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Employment and work safety among 12 to 14 year olds: listening to parents Usher, Amelia M; Breslin, Curtis; MacEachen, Ellen; Koehoorn, Mieke; Laberge, Marie; Laberge, Luc; Ledoux, Élise; Wong, Imelda Oct 1, 2014

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RESEARCH ARTICLEEmployment and work sareeIn North America, a surprising number of 12 to 14 yearolds work for pay outside their homes [1-4]. A school-reported having worked for pay during the school year,although this included doing small chores at home forUsher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021dle school students in Texas indicate that close to 56%ON, CanadaFull list of author information is available at the end of the articlebased survey in Ontario found that just over half of 12to 14 year olds in 2003 reported working for pay at somepoint during the school year [4]. British Columbia hadsomewhat lower rates, with 41.5% of 12 to 14 year oldsworking for pay during the school year [4]. A recentallowance as paid work, a type of work that other sur-veys tend to exclude [5]. Boys in Ontario and BritishColumbia tended to hold jobs in more formal worksettings, which were defined as paid work in food servicesettings, retail stores, offices, or construction, while girlswere more likely to work odd jobs such as babysitting[4]. In the United States (US), similar rates of paid workamong young adolescents are reported. Surveys of mid-* Correspondence: cbreslin@iwh.on.ca1Institute for Work and Health, 481 University Avenue, Suite 800, Toronto,Background: Survey research indicates that a surprising number of 12 to 14 year olds in North America engage insome form of paid work, and work-related injuries for this age group are reported at rates similar to older teens.Parents exhibit significant involvement in many aspects of their teens’ work and may influence perceptions of worksafety, yet few studies have explored this phenomenon from a qualitative perspective with parents of working12 to 14 year olds.Methods: This paper focuses on parental perceptions and understandings of work safety based on focus groupsconducted with urban Canadian parents of young teens who work for pay. Parents discussed the types of job heldby their 12 to 14 year olds, the perceived costs and benefits to working at this age, and their understanding of riskand supervision on the job. A grounded theory approach was used to thematically analyze the focus grouptranscripts.Results: Parents in this study held favourable attitudes towards their 12 to 14 year olds’ working. Parents linkedpro-social moral values and skills such as responsibility, work ethic, time management, and financial literacy withtheir young teen’s employment experience. Risks and drawbacks were generally downplayed or discounted.Perceptions of workplace safety were mitigated by themes of trust, familiarity, sense of being in control and havingdiscretion over their 12 to 14 year olds’ work situation. Further, parental supervision and monitoring fell along acontinuum, from full parental responsibility for monitoring to complete trust and delegation of supervision to theworkplace.Conclusions: The findings suggest that positive parental attitudes towards working overshadow occupationalhealth and safety concerns. Parents may discount potential hazards based on the presence of certain mitigatingfactors.Keywords: Canada, Parents, Odd jobs, Employment, Young adolescents, Occupational health, Job safety, Workhazard, Focus groupBackground survey in Québec found that 47.9% of 12 to 14 year oldsyear olds: listening to paAmelia M Usher1, Curtis Breslin1*, Ellen MacEachen2, MiekÉlise Ledoux6 and Imelda Wong1Abstract© 2014 Usher et al.; licensee BioMed Central LCommons Attribution License (http://creativecreproduction in any medium, provided the orDedication waiver (http://creativecommons.orunless otherwise stated.Open Accessfety among 12 to 14ntsKoehoorn3, Marie Laberge4, Luc Laberge5,td. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creativeommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andiginal work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domaing/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article,Usher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 2 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021of sixth through eighth graders report working for pay[6]. Results of a survey in Massachusetts indicated that 1in 4 middle school students reported working for pay inthe last year, however this survey excluded babysittingand yard work [2].Not only do many young adolescents work, they alsoperform a wide diversity of job tasks. A recent survey inAlberta, Canada of households with a 9 to 14 year oldworking for pay indicated that, although the majoritywere employed in babysitting and newspaper/flyer deliv-ery, these youth also reported a range of other jobs suchas janitorial, restaurant, and agricultural work [7]. Whilethe work that young adolescents perform is largely classi-fied as unskilled, Entwisle and colleagues [1] noted anec-dotally that even 13 year olds in their urban US samplewere asked to do some rather complex tasks such ascarpentry, roofing, and plumbing.More troubling is the increased potential for work-place injuries as younger teens begin working for pay. Ina Québec sample, 11.3% of working 12 to 14 year oldsreported some kind of work-related injury in the past 24months [5], and studies in Ontario and British Columbiareported that 6.0% and 3.5% of 12 to 14 year oldsrespectively sought medical attention for a work injury[4]. It is notable that these work injury rates for 12 to 14year olds are comparable to injury rates observed among15 to 19 year old workers [8,9]. In the last 10 years, thehigh young worker (i.e., 15 to 24 years of age) injuryrates have been declining, and in Ontario and a fewother jurisdictions have converged with adult workinjury rates [10]. Nevertheless, some