The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families. On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill. You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.
(To read additional articles about Children’s Rights and the specific rights recommended in the Children’s Bill of Rights, look through this blog, and at Homeschool Under Siege.)
Every child has the right to be productive, and to enjoy being productive as well as to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Every child has the right to create whatever they wish to create. Every child has the right to productive action in a safe environment, and done in a way that is safe for the child. (An example of a child’s production would be a child’s work on his own education, or an some project he is engaged in.)
No person has the right to enforce “productive” labor on a child.
No child is ever to be used for any form of slave labor.
Again, this could be seen as a questionable “right”. Over the years, many “child labor” laws have been instituted in many countries, in order to stop the abusive use of children as labor. There have been places throughout history, and are places today, where children are forced to work in poor and even dangerous circumstances, very long hours, and often for little or no exchange. There are even notorious places where children are literally held as slaves, and used in various forms of prostitution. Laws that attempt to end such abuses are, needless to say, more than welcome – especially when harshly enforced.
This right is not intended to be a license for rather evil adults to take advantage of that most helpless contingency, children. Such people are clearly beneath contempt and operating outside of any moral or social law.
Children and their rights should be held as sacred, a trust among all members of the human race. But productivity is also sacred, and when we deny a WILLING child the right to be productive along lines in which he is genuinely enthusiastic, we commit a crime against him.
There is little that instills a sense of self and pride more dramatically than a job well done, particularly when the accomplishment is recognized by others. Almost nothing can more accurately and insistently point to a bright future for a child than skills discovered and used to create something, or complete something, or to help something along.
Young children usually love it when asked to “help out” around the house. After all, outside of shows of affection, in what other ways can a child contribute to the family raising him. And contrary to the beliefs of a few misguided people, most of us yearn to contribute. Children are not excepted from this desire. When their help is “accepted” by those that they respect and admire, and it can be seen by the child that his help was, in fact, help, the road is opened up for an adult of worth to develop. When such help is discouraged, or downright refused, that road is often closed – and even demolished.
Work is a way we all participate in the world around us. It’s a way we each can earn respect and recognition. It is absolutely crucial that the desire to create and contribute be fostered and developed in every child.
Those without work often feel that they have been demeaned, or made less of in some way. If a person feels that he simply cannot work, he generally will also feel that his survival and worth have been severely compromised.
Encouraged to work, a child learns to be a part of the world, and that he is valued. When I was about 12 years old, I started working on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, for about four years. Each year, they provided me increased responsibility. I loved it, and felt I was contributing and able to contribute. I worked without sleep for 12 hours straight or so. It was wonderful!
I also started operating my own theater company at age 14, with many actors my age. I worked as a writer, director and performer about 12 hours a day. I also taught myself to read music and play piano. We did many productions of Broadway-type shows, and finally, of my own scripts. This led me to an Emmy Award as a writer/director at age 17. Work was a form of direction and even salvation for me, and I still make my living and experience joy using the skills and knowledge developed then.
My own son started working as a professional actor at age 16. He ASKED if he could, and I went to great lengths to support him. He experienced some serious success at this, and made a lot of money at the time. He homeschooled, and graduated High School at age 16, passing the GED first attempt, easily.
The key component to consider here is the child’s willingness. If a child WANTS to do a certain job, and that job can be done by a child safely and in a safe environment…and the job itself isn’t unethical or destructive…why would we set up road blocks? Don’t we want our budding adults to want to be a part of things? Don’t we desperately need their bright ideas and willing hands? Don’t we want our children to step toward and into their adult years confident that they have something to offer the world?
Slavery is not work. Compelled labor is a crime against a person of any age. It is a crime against our common humanity, and the idea of freedom discussed in the last article. The willingness of a slave is never consulted. The uses of force and entrapment to compel labor is not a method calculated to build strong, independent and worthwhile individuals. We are not advocating slavery with this right, and I want that clearly and fully understood.
What we are advocating is the idea that a willingness to work should be supported and instilled in a child. When it takes root, the opportunity to create and work and be a part of life should be actively pursued by the child and his family.
And by the way, creating art IS WORK! Enough of telling artists to get a “real job”. For decades I worked 10-16 hours a day on my ability to create written and directed works of art. These gave great pleasure to many thousands of people. They provided me personal tools I use daily in my journey through life. One of the results of my “art” is my ability to communicate ideas clearly and compellingly, which resulted in my authoring the curriculum Steps – and this Bill of Rights. Art IS work, and wonderful work. It is productive when it is meant to uplift and improve conditions. Not all “art” is worthy of the name, I’m afraid. But it’s up to a child to develop his own sense of art and what he wishes to communicate. Stifled by the reaction to early and lesser works, we have no idea what great art might have been lost as an artist developed.
Bottom line – the desire to create and to be productive should be encouraged at nearly all cost in a child. And adults have the right and the duty to protect children from abuses along these lines.