Are you interested in educating children in your life about activism, but not sure where to start? What does activism actually entail? 2020 has been an eventful year (to say the least); children may have lots of difficult questions, feel anxious or unsure of what they can do to help.
Hopefully this guide can reassure you that there are lots of ways that you and the children in your life can learn together and that you can all be change-makers in a way that is age appropriate and effective.
In 2019, I created my theatre company “Todos Teatro”, and that same year we began touring with our first piece of theatre 'Turtles Don’t Like Plastic'- for ages 3-7. It’s a simple story about a turtle who gets trapped on an island made of plastic and meets a plastic monster whose mission it is to consume more and more- and more! Spreading his plastic island across the whole world. The turtle teaches him to swim, showing him the devastating impact his plastic empire is having on other sea-creatures. In the end (spoiler) he decides that ‘less is better' and begins to clean up his island.
In this show, we wanted to communicate these big environmental issues in a way that was simple, entertaining and accessible for young audiences. During the show, we often have mini-hecklers getting involved (keeps us on our toes!) telling the plastic monster off for making a mess and shouting at him to be kind and help the turtle. At the end of the show, we have a big clean up and all the kids get involved with collecting and recycling all the rubbish on stage.
We’ve witnessed ‘pester power’ as a force for good, when kids start to pester their parents about why they are drinking out of disposable plastic bottles. Parents have reported that their kids have stopped to pick up every bit of rubbish on the way home, so it won’t go into the sea and ‘make turtles sad’. We’ve since made our mission to create theatre for young audiences in response to ecological crises that will inspire positive ecological change. In turn, we’ve been inspired by how children and young people are at the forefront of movements in climate and social justice movements and want to make theatre that continues to inspire and support them.
Some might argue that children should wait until they are adults to get involved in activism, instead enjoying their childhood in innocence and imagination; the fact is that children can already see what is happening in the world; they can watch TV, they are online, they hear it from their peers or from their parents. They might be victims of racism or hate crimes themselves. They might wonder why some friends have more or less than themselves materially. They might feel confused about concepts of gender and why boys and girls are treated differently, or feel like those labels don’t feel true to who they are. They might feel very afraid for the future of the planet. In fact, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12, states that children should be allowed to express their views on things affecting them, and those views should be taken into account.
Anyone who is raising, or has raised siblings knows well that children feel unfairness deeply: even children as young as 15 months understand equitable treatment. This frustration and sense of injustice can be channeled into taking action; getting involved in activism can be a great way for them to feel empowered and listened to, as well as driven to change the world into a more sustainable, safer, and fairer place.
So what action can you take to encourage your children right now?
Here are some ways that kids can make a difference and be activists. While they can’t vote yet and don’t have disposable income to donate, there are many ways they can make a difference. Nora Kramer of Youth Empowered Action has these suggestions:
as we mentioned, can take the form of talking to friends and even grownups about an issue. Kids can also write for their student papers, or go to bigger platforms like social media or YouTube, to educate others about the issue. For younger children this could be as simple as creating posters for your windows.
"Advocacy is turning awareness-raising into a call to action, specifically from a decision maker,” Kramer explains. “This can take the form of marches and protests. Or it can be something quieter. You could help your child research whether there is legislation being proposed related to the issue, that might mean your local MP or council, for example. Then you can begin making phone calls or writing letters or emails together. You never know what kind of impact you can be making with these acts of engagement and communication.”
Essentially volunteering, for example helping to feed the homeless, or delivering groceries for older people during the pandemic. It could even include a beach clean up. These are small acts but they make a huge difference to the people receiving them.
“Fundraising and donating can take on many forms, and no amount is too small,” Kramer says. The old-fashioned lemonade stands and yard sales may be hard to do this year, but kids can still solicit donations from family members or on social media.
It’s vital that activists of any age understand what their cause is fighting against and what solutions they are fighting for. This often requires research and a commitment to always be learning so that good intentions translate to useful actions. At the end of this blog post, you will find some family-friendly resources for further learning and with ideas about how to talk about racial injustice, LGBTQ+, and women rights, anti-poverty and homelessness, and environmentalism with young people. Conversations that come from this research can be uncomfortable, tricky and may challenge your own perceptions.
“Parents shouldn't avoid political conversations with their children,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “Even if their children aren't quite ready for [political conversations], they should be adapted to the age and maturity of your child.” Poet and activist Stacyann Chin and her daughter Zuri have some great examples of this in their Living Room Protest series on YouTube. Topics including consent, body-positivity, and racism are handled in an open and honest way that is totally age appropriate and acknowledges Zuri’s big feelings. Just the same as adults’ self-care and play are vital, young activists need fantasy, imagination, and escapism as much as anyone else. With that in mind, let’s encourage the young people we know to express themselves, ask questions and work together to make the world we live in a better place.
Bethan Screen is a Poppy's Party Entertainer, Theatre- maker and economic educator.
Resources for children and families:
Advice on children getting involved in activism.
Anti-poverty and homelessness