subgroups of youth(e.g., those who drop out of high school) remain atelevated risk [11]. In terms of what types of jobs might bemost hazardous to young workers, a study of emergencydepartment records for several Canadian hospitals showedthat 82% of 10 to 13 year olds needing treatment for awork-related injury held a service or clerical job, withanother 12% performing some kind of manual labour suchas farming and construction [12]. Common work-relatedinjuries sustained by youth under the age of 17 were upperextremity injuries, such as wounds to the hands and fin-gers, and animal bites [12]. This same study reported thattwo out of five work-related injuries presented at an emer-gency department during the summer, suggesting seasonalvariation in work injuries as young adolescents may bemore likely to be employed during the summer months.Work is one of the primary ways that youth assert au-tonomy and demonstrate competence outside school andhome [13]. Among older adolescents, some studies suggestthat engaging in paid employment while still in school canhave positive developmental implications for self-esteem,autonomy, skills acquisition, and psychosocial develop-ment [14-16]. Research has also identified disadvantages ofpaid work among high school students such as increasedlikelihood of alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, andlower academic grades [17-19]. However, the impact ofwork among high school students appears to be influencedby contextual factors such as the families’ socioeconomicposition, academic interest of the student, and the qualityof work [20,15]. Consequently, it is important to examinefurther the costs and benefits of work for 12 to 14 yearolds, and the contextual factors that determine these costsand benefits.Research with older teenagers suggests that manyparents are quite involved in aspects of their teen’s workin ways that can influence the youth’s job selection andsafety at work. For example, in a survey of parents of 14to 18 year old workers in the US [21], almost 90%reported having helped their teen identify job opportun-ities and 46% had discussed a safety issue at their workwith their teen. Many US parents believe that parentsshould determine the work their teen can do (69%) [22].At the same time, they are also supportive of govern-ment regulations limiting the number of hours teenagerscan work and laws prohibiting them from performingdangerous tasks. Despite this degree of parental involve-ment, there is evidence that parents lack specific know-ledge of labour restrictions for young workers [23]. Animportant knowledge gap in the Canadian context isparents’ views of their 12 to 14 year old working and theparents’ understandings of their role regarding worksafety for their daughter or son.With regard to the legislative context, the InternationalLabour Organization’s minimum age conventions statethat member countries (which include Canada and theUS) should prohibit paid work for youth under 14 years ofage, although light work at age 13 that does not hinderschool participation may also be permitted [24]. Legisla-tion in Canada regarding minimum age restrictions foremployment varies from province to province. Forexample, Ontario does not have a universal minimum agedesignation; rather age restrictions are industry-specific[25]. Fourteen year olds are allowed to work in industrialestablishments such as offices, stores, arenas, and restaur-ant serving areas. The minimum age to work in a factory(which includes manufacturing, restaurant kitchens, auto-motive garages, warehouses, and food preparation) is 15years old. Working in construction or logging operationsis permitted starting at 16 years of age, while undergroundmines and window cleaning is permitted only for indi-viduals aged 18 years and older. By comparison, the USFederal Fair Labor Standards Act has specific regula-tions prohibiting youth 17 years old or younger fromoperating certain equipment and machines identified ashazardous. In some States, these federal regulations aresupplemented with additional restrictions on the hoursyouth can work and what work tasks they are allowed toperform [18].safety. Participants signed an informed consent form anda confidentiality agreement prior to the study and receivedan $80 incentive after completion of the focus groups.A purposive sampling strategy was used such that par-ticipants would reflect a range of socio-economic and eth-nic backgrounds (Table 1), as well as diversity of jobs heldby their 12 to 14 year old children. Parents (n = 34) rangedin age from 28 to 59 years (mean = 41.9 years, sd = 7.9years). Characteristics including age, gender, and job typeof the 12 to 14 years olds (n = 36) discussed by participantsare displayed in Table 2. The most commonly held jobswere newspaper/flyer delivery, babysitting, and yard work,followed by food sales and tutoring. The majority of par-ents indicated that their 12 to 14 year old worked duringthe school year (n = 30). Some parents indicated duringthe focus group discussions that their 12 to 14 year oldhad held more than one type of job in the past year, how-ever this information was not directly asked of all parentsduring the recruitment process.Data collectionA total of four focus groups consisting of eight to tenpeople per group were conducted. These took place inUsher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 3 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021Less attention has been given to the informal jobsectors in which young adolescents are most commonlyemployed, such as babysitting and yard work [6,3].These informal jobs are often not specifically addressedin occupational health and safety regulations, leaving thepossibility open that some 12 to 14 year olds could beconsidered self-employed. A common test for whethersomeone is considered an employee or self-employedincludes criteria related to degree of control over worktasks and ownership of equipment used to carry out thework [26]. Whether