About that White House Lawn Mowing Kid (And the Tweet Storm About “Child Labor”)

Frank Giaccio, an 11-year-old kid from Falls Church, VA, wrote a note to Pres. Trump saying he admired his business sense and had a business of his own: He mows lawns, $8 a pop. But it would be his “honor to mow the White House Lawn” as a volunteer.

And he hdksttezrf
got the gig!

So now there are pictures of him all over the Internet, mowing the Rose Garden lawn yesterday. And while he’s doing it, out comes the President to shake his hand, and he tells the President he wants to be a Navy Seal someday and it’s a giant feel-good story.

Except on Twitter.

There, Steven Greenhouse, former NY Times labor reporter and author of the book, “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,” tweeted that the administration was “Not sending a great signal on child labor, minimum wage & occupational safety” by having a “10-year-old volunteer mow its lawn.”


As you might imagine, the tweets responding to this were somewhat dumbfounded (to put it politely) that Greenhouse was treating this  one-off photo op as if it was a policy statement. The words “Debbie Downer” appeared in at least one response. So did some other names.

But more than that, of course, people reminded Greenhouse that it is GOOD for kids to mow lawns. Plenty of them spent their own childhoods mowing lawns. At which point, Greenhouse started recommending they all read an article on how dangerous lawn mowing is for kids:


So I read it — after first recognizing the name of the doctor who did the research: Dr. Gary Smith at Nationwide Hospital. “Nationwide” as in the insurance company that featured a dead kid in its Super Bowl ad a few years back.
At that time, I looked into Gary Smith’s record and noted that his mission in life seems to be churning out papers on how ordinary things are insanely dangerous:
Gary Smith…is the author of papers as varied as: “Microwave Oven-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments in the United States, 1990-2010;” “Softball Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments, 1994-2010;” “Volleyball-Related Injuries…” “Pediatric inflatable bouncer-related injuries…” “Sledding-related injuries among children…” “Stair-Related Injuries to Young Children… ” and possibly my favorite: “Children Treated in United States Emergency Departments for Door-Related Injuries, 1999-2008.”
If he’s worried about doors, you can see why lawnmowers would drive him (slowly and carefully, signaling all turns) around the bend. But those 13 injuries a day that Greenhouse keeps mentioning, turn out to be — thank god — mostly minor. Less than 10% warrant admission to the hospital:

The most common types of lawn mower injuries were cuts (39%) and burns (15%). The hand/finger was the most commonly injured body region, followed by the leg, feet and toes. While most children were treated and released, more than eight percent were serious enough to be admitted to the hospital. Bystanders and passengers were almost four times more likely than operators to be admitted.

By this measure, Pres. Trump was in four times more danger than the boy.

Greenhouse also told his critics to go read an article in USA Today about lawnmower accidents. But if you read that article, you will find it features two stories of toddlers run over by mowers, and one of a grandpa who had his toddler on his lap when he rode their lawnmower into a creek.

How do those have anything to do with an 11-year-old pushing a mower?

They don’t. And yet the paper still wrote in its safety tips: “Don’t allow children under age 12 to operate a push mower.”

What is happening here? Simply this: We have come to see childhood only through the lens of danger. There is never a counterbalance to say what is GOOD about a childhood activity that presents even the slightest risk. We only look at what COULD go wrong. And then we leap to the wrongest it could possibly go. Then we ban it, congratulating ourselves as if we have fought to keep 6-year-olds out of the asbestos mines.

And then kids who might mow the White House lawn don’t. And we think they’re the better for it. – L



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39 Responses to About that White House Lawn Mowing Kid (And the Tweet Storm About “Child Labor”)

  1. JTW September 16, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    To be fair to mr Smith, his employer makes a lot of money referring to his articles when denying compensation claims for injured children, citing them as to why the injury would not have happened had the parents done what they should and not let the child do that.
    So he’s just doing his job.

    As a doctor, that’s despicable, as a scientist it’s worse, as an employee of an insurance company it’s exactly what he’s paid for.

    And that kids, is why you don’t want to have a conflict of interests in science.

  2. Anna September 17, 2017 at 12:11 am #

    In Canada we have a lovely story (perhaps embroidered, I don’t know) about how our future prime minister Diefenbaker met the then-prime-minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier as an 11-year-old paper boy selling him a paper at the train station, and how they had a nice conversation about our wonderful country where anybody could become prime minister. Couldn’t happen today – selling papers is dangerous, as is talking to adults!

  3. James Pollock September 17, 2017 at 12:14 am #

    “Dr. Gary Smith at Nationwide Hospital. “Nationwide” as in the insurance company that featured a dead kid in its Super Bowl ad a few years back.”

    Or, if you do your homework, NOT as in the insurance company that featured a dead kid in its Super Bowl ad, or any other insurance company, but as Columbus Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Ohio State University’s medical school.

