The children in these two photos may have all suffered the same fate — exploitation. One group allegedly exploited by their parents, the other by coal mine operators.

The parents of the now infamous Balloon Boy, Richard and Mayumi Heene may be charged soon with a host of charges including conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to a Colorado Sheriff overseeing the case. The charges stem from what law enforcement is now calling a hoax involving the supposed dangerous balloon ride the couple’s youngest son Falcon took.

It’s unclear how this case will play out, but it got me thinking about parents who use their kids to help bolster their careers and financial hopes. The most recent example — Jon and Kate Gosselin, who have used their eight young kids to attain power and money. Kate was a registered nurse before her TV fame. I could not determine what Jon did before the show, but it looks like he did not graduate from college.

It’s hard to argue that their decision to use their kids in this way was not a smart money making move.

But what about the kids? Lately, it seems, anything goes when it comes to what we’re asking kids to do. All bets are off when it comes to getting the public’s attention to sell a product, services or yourself; and what better way than using a cute young kid to do the dirty work. Reality TV, beauty pageants, prepubescent rock stars, etc.

Once upon a time it was OK to do what ever the heck you wanted with your kids in the name of work. That is, before child labor laws were established in this country.

This from the Child Labor Public Education Project:

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the numbers of child laborers in the U.S. peaked. Child labor began to decline as the labor and reform movements grew and labor standards in general began improving, increasing the political power of working people and other social reformers to demand legislation regulating child labor.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t work, or help their parents pay the bills, or cover their own incidentals. I’ve written extensively about how kids holding real jobs helps bolster their self esteem; and almost every CEO I interviewed for my book, “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office,” held jobs when they were kids and throughout their teens.

But when I say work I mean selling peanuts at Yankee Stadium, or a paper route. Not making kids hide in crawl spaces to allude police officers, or making them go through potty training while millions of strangers watch.

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provision’s “are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being,” according to Child Labor Coalition.

I don’t know if you saw this, but Falcon threw up when he was being interviewed on TV. It seems what his parents allegedly had him do wasn’t great for his health.

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These kids don’t have soot on their faces but I feel just as sorry for them.

The FLSA was established in 1938, before we had reality TV, a 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. Maybe it’s time for a digital do-over of our nation’s child labor laws.

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