Today’s email bounty included a press release from The National Consumers League (NCL), described as “the country’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy group, founded in 1899 to fight child labor.” The article listed the most dangerous summer jobs for teenagers.
Jobs in agriculture took the top two spots—tobacco harvester and harvesting other crops and using machinery. The press release added details, including: driving forklifts, tractors, and other potentially dangerous vehicles; use of dangerous machinery (no specifics); use of chemicals; and working in grain storage facilities.
I will not quibble with any of those. A lot of jobs on a farm offer varying degrees of hazard. Agricultural production requires the use of sharp objects, heavy implements, and belt- or chain-driven devices. Large animals pose risks. Ag chemicals, too, demand the utmost precaution for anyone, of any age.
I find no fault in the NCL mission, either. Exploiting children as a means of cheap labor is unacceptable, uncivilized. I have read and heard reports of accidents, even deaths, of children doing farm work. I cringe every time I hear of these tragedies, thinking that the victim could be the child of a farmer I know, maybe a child I have met. The thought is horrific.
I also know how precious sons and daughters are to farm families—partly because of the tight bonds forged as youngsters grow up learning about farm work, farm equipment, and livestock. I have witnessed, however, on rare occasions, children performing farm tasks they were probably too young to do safely. I have a personal taboo against ever publishing a photo of a youngster working on equipment or performing chores that seem too risky for his or her age. I trust that the parents understand the risks and the child’s maturity and ability to handle the chore. It’s not my job to tell anyone how to raise their children.
Teenagers, whether raised on a farm or in a suburban neighborhood, can find plenty of opportunities to test boundaries, flex their wings, and develop independence. Some text and drive; others allow passengers to distract them; and some foolishly believe they can test their tolerance for alcohol while driving. Some experiment with drugs. Some join gangs.
I have noticed, in the 40 or so years I have visited, reported and befriended farm families, that farm kids tend to mature faster than the youngsters I’ve met in town. I’ve also noticed that they tend to embrace work and responsibility earlier than their city-dwelling counterparts. Those observations are mine, by the way, and are not based on any research.
What I would hope and what I most often observe for teenagers on the farm is that they and their families determine the jobs they are capable of doing safely and effectively. To misquote an old television show, “Family Knows Best.”