From concerns of how “serious” activism affects children to the enchantment with young marchers’ protest signs, many folks are thinking about balancing civic engagement and parenting.

Lately I’ve had conversations, both in person and online, about a specific component of that balance: how do we approach children’s engagement in political events?

ON PERSPECTIVE

In conversations about children’s involvement in political events, liberals and conservatives both often cite the children’s safety and comfort as top priority.

I certainly do not dispute the importance of those things. However, it is important to note that pondering the pros and cons of including children in political events is a privileged exercise, as it works from an assumption that we want children to remain safe and comfortable.

Rather than preserving children’s safety and comfort, many politically based events in U. S. history have fought for assuring safety and comfort for children not afforded those basic rights. When Mother Jones was criticized for including child mill workers in an 1896 Philadelphia labor rights march, she countered that marching was no more strenuous than working in the harsh conditions of the mills (Bartoletti p.120). The Jim Crow-era segregation in the South that worked against black children’s safety and comfort (among other things) led to more than 1,000 children marching in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963.

ON SAFETY

My own children enjoy high levels of comfort and safety, and I appreciate that this safety allows us to join large groups of people in public without needing to vigilantly watch for potential dangers. Attending a political protest or rally, like a festival, sporting event, or any densely populated situation, comes with some risks.

So, learning peace keeping strategies and de-escalation tactics makes sense for any parents who take their kids to any public events, political or otherwise.

Inflating the danger of attending peaceful demonstrations could jeopardize our rights to peaceful assembly, as that right is not protected by the first amendment in cases where “there is a clear and present danger of. . . immediate threat to public safety or order.

It behooves us all to make responsible assessments of a situation’s safety, and to work to gain and maintain safety for gatherings in public spaces.

ON COMFORT

I’m sure there are many kids who aren’t begging to attend political events with their parents, who would prefer to stay comfortable at home. However, responding to parents who bring kids to protests with the suggestion to “get a baby-sitter” is problematic for families who can’t afford to pay baby-sitters.

As a kid of low-income single parent, I accompanied my mom on a seemingly endless array of errands, meetings and events that offered little to a kid who would have been more comfortable curled up on the couch with a Baby-Sitters Club book. My mom wasn’t apologetic; this was the work that had to be done.

There are times when a parent may find that attending a political event is the work that has to be done. The “get a baby-sitter” attitude unfairly criticizes economically disadvantaged parents who want to speak out on issues that directly affect them. These families need more, not less, access to political action.

Preparing for kids’ general comfort at a political event is not different from preparing for any non-kid focused outing. Snacks? Check. Extra clothes? Check. Books and toys? Check. Out of all the adult-centric events my kids go to, spending a sunny day outside together as a family is more comfortable than, say, pushing through a packed grocery story on a Saturday afternoon.

ON UNDERSTANDING

While trying to maintain an age-appropriate level of information flow to children is a noble pursuit, it is important to remember that we don’t raise our children in a vacuum. Brushing off children’s questions about the state of our country does not mean that they will no longer wonder about the state of our country.

Rather, restricting children from involvement in political events can drive them to seek answers from others, often in digital environments, who may not uphold the tenets of civil discourse. Responding to a child’s earnest questions, giving age-appropriate digest versions of the news they overhear, and sharing our own civic values are three practices that can provide a foundation for the child to become an engaged citizen for life.

And, as Ray Routhier recently reported, many junior Mainers are well on their way.

An English professor at the University of Maine at Augusta since 2014, Elizabeth Powers teaches introductory and advanced writing courses, and coordinates a writing lab which allows her to work individually with students on their writing skills. Powers’ scholarly focus is on Rhetoric and Composition, especially rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, and writing center studies.

 

 

 

 

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