Get to work, kids!

According to an article I recently read, a Saskatchewan family farm is being investigated for violation of child labour laws, largely for having their own five children work on the farm, specifically in the meat processing area.  The news clip, shown here, shows children using knives and vacuum sealing equipment, as well as general farm-related, animal feeding and cleanup tasks.  Apparently, it is against the law for children under the age of 16 to drive farm equipment or handle hazardous chemicals.

Fine. Don’t let the kids drive.  I get it.  But I see absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with a good dose of hard work, for any child, at any age.  As a parent myself, I’d like to share a few things I have learned.  Now, please realize that I certainly don’t think *every* family should operate this way, or that I am *completely* right in my views and everyone else is wrong, but here is what I have observed and implemented based on my own life experiences.

Some background information for you: my father Frank was rather insistent that, at age 11, I get a job.  Even back in 1989, when things were much different than they are now, jobs for 11 year olds were a bit harder to come by.  Frank was able to secure me a position at a local banquet hall to assist with cleanup at weddings, one or two nights a week.  I would be dropped of at around 5:30, and picked up when I was done, usually at 10ish.  I do remember a bit of resistance from my mother, but I think the European work ethic won over. Besides that, I was a very strong willed child, and I actually *wanted* to work.

Frank had a few ground rules when it came to working:

1) There is no “calling in sick to work.” If you have a cold, you take cold medicine and you go to work.  If you are tired, you grab some coffee, and you go to work.  If you aren’t feeling well, you pretend you are feeling well, and you go to work. If you….well, I think you get the point.

2) The only acceptable answers to a request your boss makes are “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am.”

3) If you are asked at the last minute to pick up a shift, the answer is “Yes.” Social commitments be damned.

4) You are to say “thank you for this opportunity” each and every time you receive your pay.

5) You are to figure out what else needs to be done and do it, without your boss asking.

Armed with this information, I went to work and stayed there for almost 7 years.  My pay started at $16 per night, of which Frank informed me that $10 of was to go straight into my RRSP – but that is a story for another time.

Fast forward 25 years. I know own my own business, am completely financially self-sufficient, and I have children of my own.  Further, I have employees of my own. In my years of owning businesses and working with other business owners, I have seen many stories of less than stellar employee performances. In my experience – and yes, once again, this is written from a single vantage point – a large majority of these issues could have been completely avoided if a proper work ethic and mentality had been instilled by one’s parents at the appropriate, impressionable age.  I assure you, I performed my absolute best at every job I ever had, but not because I was scared of what my employer would do if I didn’t perform well. It was because I was afraid of disappointing my father.

As for my own children, here is what I have learned:

1) From about age 3, my kids wanted to be helpers and please.  When Camryn was born, I engaged Andria in getting diapers, helping to throw out bottle liners and get Camryn’s toys put away.  She loved it.  The thought of “helping mommy with the baby” was engaging.  Now that I also have stepsons, I see the same in them.  If I so much as halfway mention that I’d like to organize a drawer or closet I have to practically pry Logan off of me because he wants to get right in there with me.  Brent brings the twins along to various renovation and construction projects and they are already picking up handy tricks of the trade. As for Camryn, she has rejected the idea of getting her allowance for  doing nothing and has devised a payment system for chores and tasks.

2) When my children develop a sustainable life skill, it increases their self esteem.  I don’t have the science on this one, but I know for myself that being self sufficient makes me feel better about myself. The fact that I can prepare a healthy meal is empowering and attractive.  It’s also no secret that the earlier we learn something, the more we can practice and perfect it.  Letting our children work by cooking, cleaning, gardening, building, etc allows them more time to get really proficient at skills they can use later in life.

3) The work my kids do now helps to define unique interests in each of them. I can tell you that my kids, all of them, can identify an interest they have and how that can make them money in their adult life.

4) Working keeps them active, and away from their electronics. Who has time for iPods and TV when there is so much work to be done? We aren’t perfect. Yes, we have days where there is far too much screen time. But, my 9 year old stepsons can operate most of the items in a tool box, are lean and strong, and have provided tremendous value in various hard-work projects.  Also, they can see the fruit of their results. The best part? They take good care of the things they have built!

5) Teaching safety to our children makes them safer in everything. I do not want my kids to learn how to work safe on the job – I want us as parents to teach them safe work practices NOW so they are armed with that when they enter the workplace. The example above of the family farm shows the mother saying “I don’t have a problem with my kids using knives because they are good at it.” Perfect.  If her child ends up with a career as a chef, they will have years of using sharp knives already under their belt.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or to be 100% right. Perhaps there is value in “letting kids be kids and have fun all the time” but I don’t see it.  I think that when my kids work hard, they appreciate and value the fun times more.  I can see my children turning into smart, strong and empowered individuals before my eyes, and I assure you, they will be a blessing on their future employers.

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