Just like adults, kids have the right to voice their anger, fears and hopes for the future. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes explains why her children accompany her to protest marches and hikoi.
As it is after most news-making protests, in the last couple of days I’ve seen the usual online arguments about whether children should or shouldn’t attend marches.
While I think it’s a totally personal decision every parent makes on their own (and I am writing purely from a New Zealand context) I have to admit I’m surprised by some of the comments I’ve seen against children taking part in activism.
Some of the things I see and hear reflect an attitude I wish didn’t exist. It’s a condescending and unfair view that I think is just one of the many ways we don’t give children credit for how smart they are and how much they care about the world.
Of course there are legitimate reasons not to take a child to a protest – if you live far away and don’t think your child will cope for hours in the car, if the weather is too cold or hot for kids (marches can be long and tiring), if your child is sensitive to noise or is afraid or overwhelmed around a lot of people, if you are concerned about the safety of the event… All of these reasons make a heap of sense.
But the idea that children just shouldn’t be involved in activism simply because they’re children is absurd. More than anyone – children have a right to be heard. More than anything – children need an outlet to express their hurt, anger, fear, and joy. A protest can be the perfect place for a child to express these feelings.
It’s their future – so why wouldn’t we give them the platform to express how they feel about that future?
There are many ways we silence children and just one of those ways is not listening to them. When we assume they have nothing useful to say because they’re children we are disempowering them and teaching them that we don’t value them.
We are also telling them that the most vulnerable in our world don’t deserve a voice.
I feel it’s my duty as a parent and a person to create space for my children and all children to share their fears. I feel I should be held to account as an adult. Why shouldn’t they be able to question me? Why shouldn’t they be able to raise their voices in frustration at those who aren’t acting with their future in mind?
I remember as a child seeing the news and feeling afraid. I remember feeling powerless in the face of war and famine. I believed I couldn’t make a difference.
Now, as a parent, I don’t just feel my children can make a difference – I know they can. I absolutely know that they can. So I do everything I can to give them opportunities to express their views and yes, that involves protesting.
My children have attended many protests. I give them a rundown of the issues and ask them what they think. They almost always think something. Whether they agree with me or not, they’ll speak their mind. There’s much we don’t agree on. I think Thomas the Tank Engine is a horrible egotistical narc who should get dismantled. I think the pups from Paw Patrol need to take a trip to Rainbow Bridge. I think ‘Let it Go’ is not the greatest song that ever existed. I very rarely think it’s necessary to wear shorts over pants. I believe night-time is for sleeping. There is much I don’t agree with my kids on. They are of course sometimes parroting my view, all kids do this – but often they’re not.
The times we have been to protests my oldest has formed his own view, and that view was worth sharing regardless of whether it understood every complexity of a changing issue. In fact, sometimes the simplicity of views is what is needed. We went to the midwives pay equality case at the high court. My son was two and a half. He dictated thank you letters to the midwives “Thank you for borning me” they said. He might not understand pay equity or the patriarchy but he knows midwives brought him into the world and he wanted to thank them for bringing his baby brother into the world too.
We have celebrated marriage equality, attended a hikoi against asset sales, one for action against climate change, and we have pushed for an increase of the refugee quota.
There’s another side to the “debate” about whether it’s OK for children to attend events – and that’s that we are not just excluding children. We are also excluding their primary caregivers. And we know that mostly their primary caregivers are women, who often bear the brunt of a lack of social progression. Safety is also a huge issue – the way marches are policed makes all of the difference.
But again, protests will only be created and policed with the safety of children in mind when others understand the value children bring.
The usual critics of children say they couldn’t possibly understand this issue but a child’s moral compass points to hope far better than any cynical adult. A child’s more simplistic view, unclouded by self-interest, narcissism and greed, is by far the clearer vision of the future we might have if we stop fucking things up.
I asked my nephews what issues were worrying them in the world. My nephew, just eight years old, talked passionately about climate change. He is lucky to have parents full of empathy and compassion for him who have helped allay those fears but they also did far more than that. They have told him the truth – that he can make a difference. That his voice matters.
This is the most important lesson we can teach children and we need to teach them this now more than ever.
Each time I have talked about issues with my children and nephews I have been blown away by their empathy and hope for the future.
My child has seen the change he can make in the world.
I will not cut his wings, nor dampen his fire or silence his spirit by telling him his voice cannot be heard.
I will not lie to him and tell him he can’t make a difference. He can. He has. He will.
All of the people who have made change in this world, all of those who have made a better future for us were once children. Children who maybe grew up to be the people they were because they were not told to sit down and shut up by adults.
Don’t make your child think you don’t believe in their power. They will move mountains and they’ll do it with you, the one who gave them their voice, by their side.
If you see a child at a march or hikoi make them feel welcome, thank them for being there – even better, listen to them. They’ll have better ideas than many of the people with power, and maybe one day they’ll be in power.
We can only hope.
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