Ironically, isolation has forced all of us to reflect on the impact and influence our voices have in the world. Maybe because our voices were the only thing allowed to leave the house during the COVID-19 pandemic, people began speaking up louder than ever before. It appears that we’ve all become activists for one topic or another. As a result, we’ve learned that our words have the power to unite or divide. Yet, how can we pass this learning on to our kids? How do you teach kids about activism? This article explains how to raise an activist and help children learn to use their influence for good.
How to Raise an Activist
We can’t teach our kids about something we don’t truly understand ourselves. So, before we dive into how to raise an activist, let’s start by clearing up what activism is and why you’d want to raise an activist in the first place.
What Is Activism?
Activism is the use of one’s voice or actions to bring about change. It can be something as simple as speaking out about an issue you believe in, or it can be something more active, like taking to the streets in protest. Essentially, activism is about using your influence to create change.
The Difference Between Activism and Charity
It is important to note that activism is a shared responsibility to work together to combat injustices. An activist is not a rescuer or someone focused solely on charitable endeavors. The activist goes beyond charity to try and figure out how to meet long-term needs and how to remedy situations or policies that caused the need for charity in the first place.
Why Would I Want to Raise an Activist?
Often the word activist brings up images of a mob taking to the streets in protest of an injustice. Although that is one form of activism, it is not the only way. An activist is someone who cares deeply about issues and chooses to do what is within his or her power to create change.
Would you like to raise a caring, compassionate child who will use his or her skills to make the world a better place? If so, then you would like to raise an activist.
Teaching kids to be activists is essentially teaching them to recognize their gifts, privileges, and abilities, so they can use what they have been given to help others and work toward change.
Books About Activism for Kids
One of my favorite ways to teach kids about activism is through reading. Books allow children to see themselves as change-makers by observing other kids in that role. Here are a few of my personal favorite books about activism for kids:
- A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
- Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
- That’s Not Fair!/No Es Justo by Carmen Tafolla
- Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
- The Little People, BIG DREAMS series by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
- Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
- Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
- I am One by Susan Verde
- The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson
- Sofia Valdez’s Big Project Book for Awesome Activists by Andrea Beaty
As you read these books about activism for kids, take the time to stop and talk with your children about what they are reading. Ask them about any thoughts or ideas the stories provoke. If your child is inspired by a story, encourage him or her to act on those ideas. Support your child in making those activist dreams a reality.
Find the Right Form of Activism for Your Child
As I mentioned before, activism is not one size fits all. We don’t all have to create signs, join riots, or lobby in front of city hall. We are all more effective when we consider our abilities and personalities and then line that knowledge up with our actions.
Our children are no different. If you want to raise an activist, you have to help your child find the right fit.
Find causes your child is passionate about.
One of the keys to activism is passion. If you care deeply about an issue, you are much more likely to defend it boldly.
Take the time to explore what your child cares deeply about. Then help them to learn more. Eventually, you will find ways to channel that passion to create change.
Consider your child’s personality.
If your child is an introvert who hates crowds, taking him or her to a march probably isn’t going to spark a love of activism. However, if that same introverted child loves writing, encouraging him or her to write letters to lawmakers or stories about the impact of injustice on the community. This will result in a much better response.
Instead of telling your child what to do and how to do it, teach your kids about activism and allow them to come up with their own ideas of how to put their desires for change into action.
Don’t force it.
If your child isn’t super interested in going out to create change in the world at the moment, fear not. You aren’t raising a monster. Your child may need more exposure to the reality of the world around us to find an issue he or she cares deeply about. Your child might also need to mature a bit more to truly understand the issues you are exploring together.
Remember to expose your child to injustice in child-appropriate ways. Think books and child-friendly news. Explore a variety of topics instead of sticking just to the issues that matter to you. Be patient with your child and yourself. Be open to forms of activism that may not fit the mold. And, instead of focusing on the end result, seek to instill important core values in your child that will pave the way toward change.
Teach Your Child Core Values
Advocacy can be taxing. It is important to teach your kiddos, and yourself, how to care for your body and mind. Healthy people are much better at staying calm in the face of adversity and are therefore better advocates for change.
Before our kids can stand up against injustices, they need to know how to stand up for themselves. It is important to teach kids to recognize their own needs and not be afraid to push for those needs to be met.
Encourage your children to look for holes in the stories of life and ask why. Why might that man be homeless? What would cause someone to be unable to get a job? Why would that family choose to come here without the proper documentation?
When we teach our kids to question, we teach them to see both the issues and the injustices that surround us.
Empathy is the ability to step into pain, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and to share how they might feel in a specific circumstance. However, empathy is not the same as sympathy. Empathy is being willing to get your hands dirty and to be with the person who is suffering, not just feel badly for them from afar.
Empathy is an important stepping-stone toward advocacy. If we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and physically feel their hardship, it is impossible not to want to create change.
Justice is fairness, the idea that we treat others how we would like to be treated. In a just world, everyone has equal access to rights and fair treatment. However, what is just isn’t always equal.
Showing your children examples of justice and injustice helps teach kids about activism and the need for it in everyday life.
Be an Activist in Front of your Child
The best way to teach kids about activism is by showing them activism in action.
However, I just want to remind you that your activism doesn’t have to be in huge, monumental marches or organized events. There are plenty of ways to weave activism into your everyday life:
Going to the polls with your kids is a great way to show them how we can influence and create change by fulfilling this social responsibility. It also offers a great opportunity to talk with kids about those who still can’t vote.
Share Your Story
If you have a story of how injustice has influenced you, share it (if you feel comfortable). When injustice becomes personal, people are much more likely to move to action.
Elevate the Voices of Others
Whenever you have the chance, elevate the voices of those who have personally experienced injustice, overcome adversity, or personally understand the issues you are advocating for. Sometimes advocacy is knowing when to stay quiet and make someone else’s voice louder instead.
Vote with your Money
You may not have thought about this aspect of advocacy, but every time you make a purchase, you are making a statement about what matters to you. Try to support businesses whose values align with your own.
Art is advocacy. Create art that moves others to action, whatever your medium may be.
Again, our money has power. Let your kids see you give to and support organizations whose values and goals align with your own. Explain to your children why it is important to give, and seek to make generosity a part of your lifestyle.
Be Activists Together
When your children see you living out an activist lifestyle, it is likely that they will soon want to join in. Luckily, there are many different ways children can be activists.
If we look back at the list above, children can give, they can create or share stories, and they can learn to make purchases that align with their values. However, there are many other ways to encourage your budding activist:
- Encourage him or her to run for student government.
- Volunteer together.
- Go to a march or protest together.
- Write letters to lawmakers or company decision-makers.
- Make signs.
- Learn about topics that matter to your child and brainstorm together how he or she can make a difference.
No matter what you do together, be sure to help your child see the impact of your work, no matter how small. For both kids and adults, it can be disheartening to work toward change and not see any results.
Help kids learn to understand the ripple effect of advocacy. Sometimes all we get to do is plant a seed. We might not need to see it sprout but, if and when it does, there is no telling how far or wide it may grow.
As you can see, there are many ways to raise an advocate and to teach kids about activism. It is important not to underestimate the power of our children’s words and actions in the world. If they feel empowered enough to stand up for themselves, they will soon have the confidence to speak out about injustice and start making their voices heard. To raise an activist, you just have to plant the seeds and water them with plenty of opportunities. Soon these young activists will grow into productive citizens who care deeply about social justice issues.
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