On August 2018 when 15 year old Greta Thunberg stood at the gates of the Swedish parliament with a placard reading, “School strike for climate” demanding the leaders of her country to bring it in line with the Paris climate change agreement, it was clear that a new era of child activists who won’t back down is here. Thunberg told media at the time that, “It felt like I was the only one who cared about the climate and the ecological crisis,”. Thunberg stood there for days, through all sorts of weather to make her voice on this matter heard. “The idea was to sit outside the Swedish parliament for three weeks. I think the timing and the concept must have been right,” adds Thunberg. A few months later she went on to deliver a powerful speech in front of the UN at the event of the 2018 UN climate talks, berating the organisation for not doing enough about climate change.
With this, Thunberg set off a wave of child activists that are determined to make themselves, take up space and change the world. This also includes activist Ayakha Melithafa who launched crowdfunding campaign on Backabuddy have seen her raise less than half of the R50,000 required to attend World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland to fight for changes in political policies around climate change.
Zulaikha Patel was 13 at the time when a video of her silent protest against her school’s policy against natural hair. After being threatened with arrest the Gauteng Department of Education instituted an investigation into the policing of hair in South African schools. Patel also set off a wider debate and investigation into other ‘racist’ policies being implemented at South African schools.
Last but not least in SA was famed fees must fall activist Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, who was the WITS SRC president who was one of the forefront activists when students at tertiary institutions around the country were striking and voicing their discontent at a looming 8 percent fee increment in school fees in 2017.
This is how parents can support their young firebrands:
Understand their cause and take it seriously
As a parent to the young activist, ensure that you understand the intricacies of the cause they have taken up. Dr. Jessica Taft, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who focuses on youth activism says, “Adults sometimes make false assumptions about the activism potential of children and youth. They hold the belief that when young people engage in activism, they’re merely “practicing” for future civic participation, and that their efforts won’t actually incite change. This isn’t true, No matter their age, activism is activism, and all of it has the potential to make a difference.”
Give them emotional support
Understand that even though your child is a young activist, the issues that they’re dealing with are of a serious nature. This means that even though they are trailblazing, they will still need and benefit greatly from your emotional support as they problem solve on their activist journey.
Offer your resources
Often adults can take for granted the abilities that being an adult activist affords like being able to drive oneself to protest etc. “It’s crucial to offer some of the “key resources” that adults might have (and that kids and teens often do not.) To begin, there are two simple ones: money, and older friends. Adults may have financial and social resources that youth activists do not. Where possible, you might be able to leverage your financial resources to help with fundraising efforts, or encourage other adults to do the same,” explains Taft.
Give them space
When you’ve supported your child in the best way possible stand back and let them enjoy their successes and their failures. Understand that yours is a supportive role. Resist the urge to want to take credit for their successes.
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