11 Jun Encourage Activism in your Kids and Teens, By Kelly Christ, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center intern
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, protests have occurred in all 50 states demanding justice for Floyd and an end to police brutality. The movement has gained international momentum, with Black Lives Matter protests occurring across the globe.
Young people, in particular, have been showing up in large numbers to anti-racism protests being held throughout the country, demonstrating that the next generation is dedicated to the development of a more just and tolerant society.
Many kids are taught from a young age that they should speak up for what is right. From stories of heroism in literature to anti-bullying workshops in schools, children learn that it is up to them to have the courage to take a stand against unjust treatment. To reiterate this so much in childhood, yet discourage them from taking part in civic activism, renders the entire effort futile.
It is important for parents to remember that their child or teen’s passion for certain causes and desire to get involved in events like fundraisers or protests are crucial steps in the development of their conscience and personal beliefs.
Even those parents who want to encourage their children to be active and engaged with causes they are passionate about may hesitate to allow them to attend the current protests. With the COVID-19 pandemic still an ongoing concern, many parents fear their kids could get sick. Though many protesters have been wearing masks, adequate social distancing is nearly impossible with such a large gathering of people. And, though violence has been rare, it is still something that parents will likely factor in their decisions.
These concerns bring to light another essential lesson that parents must share with their children: courageous and dedicated activism comes in many forms.
By definition, a protest is a “solemn declaration of opinion and usually of dissent.” Though marches and other public protests undoubtedly demonstrate solidarity and dedication to the cause, there are many other ways to protest racial or any other injustice if you feel unsafe attending these events.
As our Executive Director Andrew Malekoff explains, “If, as a parent, you feel strongly about particularly social issues, the best way to motivate your child is to be a good role model through your own civic engagement. This can be through public participation such as demonstrations or protests, quiet or animated but respectful conversations with friends or relatives, letter writing expressing your opinion for possible publication, fundraising activities or volunteering behind the scenes.”
With the constant stream of social media, it is easy to feel like we are not doing enough, or doing the wrong thing, when we see posts of others attending protests, sharing information and signing petitions. For non-Black allies especially, empathy and education are the highest priorities. The learning process is constant for children and adults alike, and it is imperative that social media is not the be-all and end-all of allyship.
While social media is a great way to promote awareness and valuable resources, real change occurs offline. It happens in difficult conversations with loved ones, initiatives of diversity in schools and workplaces, efforts of charitable organizations and much more.
The Black Lives Matter protests have shown, once again, that the younger generations provide hope for a better future. “The best we can hope for is that our kids eventually become active participants in community affairs and help to change the world where we have failed,” says Malekoff.
Parents should encourage their children to apply the passion behind protests throughout their lives, finding small moments to make meaningful change and listen to the needs of others. Teach them never to lose the spark of youth and the vision of a brighter future—no matter how many obstacles may stand in their way.
As Mahatma Gandhi said in 1931, “If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.”