or not a youth is considered self-employed would have important implications for who isresponsible for the occupational health and safety of a12 to 14 year old worker.Current studyThere is a need to characterize the nature of work andoccupational safety among 12 to 14 year olds givenemployment is relatively common in this age group andmay lead to work injuries at about the same rate as olderteens. As parents play a key role in work-related deci-sions at this age, it is particularly useful to understandtheir perspective on these issues. Based on the gapsidentified in the literature, this study examines parentperceptions and understandings related to their 12 to 14year olds’ work. More particularly, the study describesparent perceptions of cost and benefits, work safety, andsupervision associated with their young teen’s work.MethodsStudy designIn keeping with the exploratory nature of the study, aqualitative research design was selected. Four focusgroups were conducted in spring of 2013 with parents(n = 34) living in a large urban area in Ontario, Canada.Focus groups were adopted as the preferred method ofeliciting perceptions and understandings in this study, asthey provide the opportunity to capture a wide range ofopinions and experiences while encouraging interactionbetween participants [27,28].Recruitment and sampleRecruitment was undertaken by a market researchcompany with established focus group facilities and alarge consumer database of Canadian households. Thisfirm has been used in a previous study on perceptions ofworkplace injury among young workers [29]. A recruit-ment screener was used to determine eligibility, whichwas limited to English-speaking parents with a child be-tween the ages of 12 and 14 who worked for pay in thelast 12 months. Participants were excluded if they hadparticipated in a focus group within the past six months,worked for a media or public relations firm, or workedfor an organization involved in workplace health andthe evenings over two days and lasted approximately 90minutes each. The discussion guide contained a series ofopen-ended questions designed to elicit attitudes to-wards the benefits and drawbacks of their child working(e.g. “what are the good things that have come out ofTable 1 Characteristics of parent sample (n = 34)Characteristic n (%)GenderMale 13 (38.2)Female 21 (61.8)EthnicityCaucasian 18 (52.9)Black 9 (26.5)Asian 3 (8.8)South Asian 2 (5.9)Arabic 2 (5.9)Education LevelHigh School 2 (5.9)Some College 2 (5.9)College 18 (52.9)University 12 (35.3)Household Income< $45,000 6 (17.6)$45,000 – $60,000 8 (23.5)$60,001 – $95,000 12 (35.3)>$95,000 8 (23.5)Usher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 4 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021Table 2 Parents’ report of the age, gender, and types ofjobs held by their 12 to 14 year olds (n = 36)Male(n = 26)Female(n = 10)Total(n = 36)Age12 years 7 4 1113 years 9 5 1414 years 10 1 11Type of jobNewspaper/Flyer delivery 8 2 10Babysitting 4 4 8Yard work 6 1 7Food sales 1 1 2Tutoring 2 – 2Fast food outlet 1 – 1Administration 1 – 1Marina attendant 1 – 1your son or daughter working? What are the not so goodthings?”), as well as parental perceptions of work safetyand supervision (e.g. “what is your understanding of thesupervision that your son or daughter receives while atwork?”). Field notes were taken by the research associateand principal investigator. These notes were used torecord seating arrangements, group dynamics, emergingissues for analysis, and salient contextual factors.Focus groups were video recorded and transcribed inreal-time by a transcriptionist. Transcripts were verifiedfor accuracy against the video recordings by the researchassociate. Transcripts were cleaned of identifying informa-tion and participants’ names were changed to preserveconfidentiality. Data was stored on a secure networkwhere access was restricted to the research team. Ethicalapproval for this study was obtained from the Universityof Toronto’s Office of Research Ethics.AnalysisA modified grounded theory approach was used to analyzethe focus group transcripts [30]. This type of analysis hasConvenience store 1 – 1Dance instructor – 1 1Lifeguard – 1 1Camp counselor 1 – 1Social Services 1 – 1Racetrack 1 – 1Hair salon – 1 1Painting 1 – 1Dog walking 1 – 1Cleaning 1 – 1Note. Totals may exceed 36 as some 12 to 14 year olds were reported ashaving more than one type of job.four key steps: immersion in the data, coding, creation ofcategories, and explanation and interpretation of categor-ies [31]. Immersion involves observing the groups andre-reading the transcripts. Coding refers to the sorting andtagging of units of meaning that can be added and rede-fined. Creation of categories requires examining ways tolink codes in a systematic and coherent way. Groundedtheory analysis techniques involve constant comparisonand negative case analysis, which means continually asses-sing new text from the transcripts against understandingsof what the analyst has learned from previous transcripts.Negative cases are those that do not ‘fit’ with trends in thefindings. Negative cases were identified and further ex-plored in subsequent data gathering and analysis in orderto understand departures from the trend. These proce-dures of qualitative analysis ensure that the interpretationsare supported by the data and help provide sufficientcontext for readers to make informed judgments as totheir applicability to other groups and circumstances [32].After the transcripts were checked for accuracy, theywere subject to an initial round of coding using a set ofthematic codes developed by the research team based onfield notes and initial topics of interest. Themes captur-ing parents’ attitudes and perceptions towards their 12to 14 year olds’ work were developed in an iterative fash-ion through a process of descriptive coding, reflectingback to the text, consultations with the research team,and combining codes into analytical