Think back: What’s your earliest memory of wanting to change the world? Chances are, long before you could cast a ballot, you were a kid who cared deeply about something. You truly believed you could act and make life better for someone.
Most of us parents see sparks of that in our own kids. Maybe we live with a budding animal rights activist, a thoughtful young advocate for the homeless, a fierce one-kid anti-bullying campaign. Those early signs of idealism swell us up with parental pride, and we might even step in to try to channel our kids’ passion into a volunteer project or a run for class office.
Imagine, though, how powerful it might be—how you would have felt as a kid when you were at your most ambitious about making a difference—if someone simply said: “You know what? You’re right. Let’s go speak some truth to power.”
Childrearing means helping our little people grow into their best possible selves. We want them to be caring family members and friends, hard workers, and, yes, active and engaged citizens. Yet most of us instinctively want to shelter our children from troubles of the world. Some of us might even fear that letting our kids try to create change through the political system might only leave them feeling small or helpless, with challenges so big.
But what signal does that send? Voter participation has plummeted in our country, especially among young adults. They volunteer at higher rates than most of us, but check out on the civic system. A whole generation seems to believe it can only make a difference working as individuals. Can we parents help kids to see the systems there that represent us all, the people we elect to work for us, those things we can accomplish and get done if we work together?
After all, children led a crusade in the civil rights movement. Children sit down for meetings with the president today. During this year’s legislative session, lots of children have been inspiring examples for us all. I don’t know these kids, but I’m betting each one had encouragement from a mom, dad or some other person in their life. They are children writing letters to elected leaders and the editors of their local newspaper, showing up at rallies holding signs, testifying at the Capitol, even. All of this is more than a civics lesson—it’s a message: You, child, are a citizen whose ideas count.
Need examples of what other kids are doing to share with your budding activist? The Freechild Project has compiled some links of amazing activism projects led by youth across the country. And here are more examples from right here in Texas:
- Destiny Gonzales, a teenager from Pasadena, spoke out at a press conference and rally of over a thousand about why having Medicaid health care can help kids like her “be who we dream to be.”
- A first-grade class from Ford Elementary School in Georgetown made their case to a Senate committee about why pecan pie should be designated the official state pie of Texas.
- Kids recently out of the state’s foster care system provided testimony that lawmakers called “tremendously moving,” prompting a vote in favor of a bill to curb the over-prescription of powerful psychotropic drugs to foster children. (Kudos to my colleague Ashley, a former CPS worker, for helping to turn out some of the youth who testified!)
- Sawyer, the 11-year-old daughter of actor Kyle Chandler, is a leading voice for a legislative proposal to prevent shark fins from being sold or bought in our state (SB 572/HB 852).
- Another 11 year old wowed the Public Health Committee with her testimony on raw milk, leading members to ask when she’s running for office.
- A 5 year old—five!—donned a suit and provided testimony about how early intervention programs need protecting in the Texas budget, because they help kids like him with autism, disabilities, and developmental delays beat the odds.
All of this isn’t just good for the children getting to nurture their inner activists. It’s good for all of us to see and feel like change is possible. It’s good for the people in power most of all.
The voices of children at any age resonate because, among all the registered lobbyists and people with an agenda, kids stand out. They get attention, maybe even help state leaders remember what it’s like to be young, passionate, and full of hope. And what better formula than that for bettering our political system?
Special thanks to photographer Liz Moskowitz, who works with me at Texans Care for Children, and captured the photos here at the Our Future, Our Texas rally, at the Texas Network of Youth Services’ Youth in Action Day, and at Child Protection Day at the Capitol.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Christine_Sinatra.jpg[/author_image] [author_info] Christine Sinatra is the communications director for Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit that works to improve Texas kids’ lives through policy change. She is the mom to a kindergartener and has worked as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and the Oakland Tribune company and as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching high school girls in Africa.[/author_info] [/author]