Child family labor: Do you let your kids help with your work?

It is legal in the US for kids under the age of 14 to work if it is for the family business.  Even when they’re older, it is legal for them to work for less than minimum wage if it is for the family business.  Labor laws don’t apply the same way when your employer is a parent.  (Note and disclaimer:  consult a lawyer/do your own research before making employment decisions.)

When I was younger (including when I was on break from college and an experienced grader!) I used to offer to help grade my mom’s stacks of homeworks for free.  She would never let me, even when it was just multiple choice and required no specialized knowledge to mark.  I was never really sure why she wouldn’t.

I have friends whose parents are famous economists who learned Stata practically in the cradle.  These skills came in handy when they were old enough for paying work as students and then later when their humanities degrees didn’t really pan out and they needed to change fields.  Data analysis is a valuable skill.

DC1 has played around with programming in Python and likes building things in minecraft.  Zie has also done some Scratch and some lego-robot programming.  This summer I suggested zie might like to try a little Stata and zie said that sounded fun.  We’ve done about three hours now (1 hour of showing how excel works using our mortgage spreadsheet and 2 hours of creating a numeric variable from a text variable from an incomplete but already created .do file) and zie seems to be enjoying it.  Once we’re done with the variable generation (that I actually do need for my work and would normally have an RA do but they’re all off for a week), we’ll start going through A Gentle Introduction to Stata.  Right now I’m paying $7.50/hour which is much more than zie gets for hir allowance.

Zie is mostly booked all summer with summer camps and a keyboarding class and books and sleepovers and games and traveling and so on.  But there are a few days free here and there, so we’ll put in a little Stata training on those days, and if I have scut work to do and no RA to do them, zie will be able to help out if zie stays interested.  Especially if I’m out of Here to Make Friends podcasts to listen to while copy/pasting.

Did you ever help your parents with their work?  Did they pay you?  Would you let your children help?  Why or why not?


26 Responses to “Child family labor: Do you let your kids help with your work?”

  1. College Town Says:

    Yes, I worked for both parents in their relative domains, some paid some not. Paid for tasks that others would clearly be paid for, but ,if it was more household-related or in service of the family, I was not paid, the lesson they were trying to teach being you don’t get paid for everything you are supposed to do.

  2. Mel Says:

    Absolutely. I used to have a job page on the refrigerator, and the kids could check what was listed and how much the job paid. Most of the time, I have them read books and give me an executive summary. Or do research. I’ve had the Wolvog erase extraneous code for me. I pay well. Their friends often ask if I have work for them. I don’t, but it’s interesting to see how kids want to work when the work is interesting.

  3. grrlpup Says:

    My dad formatted his quizzes so the multiple-choice answer column was on the right margin. I got to lay out all the papers on a table so the names and answer columns were visible and grading would be easy, but I wasn’t allowed to actually grade them. :D

    His department also put out a humorous zine every year, and I got to collate and staple. I loved it. He paid me a dollar or two.

    My mom’s boss (prestigious microbiology prof) let his kids work in the lab over the summer in high school, but I never got an offer like that, so I worked fast food once I was old enough for a proper job.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I never even got to collate and staple for my mom (though that was part of my job with the math department in high school for 3 years).

    • Rosa Says:

      at my temp job last fall, I finally realized that not everyone grew up playing with a date-stamper and an adding machine (which were actually for playing with) and collating packets for fun (which was at least partly actual work.)

  4. monsterzero Says:

    My mom ran a daycare out of our house when I was a kid, and I would frequently be drafted to keep an eye on the (younger) others when my mom had to change a diaper or otherwise focus on something. I never got paid and actually never really thought about the possibility until just now.

  5. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I entered and itemized all my parents deductions (mostly business expenses). I dont think I got paid but maybe I did.
    $7.50 seems like a lot for a 6th grader!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is, but I pay my RAs much more than that! (In theory, zie will be able to replace the new kindle zie cracked couple months after getting it for Christmas… at $2/week it was going to take a long time with just hir allowance.)

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I did my parents’ accounting when I was little, and then I became their cashier at their business when I was … 8? I cashiered for several years for them. I never got paid for the work, but I didn’t expect it. I will teach JuggerBaby to do work as well as housework. Ze is already responsible for basic laundry prep and cleaning up zir own spills, we’ll see how this translates to possible paying work.

  7. Calee Says:

    My kids will be working for me all summer. We’re spending 9 weeks in Ireland and will be using them to help create content for our existing publishing business. The kids will both be taking photos as well as shooting, appearing in, and learning to edit video and voiceover. My 10-year-old is old enough to write early readers based on sight word lists and she’ll be taking the accompanying photographs and learning with her dad how to lay them out in InDesign.

  8. J Liedl Says:

    In high school, my sister and I both earned extra money typing up my dad’s engineering consulting reports. I’ve also employed our elder daughter to go through my files in my office and shred all the old student work as well as reorganize all of my class notes. That was a month of administrativia I didn’t mind off-loading onto her!

