiting for us and there was a day of reckoning that I have not forgotten. That day, my Father taught me to be accountable for my work.

Third, I learned the importance of being a producer. We were supplying a commodity to the marketplace that helped many others have milk and eggs on their tables for breakfast. I learned that there is more to life than being a consumer.

Fourth, my Father taught me the value of becoming a self-supporting adult. This training began at a young age; not when I was ready to enter the job market. It gave me a sense of well being and self-worth in being a productive citizen of the community.

Is this still practical today? How can these lessons be taught to children in the 21st century? I realize that those living in rural areas can do this more easily. Those on farms or at least with some room for a few animals and a garden can teach these same lessons.

But there are applications even in an urban setting. There are household chores that can be delegated to small children. The level of responsibility can be increased as the children get older. Preschool children can help set the table or clear it after meals. They can help with the dishes, even if they need to stand on a chair. Children need to be taught to pick up after themselves. Toys, clothing, etc. can be put into their proper places. Garbage and trash can be taken out and pets can be cared for. Responsibility for schoolwork is another area that teaches these lessons.

So how do I look back on my early form of “child labor”? Do I regret the lessons that my parents taught me? Not in the least. With the lessons I learned in my childhood, I have been able to be a productive worker ever since. I have always had job opportunities and was never laid off or fired at any job. I can truly look back to my childhood memories and pay tribute to the teaching and training of my parents.

Thanks, Dad and Mom!

April, 2001 issue of “Reaching Out” “Child Labor” Elmer D. Glick


Comments are closed.