Should Children be Involved in Protests or Not?

Posted on by Alyson Jones. Posted in Blog, Huffington Post.

The recent involvement of children in the Kinder Morgan/Burnaby Mountain Protests has brought forth mixed feelings from many, and caused a debate on the merits and costs of involving children in protests and political actions. Is it responsible parenting to protect your children from these issues or to involve your children in the middle of a protest that involves police action and could become volatile?

This is not a simple question, nor is it a black or white situation. As a Child and Family Therapist, and a parent, I feel we need to guide our children in understanding and dealing with controversial issues. It is through the challenges and the reality checks of life that our children develop empathy, resiliency and social awareness. It is not helpful to our children if we error so far on the side of protecting them from the world that we neglect to prepare them for it.
We need to educate our children about politics, relevant issues and social action if we want them to be engaged in their community and to care about the world around them. To be a contributing citizen we need to be able to think about issues that are bigger than ourselves and our own needs. Children who care for others and the environment will make this a better world. Part of good citizenship is to be informed, responsible and compassionate. Although there is merit to protecting children from the high stress associated with disturbing political and social issues, there is also a cost if we do not prepare our children step by step to become politically aware and engaged in the world around them.

So what do we do when our passions and our laws do not align? Rather than complain about things we need to learn how to be part of the solution rather than problem. Adults teach this life lesson to children through their words and actions. Teach your children to get involved, get engaged and dig into life. But we cannot forget that we also need to teach our children about due process, the laws of our land, and respectful dispute resolution.

The reality is that there is an injunction in place that prohibits the protestors from blocking the construction on Burnaby Mountain. The fact of the matter is that Kinder Morgan went to Court, followed the rules and won an injunction to proceed. Whether one likes it or not, the company has done their due process and has the legal right to take the next steps. We cannot forget due process, nor should we encourage our children to disregard the appropriate steps and the laws that are in place.

To involve one’s children in a political action that is against the law is a very confusing message. How do we tell children that it is ok to break the rules and engage in an illegal action on one hand, but then tell them that they should listen to authority and follow the rules on the other hand? It is a contradictory message if we tell children that the rules are only acceptable if they support a specific personal position and agenda, but not if they support another opposed position and agenda. Although our legal and political system may be flawed, we need to be careful about the long term implication of encouraging youth to disregard the rules. When we involve children in breaking the law and defying authority we are sending mixed messages that may cause significant problems and confusion down the line.

We also need to question the wisdom of putting under-age children in a volatile situation that places them right in the middle of a police action. There are many better ways to teach children about difficult issues without placing them smack dab in the midst of conflict, particularly when they are so young that they may not have a full grasp of all the adult issues at play. As a Family Therapist who assists families with transitioning through divorce and separation I am constantly looking for ways to get children out of the middle of adult conflicts.

In the end the Morgan Pipeline Protest is still an adult issue. This issue involves adult rights and responsibilities. Although we want to encourage a commitment to the health and safety of the future for the sake of our children, this does not justify putting children in the middle of volatile adult conflicts. As an adult in our country we have the right to vote, the right to peaceful commentary and the right to due process. As an adult we also have the responsibility to follow the laws, and to be respectful of the rights of others.

Guide children to become passionate and informed through age appropriate conversation and social engagement. This begins with conversations at home in which issues are examined from many perspectives. What a parent models at home will impact the social and political development of their children more than anything else. To raise a child who is tolerant of others and respectful of the rules, a parent needs to model this behaviour first. Practice what you preach, and then leave room for your child to develop their own ideas, thoughts and perspectives. Give your child the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and examine their own choices and actions. In our society, rights come with responsibilities – it is through respect and due process that we will grow our children into good citizens of this world.