themes. Quality andrigour of analysis was established through the followingstrategies: a) involving the research advisory team in thepreparation of the discussion guide, b) taking detailedfield notes during the focus groups, c) verifying accuracyof the transcriptions against original video recordings, d)undertaking multiple reviews of the coded transcripts byprincipal investigator and research associate in order toprovide feedback on preliminary codes, and e) solicitingfeedback from the research advisory team on the finalset of themes generated through data analysis. Codingwas conducted using Nvivo 10 software [33], a programthat aids researchers in qualitative analysis.ResultsKey themes emerged regarding how parents understoodthe hazards their 12 to 14 year olds encountered on thejob, and how the perceived benefits of working served toovershadow job risks. To place these key themes in con-text, the many benefits and relatively few drawbacks toworking identified by parents, as well as some commonsafety concerns, are described below.Benefits and drawbacks to workingParents identified numerous benefits resulting from their12 to 14 year old working for pay. Overall attitudes werepositive, regardless of parent gender or type of job heldUsher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 5 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021foster in their young teens, as described by this mother:Just cause it teaches them so much. The value ofworking hard for your money, and making your ownmoney, and being responsible, and having to go outthere and do it when you don’t necessarily want toand you want to just sit around and play video gamesbecause he’s had a hard day at school. (Mother of 12year old son, newspaper/flyer delivery).Certain drawbacks were also acknowledged such asneglecting school work and extra-curricular activities,fatigue, and stress. Concerns over wasteful spending, dis-respectful behaviour toward parents (e.g. being mouthyor cocky), and not pursuing higher education were iden-tified as well. Although parents were able to identifythese drawbacks when probed, they did not featureprominently in the focus group discussions. The per-ceived benefits to working outnumbered and outweighedany identified downsides.Identified safety risksBy far the most common concern for parents was therisks of kidnapping and assault, as exemplified by thesetwo parents:When your child is going door-to-door, any of thosedoors can be a bad door. (Father of 12 year old son,social services).Just to add that, what if my daughter is babysittingand somebody comes to the door and she answers andgod forbid something should happen? That is thesafety issue I am talking about. (Mother of 13 year olddaughter, babysitting).This view was particularly prominent among parentswhose young teens worked in newspaper delivery andbabysitting, which comprised a significant proportion ofour sample. Interestingly, parents believed kidnappingand assault to be risks not only while their young teensby their 12 to 14 year old, and benefits were seen to out-weigh any reservations held with respect to their youngteens working. Parents expressed a strong desire fortheir children to learn general life skills such as responsi-bility, financial literacy, and time management and sawyouth employment as a means to achieving these goals.Belief that working at this age would become a gatewayto further employment opportunities down the road wasalso prominently discussed. These benefits seemed toreflect pro-social values that parents associated withengaging in paid work and which they actively wanted towere at work, but also during transit to and from work,regardless of the type of job. This was consistent acrossthe risks to their young teens at the hands of strangers.Although parents were not directly asked whether theirchild sustained an injury, all groups were asked whetherthey had concerns about their child’s work safety, whichprovided an opportunity to mention any prevous injur-ies. There were three injuries reported across the fourfocus groups: a bite, a burn, and a laceration.Although concerns about kidnapping and assault werediscussed at length when probed, parents generally feltthat their 12-14 year olds were safe at work. A numberof themes emerged illustrating that concerns aboutoccupational health and safety risks were overshadowed,and likely discounted, by parents. These themes centeredprimarily on familiarity, trust, and an overarching senseof being in control of their 12 to 14 year olds’ worksituation.Familiarity and trustParents frequently expressed an implicit trust in their 12 to14 year olds’ workplace or employer. Trust was often estab-lished through pre-existing personal relationships withneighbours or family members, who frequently served asemployers, although trust was fostered in other ways aswell. Familiarity with the job also stemmed from priorexperience with similar jobs held by their older children orparents having held the same job in their own youth.In my case I knew the people involved that he wasgoing to be working with, so the trust factor in terms ofgetting paid or not being asked to do more than isreasonable was ok. Just knowing the people involvedwas a lot of research in itself taken care of. (Father of12 year old son, dog walking and yard work)I used to do the paper route when I was younger too.And I go along with them and my mom used to comealong with me. So I knew what it was because I had afeel for it. (Mother of 12 year old daughter, newspaperdelivery)For parents whose 12 to 14 year old did not work inan environment that was already known, additional stepswere taken so as to become familiar and establish trust.focus groups even though parents were specifically askedabout safety at work, as opposed to safety in general.This suggests that parents see an overlap of the bound-aries between safety concerns while at work and those inthe broader environment for their young teens. It isnoted that, when