How can we encourage the activism of younger children?

Seeing leadership on climate change coming from children and young people is one of the most striking developments in the whole debate in recent years. It’s exciting and hopeful to see, and at the same time shameful that it’s necessary at all. It shines a particularly powerful spotlight on our failure to take serious climate action, and our complacency about inter-generational injustice.

It also puts adults in a tight spot, in different ways. Some oppose it and take the opportunity to tell children about their rightful place. That’s patronising and deeply unhelpful. Others want to support the movement but aren’t entirely sure how. and have suggestions for grown-ups, the most important being to listen.

As a parent of a five and a seven year old, my response is a little different. We’ve enjoyed going together to climate marches and Extinction Rebellion events, but they’re not old enough to join the climate strike. As my wife and I regularly discuss, there’s a fine balance between involving children in the things that matter to us, and burdening them with troubles they’re not ready for. We want them to be environmentally aware, but they need to feel safe in their small childhood worlds.

At the same time, children have a strong natural sense of justice. They believe that if something is wrong, it should be fixed. I hear that from my children all the time, and we want them to understand that they don’t need to wait for others to act when they see something that needs attention. So I’m always looking for things we can do together that give them a voice on the issues that matter to us as a family. We join campaigns and they send letters and pictures. Zach loved being a member of his eco-school committee last year, and we’re doing some eco-church experiments at the moment. Practical things like community gardening are the most effective, and the kids take real pride in the mini-orchard that they planted and the gardens and planters they’ve helped to create in the local streets.

Here’s another action we can take and pass around: was started by a handful of school children in Belgium, and it’s a petition by children and from children. It was , currently in year three:

Of all people living on this planet at the moment, it is our generation that will be hit hardest by climate change, while we are not responsible for causing this problem. It will be too late to change things by the time we have finished studying. Starting this petition and letting our voices be heard is the only thing we can do now.

Kids for Climate is for children aged 6 to 12, who can sign with their parents. It’s available in English, French, German and Dutch.

 

 

6 comments

  1. Like you I am appalled that our children are compelled to strike and perhaps to neglect thier studies at a critical time in the school calendar, but nevertheless i am also so impressed by their conviction, commitment and their advocacy. I wrote this letter to the Guardian when the strikes started to make a media impact. It was never published , but offer it here as part of the discourse you have prompted:A MANIFESTO FOR YOUTH CLIMATE STRIKERS!
    George Monbiot (Guardian 20 February) is right to support and celebrate the global movement of young people who have begun a series of climate strikes in response to the inertia of political leaders. But, this movement and its success is dependent on many things, not least a recognition by politicians and society that in many parts of the world there has been a growing and committed youth involvement in these issues. Most of which explore ways to develop regenerative sustainability practices, which include simultaneous improvements in human and environmental sustainability, not just reductions in damage or harm. And play a role in implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; sometimes referred to as the Global Goals)
    Here in the UK, the National Union of Students sustainability programme has pioneered new and innovative projects on university campuses across the UK, delivering over 70,000 greening actions a year. Students in the 12000 Eco schools in the UK have increased their awareness of climate change and ways to mitigate its impact. Above all young people need to see immediate action and committed political leadership which creates a movement for change and celebrates and supports young people’s actions as well as their contribution to the implementation of the Global Goals. They will undoubtedly respond to political leadership with the qualities needed to promote sustainability: humility, respect for all forms of life and future generations, precaution and wisdom, the capacity to think systemically and challenge unethical actions?
    Dr Stephen Martin

    1. Thanks, it’s good to highlight the work that ecoschools and the NUS are doing, as they show that youth action on the environment is deeper than a sudden protest movement.

  2. DevonChap says:

    Aren’t you worried that you might be indoctrinating your children or that children demonstrating comes over as a bit creepy, exploiting children for political ends? Obviously we all try to instill our values in our kids but it can be a fine line.

    Children at school are not presented with a balanced view of the options for dealing with climate change, nor could they really handle them at primary school.

    Video of school- children shouting obscenities about the Prime Minister during the climate strike marches, obviously egged on by the teachers present, hardly suggest a balanced view has been presented to those children.

    1. Yes, I am wary of pushing my children in certain directions, absolutely. There’s a big difference between picking up your family’s values and indoctrination though. We all grow up thinking our own family is normal, and my children will pick up all kinds of environmental views and habits because that’s what we do, even if we never talked about it. Indoctrination is more about policing what people believe, it’s about control and uncritical adherence. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that.

      One of the things I try and do is take my lead from them, and follow what they feel strongly about. And they always get a choice – I won’t drag them along to things they don’t want to go to. They like protest marches a lot more than I do actually, especially if you get to go on a train.

      As for climate strikers, we’re talking about teenagers and secondary schoolers. They’re not being exploited – it’s their idea. I popped down to the first Luton climate strike outside the town hall on friday to chat to them, and they’re smart young people. They’re well informed and articulate, and there are thousands of them taking part in dozens of marches across the country, so let’s not judge them on the basis of one viral video.

  3. Great to get our kids involved. I can’t help feeling the best thing we can do is to lead by example on the more practical activities we’re involved with AND give them opportunities to contribute their opinions, skills and interest. To explain; I voluntarily run a small renewables co-op called MaidEnergy – we’re a bunch of white middle aged people quietly getting on with installing solar on schools and community buildings. My teenage sons see the volunteering I do and for them that’s normal. Great. What we at MaidEnergy have not been good at is being loud – opening up actual opportunities for them to move from passive to engaged (that’s the nature of a small group who work full time and raise families); so maybe I should set up some topic events, create some social media messages with their input etc. Any other hands-on ideas?

    1. That’s a familiar situation. Perhaps you could involve some young people in making a video? Or in photograping and then mapping your locations? Google maps are easily adapted and can then be embedded in websites, and it would give you a chance to show off your cumulative impact.

      If you do events, do you have a portable solar rig for demonstration purposes? I made one last year out of parts off Ebay, and I can offer free phone charging or run a small PA system off it. That might be a fun project for someone with practical skills.

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