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Watching Kids Wake Up

The last several months, kids have been in the news. We’ve seen walk-outs, demonstrations, marches, interviews, calls for action—teenagers are proving themselves a force to be reckoned with, and it’s an impressive sight, whether or not you agree with their politics.

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How can adults support young people as they make their way through the complex world of social justice and protest? How can we help amplify their voices even as we strive to protect them from those who want to hurt them with words and other weapons? First, we have to recognize that they're doing some pretty great stuff.

Whatever generation is the current one, members of it usually get a bad rap. The phrase, “Kids these days,” has always served as a catchall commentary on how kids these days just aren’t as hard-working, intelligent, responsible, and committed as those who came before, and how about they just “Get off my lawn!" 

However, even though every generation has been accused of lacking, and the human race is still going strong.

Just look around the world today. Emma Gonzalez delivered a speech that got international attention and made a whole lot of people think a little bit harder about what it means to lose someone to gun violence. And then the governor of Florida signed into law some of the strictest gun regulations that state has seen in decades.

Malala Yousafzai got shot in the head because she was a girl in Pakistan on her way to school and she went on to win the Noble Prize for her work advocating for human rights.

Just maybe, the kids are alright.

As parents and educators, what’s our role in the wave of teen protest we’ve seen recently? I have two teenagers, plus a very observant pre-teen, so this question is taking up a lot of my mental real estate. And yes, there were walk-outs at their schools. I wondered: Should I step aside? Read to them from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience? Should I be there to walk out with them (in an effort to both keep them safe and maintain my status as chief embarrassment)?

I chose to applaud from afar. I reached out to other teachers, parents, and administrators with questions about safety. I reminded them to charge their phones the night before so they’d have a way to both contact me and videotape the problem if things went topsy turvy. And then I worried. And it was fine. They felt listened to, I felt proud, and we all felt a part of something larger than ourselves. 

But our jobs as educators and parents is not simply to protect at all costs—we know that it’s impossible to foretell and prevent every accident and downfall. Instead, we need to teach our children self-sufficiency and expose them to the rich history of social justice here in America and around the world. There are plenty of people to learn from, both those who lived and fought long ago and those who are just waking to fight today.

Are your kids interested in learning more about civic unrest? Check out this book!

Civic Unrest: Investigate the Struggle for Social Change

book cover of Civic Unrest: Investigate the Struggle for Social Change

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