prompted, parents were able to identifysome more common injury risks such as cuts, burns, orinjuries sustained while operating equipment. However,these discussions were far outweighed by concerns aboutExamples of this included speaking to employers aboutonsite safety procedures and workload, or personallyUsher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 6 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021form of extra-curricular activity that is voluntary. Thiscontributes to the perception that working was at theparents’ discretion and that parents were opting in tothe activity. The discretionary nature of working for payappears to contribute to an overall sense of confidencein workplace safety and parental perception of controlover occupational hazards.Being in controlMany parents stated that they felt in control of theiryoung teen’s work situation and that they were takingpersonal responsibility for their son’s or daughter’s safetywhile on the job. It would seem that the perception ofmeeting the individuals who hired their children for baby-sitting and other odd jobs. This was particularly evidentfor informal work settings, where some parents stated thatthey would personally vet each babysitting job or dogwalking client taken by their 12 to 14 year old.I talked to the manager before he started work andmade sure of that. I wanted to know he was doing thetraining, how was the training happening. Theyshowed me the manuals, the walk-throughs, I wasassured that the first week he did go through training.(Father of 14 year old son, fast food outlet)I think for babysitting, sometimes people just say “canyour daughter babysit?” Ok, but who are you? I wantto know everything […]. I think that the parents needto be more open. If I want to drop her off and comeupstairs, I should be able to come upstairs with herand scope out the place. (Mother of 12 year olddaughter, babysitter)Discretionary nature of workParents expressed conditional support for their 12 to 14year old working in terms of being able to balance theirother responsibilities. As noted by one father of a 13year old son, “it was a precondition to maintain goodgrades”. Others echoed these sentiments, suggesting thatwork was perceived as a privilege that could be with-drawn or renegotiated by the parent at any time.Most of the work for my son is in the summer, butduring the year he babysits or does yard work. So hecan’t take those on unless his homework is done. Thereis a lot of negotiation. (Mother of 14 year old son,camp counsellor)The decision to engage in paid work was parent-initiated in some cases and child-initiated in others. Ineither case, working for pay can be seen as an alternativebeing in control mitigated any serious concerns aboutworkplace safety and may explain why some parentstheir young teens while unsupervised, such as during transitbetween home, work, and school, or while engaging in un-restricted leisure activities. In fact, the idea of 12 to 14 yearolds having too much unrestricted free time emerged as agreat concern for parents. Many parents noted that theiryoung teen’s workplace was a known, supervised environ-ment, thus implying safety. As stated by one mother of a 14year old son, working “helps to keep them out of troubleversus hanging out at the mall”. The notion that work couldserve as a form of supervision in addition to school or otherextracurricular activities was an underlying theme through-out the discussions. For some parents, it would appear thatwork took on a custodial function. Having their youngexpressed a complete lack of safety concerns. Related tothe feeling of being in control, most parents stated thatthey would not have allowed their child to work if theythought the job was dangerous. This theme was wellarticulated by these two mothers:I don’t have any concerns. No. It’s a controlledenvironment, I feel like I’m in control of the situationbecause I am well aware of what’s happening and whoit is happening with. So to me there are only positives.There are absolutely no negatives. (Mother of 13 yearold daughter, dance instructor).I don’t think I would let my son have a job if I believedthere was too much risk involved. (Mother of 14 yearold son, ice cream shop).The term control is used in part to reflect the languageof the parents, but also to convey an overall sense ofpersonal responsibility and ownership. Parents were notin a position to dictate the specific day-to-day tasks en-countered by their young teens on the job, and thereforecontrol in this case does not refer to micro-level over-sight of the workplace. Rather, the theme of being incontrol related to a more strategic sense of having confi-dence in their 12 to 14 year olds’ wellbeing at work andthe perception of responsibility for addressing any safetyconcerns associated with the job. No discernible the-matic differences emerged according to job type withrespect to an overarching sense of parental control;however, the level of formality inherent to their 12 to 14year olds’ jobs was not explored in any significant depth.Custodial function of paid workThe presence of the aforementioned themes of familiarity,trust, discretionary authority, and perception of controlappeared to overshadow any serious safety concerns whiletheir young teens were at work. In contrast, parentsexpressed considerable concern about the potential risks toteens occupied in a supervised environment seemed toprovide additional sense of security and safety.Usher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 7 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021When this job came about a year and a half ago,I hesitated at first. But then when I did all myhomework and what not, it was a pretty good idea.She is never by herself, she’s got company, she can’t bebored. If anything happens I am a phone call away.