  4. Workshop September 17, 2017 at 2:10 am #

    Nationwide . . . getting hospitals to change their name in return for $50 million since 2007. (Seriously, it only took $50 million? Columbus must’ve been in worse shape than I thought.)

    On the plus side, my rapid perusal of the tweet-storm did not show anyone who agreed with Snowflake Steven. That makes me hopeful.

  5. Donald September 17, 2017 at 3:22 am #

    Insurance has one thing on the agenda. That is to increase profit by decreasing payout. If that means that they rob children the opportunity to learn self-reliance and to increase anxiety than so be it.

    Ok, that’s a little harsh and a bit cynical. I’m exaggerating as I’m pointing out the motive behind Gary Smith’s employer.

  6. Donald September 17, 2017 at 3:32 am #

    “Or, if you do your homework,….”

    Lenore was a journalist before journalism evolved to what it is today. She knows how to fact check. Is this another area where you’re better at it than a professional? I’m still shaking my head in disgust when you stated that you are smarter than a Nobel Prize winner.

  7. Beth September 17, 2017 at 7:00 am #

    If the guy works for Columbus Children’s Hospital, you’d think he’d call it that instead of saying Nationwide Hospital.

  8. BL September 17, 2017 at 7:34 am #

    I mowed lawns as a kid. I thought it was a big deal that I mowed the mayor’s lawn! Obviously I didn’t set my sights high enough …

  9. Melissa September 17, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    @James Pollock, Columbus Children’s Hospital is most certainly affiliated with Nationwide Insurance. If you are going to pompously suggest that someone do their homework, you should probably do your own first. https://www.nationwide.com/about-us/nch-partnership.jsp

  10. Theresa Hall September 17, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    I still think they should paid him despite it being volunteer. The white house lawn is huge and he did a good job they should reward him. And worrying about almost non-existent mower accidents is pretty silly.

  11. Nancy September 17, 2017 at 10:59 am #

    Hope that guy doesn’t have kids. I can’t imagine what they would turn out like.

  12. Rod September 17, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    Thank you. Good read and I needed one.

  13. James Pollock September 17, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    “Lenore was a journalist before journalism evolved to what it is today. She knows how to fact check.”

    Right. What an AMAZING observation. But we’re still left with a “fact” in a published work that isn’t actually a fact, So, does this indicate a case where the writer knows how to fact-check, but didn’t bother to do it, or one where the writer knows how to fact-check, discovered that the facts didn’t support the accusation she wanted to make, and went ahead and made the accusation anyway?
    Since neither of us really believes it’s incompetence, we’re left with deciding between laziness and deceit. Which one of those are you guessing?

    (I know which it is, because this is the second time I’ve called BS on an emotional appeal in a column that doesn’t line up with the facts, and then “poof” the comment mysteriously disappeared into the bit bucket without explanation (or correction) (the first being in the headline where a famous person “almost had their child taken away” without ever having anyone actually trying to take their child away.) )

    ” Is this another area where you’re better at it than a professional?”
    Actually, it’s an area where I was also a professional.

    I assume you leveled this complaint at Ms. Skenazy privately where I couldn’t see it, since about a third of this column involves her badmouthing Dr. Smith, arguing that she knows more about pediatric injuries than does the guy with two doctorates who works as a professor in a medical school.

    ” I’m still shaking my head in disgust when you stated that you are smarter than a Nobel Prize winner.”
    Not as much as I’m still shaking my head that you CONTINUE to misquote me on that, even after having been corrected several times.

    “Columbus Children’s Hospital is most certainly affiliated with Nationwide Insurance.”

    It sure is.
    In exactly the same way that the local professional soccer team is most certainly affiliated with Providence, (a local health provider)… people work in a building that someone else paid a lot of money to put their name on. (Before it was “Providence Park”, it was “Jeld-Wen Field”, and before that it was “PGE Park”, and before that, it was just “Civic Stadium” for several decades.)

    “If you are going to pompously suggest…”

    If you are going to pompously correct someone, make sure you’re more correct than they are, before hitting “submit”.
    Dr. Smith works for Ohio State University He does not work for the insurance company.

    This would have been clearer for you if you’d been able to read my original comment, which just randomly “disappeared” like it was never there a couple of hours after it was submitted, which went into all of these facts in greater depth than the one that you saw, which, as of this morning, at least at this point, is still visible, for however long it stays that way.

    Another comment, where I asked if anyone else was having disappearing comments, also disappeared.

    Here is your challenge:
    Go back to the top of the page and reread the part of the column that is about Dr. Smith. Count up the number of times a factual argument is used to counter something Dr. Smith does or says.
    Now count up the times that Dr. Smith is smeared with incorrect or emotionally-charged words, or his research is dismissed without ever actually being addressed.
    As best as I can tell, his goal is to have fewer children need to be treated for injuries at hospitals via increased prevention of the injuries in the first place. This makes him a bad guy? Really?

