Faithful readers will recall that I frequently pen essays responding to calls by politicians or other critics to regulate media content or the Internet “for the children.” One of the most intriguing things about these calls to regulate to protect children is that they are seemingly completely devoid of any historical perspective. Politicians or critics either imply or state directly that children are at grave danger from media content or the Internet, but I think we’ve lost all perspective about what really harms kids.
Cynthia Crossen of The Wall Street Journal has an excellent column on this issue today entitled “Lemonade Stands? Children Used to Toil 14 Hours, Every Day.” She notes that:
about a century ago, some two million American children between 10 and 15 years old had “gainful employment,” according to census data. And unlike teenagers with summer jobs now, these children often worked 12- or 14-hour days, seven days a week. Most of them worked on family farms, but others were employed in mines, mills, canneries or city streets, polishing shoes, hawking newspapers or delivering messages. They attended school sporadically, if at all.
For industrial employers, young workers were cheap and tractable. They could do simple, repetitive tasks for long hours, and their small size often worked to their advantage. To many people, it seemed as natural for children to work in factories as it did to work alongside their parents planting seeds, washing dishes or milking cows.
That really gives you some appreciation for how far we’ve come, doesn’t it? I’ll take the problems we have today versus those of 100 years ago! And I feel the “harm” associated with media content or the Internet is something most parents can handle on their own without resorting to government regulation.
I do not mean to completely belittle concerns about online child safety or access to inappropriate media content — after all I just wrote a whole book entitled “Parental Controls & Online Child Protection“! But I do think we need to put things in a little perspective when it comes to “child safety” and appreciate the strides we’ve made.