(Mother of 13 year old daughter, yard work & snowshoveling)Not all parents espoused the custodial nature of part-time employment for their young teens, however. Someparents discussed actively monitoring their 12 to 14 yearold on the job by providing cell phones for maintainingregular contact while babysitting or accompanying themon their newspaper route, such as described by thismother:My son never goes alone. It is always myself, his dad,his brother accompanies him. I would never let him goalone. (Mother of 13 year old son, newspaper delivery)Parental supervisory styles differed in response to therange of jobs held by these young teens. Parents seemedto adopt different monitoring behaviours depending onthe level of formality inherent to their child’s job. Incontrast to proxy-supervision behaviours such as thoseexemplified by the mother in the above quotation as wellas the provision of cell phones, other parents entrustedall workplace supervision to their 12 to 14 year old’semployer.The owner of the store is always there in my case.There is supervision all the time. He is told what hehas to do. Someone is there all the time. (Father of 13year old son, convenience store)This suggests that parents are actively making assess-ments about the degree of supervision necessary in their12 to 14 year old’s job, and then delegating responsibilityaccordingly. Regardless of whether this was a function ofimplicit trust or the sense of control over workplace safety,these themes served to reinforce the downplaying of occu-pational safety concerns in favour of the perceived benefitsof part-time employment as a young teen.DiscussionThis study focused on the perceptions and understand-ings of parents of working 12 to 14 year olds, an agegroup where many work for pay, but has received littleattention in the workplace safety literature. Our findingssuggest that parents of 12 to 14 year olds perceive manybenefits to working at this age despite the potential risksassociated with their young teens’ jobs. Parental feelingsof responsibility for young teen safety and being in con-trol of the work situation appear to contribute to a riskdiscounting process. Previous research with 12 to 14 yearold workers has been primarily descriptive in nature. Bycontrast, this qualitative study provides explanatory insightinto parental understandings and perceptions.The resulting themes that emerged from this qualita-tive analysis give rise to two key questions: 1) why didparents in this study focus on the specific safety con-cerns of kidnapping and assault over and above othermore probable work-related hazards?, and 2) why didparents of babysitters and newspaper deliverers in par-ticular assume so much responsibility for their youngteens’ occupational health and safety needs?The way in which parents overemphasized certain risks,when probed, to the exclusion of others can be understoodas a process of risk discounting. A useful theory in whichto situate these findings can be found in Sandman’s [34]hazard and outrage risk perception model. This modelproposes that the perception of risk is the product of anindividual’s appraisal of a risky event and the strength oftheir response to that event, termed as outrage. Whereashazard appraisal is a technical assessment of risk, outrageconsists of the emotional and behavioural responses to riskand is thus socially constructed [35]. Sandman and col-leagues have identified over 15 factors that moderate howrisk is perceived [36,34]. The qualitative themes emergingfrom this study suggest that parents discounted risk in atleast six ways (i.e. familiarity, knowability and understand-ing, trust, control, voluntariness, and benefits), all of whichare in parallel to the factors comprising Sandman’s [34]risk perception model.Parents expressed a level of familiarity with their 12to 14 year old’s workplace. The risk perception modelstates that risks stemming from activities that are famil-iar will be judged as more acceptable [36]. Fear of ab-duction notwithstanding, this may account for the lackof concern over risks of physical injury that may be in-curred on paper routes, in food services, or working in afamily business, for example. Further, it may explain whyparents expressed comfort with their sons and daughtersperforming odd jobs such as cleaning, yard work, andbabysitting because the tasks associated with these jobswould be familiar to parents in the context of dailyhousehold maintenance and caretaking. In contrast, par-ents who were not already familiar with the job theiryoung teen currently held took the initiative to gaininformation about the job. In this sense, the jobs held by12 to 14 year olds were perceived as knowable andunderstandable. Well-understood risks, or those thatcan be easily explained, will be perceived as less harmfulthan those that are poorly understood [36]. Additionally,the heightened vigilance associated with potential ab-duction or assault is explained by the fact that theseoccurrences are unknowable. Whereas safety hazards inthe workplace can be identified and mitigated, childUsher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 8 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021abduction or assault at the hands of strangers can neverbe truly foreseen. Many parents acknowledged that theirfear of strangers permeated much of their parenting andwas not limited to on-the-job concerns.Implicit trust in employers and workplaces was amajor theme throughout the focus groups. Activities as-sociated with individuals or organizations deemed trust-worthy will be perceived as less risky [36,34]. As such,employers or settings deemed as trustworthy will bemore readily acceptable to parents. Parents also repeat-edly stated that they were firmly in control of their 12 to14 year olds’ work situation. The risk perception modelproposes that activities perceived to be under control ofthe individual will be judged as more acceptable [36],whereas activities under the control of others will appearto be of higher risk. In this case, parents downplayedpotential hazards due to the perception of control. In asimilar vein, activities