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Psychologists call for better protections for teen workers


Photo: sturti/iStockphoto

Washington — Employers can better protect teen workers by establishing safe working environments and work hours, the American Psychological Association says.

In response to various states recently revising their child labor laws, as well as recent reports of teen workers being injured or killed as a result of unsafe job conditions, APA’s governing Council of Representatives on Aug. 2 passed a resolution that also calls on state and federal agencies to “increase enforcement of laws, regulations and penalties for industries and employers engaging in exploitative and detrimental youth labor practices.”

An ABC News report published on July 26 spotlights the deaths of three teen workers in industrial work incidents this summer, including a 16-year-old on a sanitation crew in a Mississippi poultry processing plant. Department of Labor officials told the news outlet that they’re concerned children continue to be vulnerable in U.S. workplaces.

The resolution, approved by APA’s governing body with a 161-2 vote, calls on policymakers and experts in the psychology field to support increased research, monitoring, intervention, advocacy and policy to help inform and guide the development of safe adolescent labor practices.

APA specifically notes that “youth who are most at risk of being exploited by workplaces include those living in poverty or in families where the adults are unemployed, youth of color, youth experiencing homelessness, and youth with developmental or physical disabilities.”

Arkansas is among the states that have recently revised their child labor laws. In March, under the Youth Hiring Act of 2023, the state eliminated a requirement that anyone younger than 16 needs permission from its Division of Labor to be employed. The state also no longer will need to verify ages of workers younger than 16 before they start a job.

Supporters of the law contend it streamlines hiring and allows parents, rather than the state, to make decisions about their children’s employment.

APA insists that “a critical need” exists for more research on the impacts of adolescent work to protect the health and well-being of teen workers.

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