Attending Protests with Kids
Why should kids attend protests?
Vaccination disagreements. Abortion rights. Black Lives Matter movement. Recently, America has been torn apart with the onslaught of national debates and people want an outlet to speak their minds freely and peacefully. Most importantly, parents want to expose their children to the world of peaceful protests in a safe way.
“It’s essential to bring your children with you to protests because this is how democracy works, and it’s important for kids to see that. Raising [civic-minded] children who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in is how we create a future of engaged citizens.” said author of “Let the Children March,” Monica Robinson.
As a parent, you want your children to understand the power behind our freedom of speech. One of the best ways to do that is by allowing your kids to experience the unmatched energy of a protest. Protests bring thousands of individuals together to fight for something they believe in. Ensuring your children have a positive experience at their first protest will help them absorb the event fully and teach them the necessary skills to stay safe and ready to problem-solve should the need arise.
“As someone who grew up protesting alongside my mother, I feel … it is essential that children are included because it allows them to recognize that they have a voice that matters. Protesting has built my character and prompted me to speak up when needed,” says Ampazzeona Warren, a STEM literacy developer.
Additionally, allowing your children to experience the empowering atmosphere of protests will change their perception of the world itself. It will emphasize to them that they are not alone, and that when together – people can change the world.
Before you go
“Peaceful protests are the most suitable for children to attend. It is important they have an understanding of what will take place and why they are protesting,” says Warren.
Of course, there are times when protests turn chaotic and overwhelming. Fortunately, there are plenty of safety measures that you can take ahead of time to prevent any issues arising for you and your children.
- You should discuss the concept of peaceful protests with your children before taking them to one. Watch videos of peaceful protests and discuss what to do and what not to do. It will help them to be aware of what is going on and to stay cautious.
- Before attending a real protest, practice making posters and rallying neighborhood children to attend your “practice protest.” This will help kids prepare for the event and let their imaginations run wild.
- For your first outing, try attending a protest in a smaller city area. Perhaps on an issue that is not as likely to elicit aggression. For example, a gun control protest might not be the right first protest for an anxious kid. Kids can become overwhelmed if exposed to too much at once, so it helps to build up to the bigger crowds you’ll find at D.C. protests and marches.
“It is important children understand why they are going to protest and what may happen, [and] preferably to go during the day [and] pack snacks and drinks along with identification and a first-aid kit,” says Warren.
Do research about the organization that is hosting the event you plan to attend: the central message should align with your values. Confirm that they practice nonviolent protest measures.
- Attend daytime protests. Know what time the sun is setting so you can be on your way home before it gets dark.
- Be mindful of extreme temperatures so you can pack accordingly for nutrition and hydration during the protest.
- Before leaving for the protest, take a current photo of your children. In case of an emergency you’ll know exactly what they’re wearing. If they have their own cell phone, have them take a photo of you; that way they also know what you’re wearing.
- Consider providing a tag for your children (a sticker, wristband or lanyard) with essential contact information in case you get separated at any time during the protest.
- Don’t let children outnumber the adults. One adult and three kids is a recipe for disaster in a big crowd.
“I wouldn’t take a young child to protest after dark. If it was a protest with lots of people, I would put something with or on the child identifying them, with the parent’s contact info. I would stay very wary of the mood of the protest, and if it started to turn in a way that feels less safe, we would leave,” says Robinson.
Be aware that just by attending, you are broadening the horizons of your children. You don’t have to prove a point by staying the whole day. If you or your children are tired and cranky, give yourself the OK to go home.
What if something goes wrong?
Nonviolent protests are better for children, but be aware that events that start out nonviolent can turn aggressive. “Have an exit strategy from the beginning,” says Robinson, “Don’t engage with shouting counter protesters while you have a child with you.”
Be prepared for whatever might be thrown at you on the day:
- Be alert to the ever-changing dynamic at a protest.
- Ensure your childrens’ safety first. If you are ever in a situation where a protest is becoming rowdy and out of control, leave immediately.
- Decide on a meetup spot ahead of time, (ideally a tall building/sculpture) that everyone in the group knows to go to, should you get separated.
- If your child doesn’t have a cell phone, consider letting them borrow one from a parent or invest in some walkie-talkies.
- If attending with an older sibling, make sure they know the game plan and enlist their support in staying alert to the changing mood of the crowd.
- Before attending, create an exit strategy and be aware of your transportation options.
- If driving, be mindful of where you parked your car. If taking a bus or subway, know where your closest stop is and an alternate one if you’re unable to reach that.
“Remember that police presence does not mean safety, especially for marginalized groups. It is important to be aware of the situation,” Robinson states. Ideally, all protests should be safe for your children to attend. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and you need to prepare for the worst.
Just the beginning
Remind yourself to start small with your children and allow them to go at their own pace. Whether you choose to discuss what a protest is at home or do a practice run with the neighborhood kids, remember to let them have fun!
“Children can learn what they would like to stand up for, which will help them develop moral skills,” says Warren.
The most important aspect of this experience is giving your children a chance to express themselves: through their voice, their attire and any accessory they would like (posters, pins, etc). Allow them to take it all in and enjoy themselves – explain to them that this is what democracy is all about.