undertaken voluntarily are muchmore likely to be judged as acceptable [36,34]. As parentsfelt that they were allowing, and in many cases encour-aging, their child to work for pay, any risk associated withthe job would likely be downplayed. Finally, activities withclear benefits will generally be perceived to be lower inrisk. Numerous studies have found an inverse relationshipbetween risk and benefit [37]. Even if activities have identi-fiable risks, the presence of additional benefits to the indi-vidual will be viewed as more acceptable overall [36,38]. Itis clear that in this study, benefits were a mitigating factorin parental understanding and concerns over potentialsafety risks associated with their 12 to 14 year olds’ paidwork. The cumulative nature of these factors likely servesto further strengthen parents’ risk discounting of commonjob hazards.In contrast, the parents’ focus on low probability,severe risks (e.g., kidnapping and assault) are consistentwith the cognitive bias called the availability heuristic[39]. The availability heuristic refers to the fact thatjudgments about the perceived likelihood of a futureevent are influenced by how frequently one hears aboutsimilar events. That is, the parents’ nearly exclusive con-cern about these low probability events may be partlyexplained by the fact that the media more often carriesnews stories about children being kidnapped than chil-dren sustaining work injuries performing odd jobs.Given that injury rates for 12 to 14 year old workers arecomparable to those of older youth, it is important thatparents have a more accurate understanding of the risksinvolved with their young teens’ jobs.With respect to why certain parents assumed so muchresponsibility for the occupational health and safety of 12to 14 year olds, we noted many examples of parents en-gaging in proxy supervision and personally implementingsafety measures (e.g. providing cell phones, safety equip-ment, or safety training) throughout the focus groupdiscussions. This was largely a function of the types of jobsheld by 12 to 14 year olds in our sample, particularly thoseengaging in newspaper delivery and odd jobs, which areless likely to constitute a fixed work location or formalwork agreement.The consequences of these unofficial work arrange-ments in no fixed workplace is that the youth wereperceived as being “self-employed.” This status seemed tolead to an ambiguity about what duties and responsibilitiesfor work safety those hiring the 12 to 14 year old wereassuming. Key criteria for determining self-employmentstatus of a worker in Canada and the U.S. includes degreeof control over work tasks and ownership of equipmentused on the job [26]. From the description provided bythe parents in our sample, youth (and by extension theparent) had a substantial degree of control over when and/or where they worked. Most young teens working commonodd jobs could arguably meet criteria for being self-employed or perceive themselves to be self-employed [26].In many odd jobs this issue appears unclear, although wewould hypothesize that a newspaper company would bearmore responsibility than a homeowner in many of thesecases. In any case, inthe absence of clearly defined worksafety duties and responsibilities, it follows that parentswould take on the additional responsibility of monitoringtheir 12 to 14 year old when working. Parents are essen-tially taking on a supervisory role in place of that whichshould be provided by a newspaper company or privatehomeowner.Previous research with parents of older teenagers indi-cates that parents view paid work as an opportunity toteach work ethic, responsibility, and build character, andthat these are skills not otherwise learned in school[40,16]. Indeed, a surprising finding of the current studywas the lack of discussion about the tradeoffs betweentime devoted to paid work and time spent on school-work, particularly given that so many 12 to 14 year oldswere reported as working during the school year. Parentsin this study appeared to support a developmental modelof work/school balance, whereby paid work serves tofurther overall youth development and that the activitiesof work and schooling mutually reinforce each other [14].Finally, the emergence of parental responsibility forsupervision as a theme suggests that parents in this studyunderstood safety to reflect a broader context within theirchildren’s lives. Their young teen’s job may simply beviewed as one aspect of many in their life for whichparents felt ultimately responsible. Again, this reflects thedevelopment stage of 12 to 14 year olds, differentiatingthem from older teenagers.LimitationsThis focus group study was relatively small and includedonly those parents whose 12 to 14 year olds were currently2008, 99:201–205.11. Breslin FC: Educational status and work injury among young people:Usher et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:1021 Page 9 of 10http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1021working for pay. There may have been a selection effect inthat parents with more favourable attitudes toward theiryoung teenagers working may have been more likely toparticipate. Parents may also have sought to presentsocially desirable images of themselves as actively engagedin their children’s lives. The use of a market research com-pany for recruitment may have resulted in a less represen-tative sample than could have been achieved throughrandom digit dialing. This strategy, however, did allow fora broader reach than the more traditional use of recruit-ment flyers posted in newspapers or public spaces. Inaddition, the focus group methodology was purposefullychosen to elicit a diverse range of opinions. As such, ourresults do not reflect the prevalence of different types ofjobs held by 12 to 14 year olds in Ontario, nor thegeneralization of attitudes to all parents, even thoughcommon themes emerged across focus groups. Althoughefforts were taken to recruit a range of