Great news — kids can work again! The Legislature recognized that kids should develop work skills. Well, not all kids, and not in all places. In fact, some of the restrictions in the new law are ridiculous.

The new law will allow 14- and 15-year olds to work in movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks, and some parts of hotels and bakeries. But in bakeries, for example, they can work the cash register, but only if it is not in the same room where they do the baking.

Really? Do they not realize that kids go into the kitchens in their homes?

The new law still prohibits kids from operating food slicers, mixers, pressure cookers, or other “hazardous equipment.” I guess Linda and I were horrible parents. Each of our kids prepared one dinner for the family each week, and yes, they used all that dangerous equipment.

And just to complicate this new opportunity, school superintendents must approve of the kid’s job. And then the form must go to the Department of Labor, which is authorized to create new rules governing working kids and to revoke their work permits. So much for parental authority.

I am so happy that these foolish restrictions were not in place when I was growing up. By the age of 12, I had three jobs: growing and selling my 4-H vegetables, mowing lawns (yikes, aren’t lawn mowers dangerous?), and working in my dad’s store.

One year they let me bake the peanuts and cashews. Holy cow, that must have been dangerous.

As a teenager, I worked one summer in the local woolen mill, where one of my jobs was to mix the chemicals they used to treat the woolen cloth. Now, that must have been dangerous. Lucky I survived, I guess. I also moved rolls of cloth around in a front-end loader. Lucky I didn’t kill someone.

Working at a young age gave me a strong work ethic that has lasted throughout my life. I feel sorry for kids today who don’t have those job opportunities. They are very important learning opportunities.

A friend who read a recent column of mine relating my work as a kid, shared his story with me. Here is some of it:

“Thanks for once again reminding us of what it was like growing up in Winthrop years ago. I experienced the same things growing up in Gardiner. We were quite poor, six kids, no running hot water, a five-gallon pail in the back (unheated) room that I had to carry out and dump each day, but as my father would say, there were a lot of people much worse off than we were and we would share vegetables from our garden and fish we caught with them.

“There were four dairy farms within walking distance so one could find work haying, milking, or other jobs to make a few bucks. There was one chicken broiler barn near the house where I could clean the chicken poop out between one batch going to market and the new batch coming in. I picked green and yellow string beans each summer with other kids. We were bused to fields in New Sharon and Bowdoinham and the beans were sent to canneries. We raked blueberries and picked strawberries.

“I would go out at night with a flashlight and pick up night crawlers to sell on the side of the road and use for fishing along Cobbossee stream. I worked at Gardiner Shoe one summer and at the A&P in Augusta one year. People today think allowing kids to do these things is simply exposing them to dead-end jobs or it is somehow child slavery. When I was bagging groceries at the A&P, I didn’t think I would be doing it the rest of my life — I was looking at the pictures on the wall and wondering what I would have to do to have my picture where the store manager’s was.

“Looking back, it was the best time to grow up. However, it is frustrating to try to explain it to those who did not experience it. Their quick response is, those were the old days, times have changed, etc.

“Of course change happens and I am thankful for the improvements. But they miss the point that what made that time special was the values people lived with.”

Yes, those were the good old days, especially for kids.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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