  9. Steph Says:

    My dad was a high school teacher, and dept head while I was a teenager, and I did a variety of tasks for him over the years (including a few I think were illegal for me to help with). He also painted houses in the summer and sold Christmas trees in December, and I worked for him sometimes in those contexts too. I usually got $10-20 an hour (except selling Christmas trees was ~minimum wage + tips), but he would also hire his current/former students and pay them similarly.

    I very rarely graded, interestingly enough, though I know he had former students who would grade for him. I’m not sure why I didn’t get to.

  10. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    My son wrote the PteroDAQ data-acquisition system that I use in my applied electronics course. I did not pay him for that (though I did give him homeschool course credit for the part he wrote while in high school). The system is available as open source code at

    I’ve done some free consulting for his startup company—we generally help each other out on interesting projects. Until he is out of college and living on his own, I expect that we’ll be subsidizing him with college tuition, housing, funds for food, and an allowance, without expectation of specific work in return. He is not highly motivated by money, so paying him to do something would not have increased his willingness to do it (and may have decreased it by making it a job, rather than a hobby).

  11. Leah Says:

    I “worked” for my dad — a minister — as a kid and got paid sometimes. Usually in candy/soda on the way home but sometimes in small amounts of cash. Mostly, it’s what we did during the summers when we went to work with our dad. We folded and stapled bulletins/newsletters, stuffed envelopes (and licked and stamped), etc. We also did janitorial work in the church sometimes. As I got older, I did some computer stuff, like making flyers and such. I would also answer phones, and I am always surprised at people who have no idea how to properly answer a phone for a business. Pro tip: just “hello” is never enough.

    I already put our toddler to “work” doing things in my classroom, tho she’s not super helpful yet, but it allows me to do things like prep labs on the weekend. She loves to water my plants with a graduated cylinder, and she is getting good at feeding the fish. I anticipate my kids doing more as they age in terms of cleaning glassware, prepping or even piloting labs.

  12. Shannon Says:

    Just paid my kids yesterday to do some grunt work in getting paper surveys ready to go. Totally old school – who does paper surveys any more? We do as that was the only way to easily get at the population we needed. And also not going to give them any marketable skills. But man – it sure did help me get through some work that I never would have managed on my own as hubby/co-author is out of town, and we needed the survey ready today! I wonder what they’d say in response to this conversation.

  13. Monica Says:

    At home, I pay the kids for jobs that I’d outsource otherwise (yard work). One is a saver, one’s a spender, both are highly motivated by money. When I bring them to work with me, I give them real work (stuff an undergrad student assistant would do), but all they get out of it is a free lunch, marketable skills, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

  14. chacha1 Says:

    We had plenty of chores growing up, but didn’t get paid for anything till I went to work for my dad at his brokerage (teenage file clerk). We got an allowance and I think our chore compliance was a factor, but still it’s not like we got paid by the hour. ;-)

  15. Donna Freedman Says:

    When I was 10 years old my mom brought home a giant old typewriter from work (bought it for a song because they were bringing in newer models). She taught us all to type the way she’d learned in high school: keyboard memorization, pages and pages of finger exercises, and even a typing test. Since she wouldn’t let us “play” with the thing until we could use it, we learned.

    When I was 12, my dad was working on a master’s degree in special education. He got a grant to create lesson plans and was allowed to hire a typist. Guess who he hired? Me, of course, because my older sisters were spending the summer as full-time babysitters.

    When my brother was about 11 years old he helped our dad and grandfather build a house so my grandfather could sell it. That summer both my sisters were full-time-sitting and our parents were working, so every day I cleaned the house (my mom was a clean freak), did the laundry and made sure supper was ready.

    When I was around 14 years old, my family had a produce stand two summers in a row. My brother and I ran it because our parents worked, one sister had a baby and moved out and the other sister had a full-time summer job. It was hot, hot, hot out there — the produce had shade, but we didn’t.

    Also right around then, or maybe a year later, my dad took a once-a-month gig recording all the tickets written up by the township police. That is to say, I went with him and typed them up as he read them to me. (Our absolute favorite was a ticket given to a guy named George Peed. When I’d gotten done laughing at his name, Dad hit me with the guy’s infraction: “Failure to maintain control.” Hahahahahahahahahahaha….)

    He bought a small piece of land (right where we’d had the produce stand, in fact) and started planting 1,000 Christmas trees every year. We were expected to help with the planting, which actually took only a few hours if we all worked at it.

    We weren’t paid for any of this, except for when my dad had that grant. Believe me, I would rather have done lots of things other than sit out in hot-and-humid South Jersey weather at the produce stand. But saying “no” wasn’t an option. We understood that this was bringing in extra money for the family, and that’s what family members do: Pull together for the good of the group.

    If I’d had a small business that my daughter could have helped with, I’d have expected her to do so. But I’d probably have paid at least a token amount, to let her learn the connection between work and reward.

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