socio-economicand ethnic backgrounds, all focus group participantsresided in an urban setting and the jobs held by their 12 to14 year olds were non-agricultural in nature. Resultingthemes therefore may not apply to parents of 12 to 14 yearold farm workers, who would potentially emphasize amuch different set of work-related hazards. Themes ofresponsibility and control, however, may remain relevantto these parents.ConclusionsThese preliminary findings are not enough to providespecific guidance in terms of interventions or policies.Nevertheless, given the overemphasis by parents on raresafety concerns such as abduction, it would be useful tofurther investigate the other hazards more commonlyencountered by 12 to 14 year olds in the workplace, andeffectively communicate these risks to parents. A keyimplication of the apparent self-employed status of thoseworking odd jobs such as news paper delivery is thatpolicy makers and those responsible for child labour en-forcement should clarify who is responsible for occupa-tional health and safety in those work arrangements.The implications for future research include exploringamong parents and the youth themselves more aboutthe contextual factors that lead to risk appraisal and dis-counting of risk. It would also be important to explore theperspectives of employers with regards to understandingsand perceptions of workplace safety for 12 to 14 year olds.Competing interestsThe authors declare that they have no competing interests.Authors’ contributionAMU participated in the study design, conducted the qualitative analysis anddrafted the manuscript. FCB conceived of the study and study design,participated in the qualitative analysis, and drafted sections of themanuscript. EM participated in the study design, participated in thequalitative analysis, and made significant contributions to the manuscript.Refining the targeting of prevention resources. Canadian J Public Health2008, 99:121–124.12. Lipskie T, Breslin FC: A descriptive analysis of Canadian youth treated inemergency departments for work-related injuries. Chronic Diseases Canada2005, 2005(26):1–7.13. Steinberg L, Greenberger E, Garduque L, Ruggiero M: Effects of working onadolescent development. Dev Psychol 1982, 1982(18):385–395.14. Entwisle DR, Alexander KL, Olson LS: Early work histories of urban youth.5. Laberge L, Ledoux E, Auclair J, Gaudreault M: Jeunes du secondaire et ducollégial qui cumulent études et travail : Une enquête sur les conditionsd’exercice du travail et la SST. In Studies and Research Projects Report R-795.Montréal, QC: IRSST; 2014.6. Weller NF, Cooper SP, Tortolero SR, Kelder SH, Hassan S: Work-relatedinjury among South Texas middle school students: Prevalence andpatterns. South Med J 2003, 96(12):1213–1220.7. Barnetson B: Effectiveness of complaint-driven regulation of child labourin Alberta. Canadian J Work Society 2010, 16:9–24.8. Breslin FC, Smith P: Age-related differences in work injuries: Amultivariate, population based study. Am J Ind Med 2005, 48:50–56.9. Ledoux E, Laberge L, Gaudreault M, Thuilier C, Prud’homme P, BourdhouxeM, Perron M, Veillette S: Étudier et travailler en région à 18 ans : quelsrisques de SST ? Une étude exploratoire. In Studies and Research ProjectsReport R-560. Montréal, QC: IRSST; 2008.10. Breslin FC, Smith PM, Moore I: Examining the decline in lost-time claimrates across age groups in Ontario between 1991 and 2007. OccupEnviron Med 2011, 68:813–817.MK participated in the study design and assisted with drafting of themanuscript. ML participated in the study design and assisted with drafting ofthe manuscript. LL participated in the study design and assisted withdrafting of the manuscript. EL participated in the study design and assistedwith drafting of the manuscript. IW participated in the study design andassisted with drafting of the manuscript. All authors read and approved thefinal manuscript.AcknowledgementsWe would to thank Brad Griffin and Kanan Kothari for their assistance infacilitating the focus groups and Carol Runyan for her editorial comments onearlier versions of this manuscript.Author details1Institute for Work and Health, 481 University Avenue, Suite 800, Toronto,ON, Canada. 2School of Public Health and Health Systems, University ofWaterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada. 3School of Population and Public Health,University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. 4School ofRehabilitation, Université de Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada. 5Department ofHealth Sciences, Université de Québec à Chicoutimi, Saguenay, QC, Canada.6L’Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail,Montréal, QC, Canada.Received: 27 May 2014 Accepted: 23 September 2014Published: 1 October 2014References1. Entwisle DR, Alexander KL, Olson LS, Ross K: Paid work in earlyadolescence: Developmental and ethnic patterns. 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J Behav Decis Mak 2000, 13(1):1–17.Submit your next manuscript to BioMed Centraland take full advantage of: • Convenient online submission• Thorough peer review• No space constraints or color figure charges• Immediate publication on acceptance• Inclusion in PubMed, CAS, Scopus and Google Scholar• Research which is freely available for redistribution38. Ferrante P: Risk & crisis communication: Essential skills for today’s SH&Eprofessional. Prof Saf 2010, 55:38–45.39. Tversky A, Kahneman D: Availability: A heuristic for judging frequencyand probability. Cognitive Psychol 1973, 5(1):207–233.40. Hobbs S, Stack N, McKechnie J, Smillie L: Talking about work: Schoolstudents’ views on their paid employment. Child Soc 2007,2007(21):123–135.doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-1021Cite this article as: Usher et al.: Employment and work safety among 12to 14 year olds: listening to parents. BMC Public Health 2014 14:1021.Submit your manuscript at www.biomedcentral.com/submit


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