  14. Alanna Mozzer September 17, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    This kid is one smart entrepreneur. I can’t imagine how much business this kid is going to get because of all the free advertising.

  15. AmyP September 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    My nine year old daughter uses a push mower on our yard and not the one that takes gas, just the one that has blades that you manually propel. Also we live on a river, which she goes all the way to the banks of to get the grass there. I’m a bad mom.

  16. Papilio September 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    I remember seeing one article that claimed that you had put your EIGHT-year-old on the subway – never mind he was almost ten (unless one of those shows you were on also stated his age wrong…).
    Here we see that the kid was *eleven*, but Greenhouse changed it to ten to make it seem worse. At least, that’s what I suspect… First you make people’s minds go there, then rectify, but by then the one year difference seems completely irrelevant…
    Okay, maybe I’m being paranoid.

  17. Shirley September 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    After reading the link provided, it does appear the hospital is indebted to Nationwide for financial contributions. Not surprised they promote the insurance company, which includes naming the hospital “Nationwide”. On who’s side is the hospital?

  18. Alan Rogers September 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    That’s alot of what is wrong with this country, to many people are “what can the country do for me” instead of “what can I do for this country” More people should use the example and step out and do something.

  19. Ernest Williams September 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    Where do these educated stupid dummies come from, Mars or some other planet. The kid is only doing what he enjoys. Keep on doing what you are doing and don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t do what you enjoy. Kids from cities and country learn good work ethic by starting early and it also builds character. Good luck kid and follow your dreams.

  20. Stephanie September 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    My 12 year old and 15 year old are mowing the lawn here today. It’s not that hard, and good for them to learn to do these jobs.

  21. Donald September 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    You found that Dr. Gary Smith works at Columbus Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Ohio State University’s medical school. With this information, you had a choice. You could have pointed out that he would be perfect for Nationwide to hire him to publish a few papers for their scare campaign.


    You can state “If you did your homework…..”
    Which implies that Lenore didn’t do her job
    Which also implies that you’re smarter. You have a habit of that. You sneak this in at every opportunity that you can.

    This is a typical way that you grab the spotlight whenever you can.

  22. Vonnegan September 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm #

    But if you let 11 year olds mow the lawn, before you know it they’ll be teenagers – rescuing people from flooded homes with a boat (https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/09/06/meet-strake-jesuit-students-who-rescued-50-people-after-hurricane) and helping to muck out homes using scary things like power tools (https://youtu.be/_bmDENS_U_4). We can’t have people be that self-sufficient! They might not learn that they need the government to do everything for them.


  23. Donald September 17, 2017 at 6:27 pm #

    What is your objective?

    Is it to contribute to the discussion
    Is it “Hey everybody. Look at me. I need the spotlight. Aren’t you impressed how smart I am”?

  24. SKL September 17, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

    Just politics. Stupid. Who reads that crap?

    I have no doubt that before putting the kid on the White House lawn with a mower, the Trump team checked every possible legal angle three times. 😛

    But I was glad to see it. I think it (the mowing job) sends the right message.

  25. Donald September 17, 2017 at 7:52 pm #


    Your disappearing letters are not an anti James conspiracy or because she’s frightened of the truth that you are so willing to provide. It’s because you reached your limit.

    You wanted to test Lenore’s boundaries to see where they are. Congratulations! You found them. She explained this to you when she gave you a 2 post per day limit.

  26. James Pollock September 17, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    “She explained this to you when she gave you a 2 post per day limit.”

    Stop making shit up, Donald. It really lacks intellectual honesty.

  27. Donald September 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm #

    Sometimes you get more than 2 posts per day because Lenore is not a blog cop. She has better things to do. This explains why your more annoying posts remind her of the limit. Perhaps she’s not a strict when your posts are sensible.

  28. Donald September 17, 2017 at 8:42 pm #

    She has better things to do than to count how many posts that you submitted on that day

  29. Greg September 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm #

    This guy can go to hell it shows this kid has a work ethic. Is not afraid to do hard labor. And because of guys like this is why are country is going down the tubes. Hell I cut gas when I was 10 or 11 and learned if I wanted something I had to work for it . That being said I applaud this young man he wants to be something not a dead beat or sponge on the rest of us.

  30. lollipoplover September 17, 2017 at 9:49 pm #

    Personally, I am more impressed with this 11 year-old, Mikaiyla Ulmer:


    My son has been mowing our neighbor’s lawns for several years. He gets 30 bucks a lawn × 5 lawns and with the high rainfall this summer, he’s bern doing them 2x a week. He’s also been asked to mow other neighbors for vacations and when lawn mowers have broken. It’s hot work and dirty (he doesn’t like weedwacking much) but he loves the money! Most kids do. Stop micromanaging every job they do. Most will do it better than adults.

