Misconceptions of Child Activists

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Young political activists are nothing new. Younger people tend to be more idealistic and radical, while older people are more conservative. Most people go through their activist phase in college if they go through one at all.

But recently we’ve seen this take a different turn, best represented by David Hogg and the other Stoneman Douglas High School gun control activists, and now climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

To preface, there’s nothing wrong with young people fighting for what they believe in. It’s great to pursue one’s passion, regardless of age. The point of this article is not simply, “kids these days, amiright?”. But there is a crucial problem with the reinforcement of many of these child activists. 

With age comes experience, and with experience comes knowledge and wisdom. It appears that quite a few adults are spreading and reinforcing an idea within young kids that they need to face the world’s major political issues head-on from an early age.

To tell children that we’re at the beginning of a mass extinction event and they need to be on the frontlines of activism is to turn them into political pawns. Childhood and early adulthood need to be a time of exploration, a time of gathering experience and understanding of how the world really works. We should encourage humility, a perspective that we don’t have everything figured out from a young age, and encourage them to explore and pursue knowledge. Perhaps having your child chastise the entire UN might be a bit much.

This isn’t to recommend telling your children to cease doing anything besides buckling down and reading dense books. If some children are into helping animals or planting trees, great! If they’re into building things, great! If they like learning history, also great! 

But if they’re convinced the UN has stolen their childhood by ignoring the upcoming “mass extinction,” perhaps there is some external influence there. 

Of course, I don’t mean to “punch down” and criticize a child. The culprits here are the adults using children as political pawns and literal human shields. It is rarely the speechwriters, organizers, and parents that are attacked by the disapproving masses. It is typically whoever holds the spotlight that faces the brunt of the backlash.

That’s what makes this so nefarious. Rather than represent one’s own ideas, some people will use children to push their views.

Earlier this year, a climate change activist organization known as the Sunrise Movement, along with Youth vs. Apocalypse and Bay Area Earth Guardians had a group of children confront Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), pressuring her to support the Green New Deal by repeating assigned slogans and phrases.

An organizer recorded the confrontation, where Sen. Feinstein did her best to respond to the kids in a polite but direct manner. Sen. Feinstein received loads of criticism for her response to the child activists. Unfortunately, very little criticism was directed at the organizers that used children in such a manipulative manner.

We don’t have to ignore these young activists, nor should we criticize them just as we would criticize adults. Often (but not always), child activists are being manipulated by others. Instead, we should be directing our criticism towards those that would use children to fight their political battles.

Regardless of political persuasion or the ideas being pushed, it is always wrong to manipulate children into pushing one’s own agenda. Don’t let children become the face for political activism. When activists use a child to push an agenda, the agenda becomes the topic of conversation and the child becomes famous.

Rather, the topic of conversation should be the use of children for political activism and the adults should become far more famous than the children.

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]