  31. Beanie September 17, 2017 at 9:50 pm #

    My 11-year-old (well, okay, he’ll be twelve this week) mowed his grandpa’s lawn today. I wish he’d had time to mow ours, but I really needed him to move all the patio furniture and hose down the patio and rid it of spiderwebs so I settled for that. These are paid jobs so he can support his hobby and save up for a trip a few states away with his Boy Scout troop.

  32. LTMG September 17, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

    I’d guess that Greenhouse had an experientially deprived childhood. Rather than moan and groan about “dangerous” experiences, maybe he could engage in some of them himself and expand his horizons. These might include taking public transportation to work without a guardian present, slicing ingredients for a meal without wearing a chain mail glove, eating sushi, visiting the mens room without an escort, watching an R-rated movie, having a guest at home who hasn’t had a background check, visiting the city park alone, etc.

  33. Donald September 18, 2017 at 1:27 am #

    “I’d guess that Greenhouse had an experientially deprived childhood”.

    Probably. However, I think it has more to do with standing out. Lot’s of people are talking about Steven Greenhouse. I think that was more of his motive.

    Mission accomplished

  34. elizabeth September 18, 2017 at 3:45 am #

    My dad was actually just talking about this yesterday. We all agreed that is ridiculous.

  35. Kim September 18, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    Years ago a family with 4 boys and one girl moved next door to us. The oldest boy was 10 and mentioned to me he was anxious to start earning his own money. I asked his mom if he mowed lawns, we had a really large yard and with two little ones it was sometimes more than I could get to. His mom said he couldn’t mow yards YET because they had looked into the county regulations and he had to be 12 in order to mow/work/make money. Giant eyeroll from me. The kid was smart, big for his age and obviously motivated. Would have never occurred to me to look up regs, but there you go. Not like anyone in our neighborhood would have reported him.

  36. John B. September 18, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    Putting it simply, if I had a 10-year-old son and I thoroughly trained him to operate a push mower and then confirmed that he was more than ready and capable of doing that and then if the National Academy of Pediatrics came along and told me that no child under 12 should use a push mower. I would basically tell the National Academy of Pediatrics to go f… themselves.

    It depends upon the child. I have a friend of mine who used to race motorcycles on ice back in 1975 when he was 9-years-old and he beat most adults! But when I was 9, I would have crashed the cycle after 20 feet and probably broke my leg. Some 10-year-old kids would be capable of safely operating a push mower whereas some 13-year-old kids would find some way to run over their foot!

    Therefore, nobody can proclaim that all children under 12 are incapable of safely operating a push mower and neither can they proclaim that all children (and adults) over 12 are capable of safely operating a push mower.

  37. James September 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    I looked at the research this doctor presented. He used statistics about injuries to bystanders to demonstrate that the act of mowing the lawn was unsafe for kids. This is dishonest, and can only be intentionally so–scientists are trained to avoid exactly this sort of thing. This person has no credibility as far as I’m concerned. I can’t believe such stupidity was accepted by any peer-reviewed journal (yeah, I know, peer review has been demonstrated to be DRASTICALLY wanting for a while now, but some of us are optimists).

  38. Dingbat September 24, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    The reaction to this boy mowing was ridiculous. People’s feelings and opinions about the president aside, the kid showed some gumption. That was great free publicity for his business.

    I can remember when attitudes about this started to change. My older brothers (born in the mid – late 1960s) did odd jobs for people all the time. They moved yards, helped farmers bail hay, etc. They had after school and weekend jobs so they could learn the value of a dollar. If you wanted an Atari you had to pay for half or all of it yourself.

    In the mid – late 1980s the upper classes started condemning parents who gave their children any other task than focusing on their homework. What type of mother would push her child to do a dangerous job or take them away from study time? Gasp and horror! This eventually filtered down to the middle and lower classes, along with several restrictions on after school jobs. By the time I reached my tween/teen years, the years when all my brothers friends had babysitting jobs, I was not allowed to have one. I was allowed to help cousins with a business where they mixed perfume oils in with lotions, shampoos, etc on summer breaks and holidays but I was not really allowed to get my first official job until I graduated high school. Boys still worked a bit more then, until a gas station in my area blew up in a freak accident and killed the teen attendant. For years I mostly saw elderly or adult baggers in grocery stores though teens are making a come back now.

    Over the years the conversation continued to switch from how dare you take away study time to Danger, Danger!!! in every corner. There are still farmers in my area who need help cutting and putting up hay, but they have not been able to find any teens willing to help them since Gen X.

  39. Dingbat September 24, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

    P.S- My brothers are 7 & 9 years older than me. They are in the oldest half of X and I am in the younger half, so that shows you how fast the shame and condemnation game worked.