If you ask people to describe the role that children play in the world, you will get a range of responses, which may include things like, ‘They are the future’, ‘They are the reason we get up and go to work in the morning’, ‘They give the world meaning and purpose’, or ’They represent hope and innocence’ (although, if you asked a frazzled parent in the midst of a bad day, you may get some rather more colourful and less complimentary descriptions).
We often see children as uncorrupted; their lives as blank slates, ready to be inscribed and therefore full of possibilities and potential. We entrust them with our hopes and wishes … and our expectations that they will do better than we did.
For the most part, children are one of our most powerful motivators for making the world a better place.
But do we really value children or do we just idealise them? Do we listen and include them in decision-making? Do we allow them to vote, contribute to policy development, and include them in discussions about how to address environmental issues, town planning or educational design?
Well, for the most part, not really.
Sometimes we build in service parameters that require us to ‘hear the voice of the child’ which require us to seek feedback from children about programs or services. And sometimes we consult, but we rarely collaborate or co-design.
If the future really does belong to children, how then can we include them in creating that future?
I recently came across a beautiful children’s book, titled ‘I have a right to be a child’ by Alain Serres and Aurelia Fronty. This colourful and engaging book gently introduces children to the concept of human rights and more specifically to their rights as children. Drawing on the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, it takes sometimes challenging and confronting topics—like the right to be free from violence, war and discrimination—and makes them accessible and grounded.
‘I have the right to never experience the storm of war or the thunder of weapons. I am afraid of guided missiles and smart bombs.’
One of the most fundamental rights people in open and fair societies all value is the right to express themselves, without fear of violence or discrimination. This is beautifully captured in the book.
‘I have the right to express myself completely freely—to say what I truly think about everything, even if it doesn’t always please my dad, to say exactly how I feel, even if it doesn’t always please my mum.’
A counsellor who works in a school recently told me that people rarely ask children the ‘Miracle Question’ (If you woke up in the morning and a miracle had happened overnight, what would be different?’). She said they often have wonderful answers; answers full of insight and freshness.
I wonder how the world might be different if we stopped, sat down with our children and really listened when they shared their answers to this question.
Perhaps if we become more skilled at genuinely including the voices of children in future planning, they may surprise us and come up with innovative and left-field solutions we may never have thought about on our own. Of course, we may have to sacrifice a few of our comfort zones and KPIs, get our hands a bit dirty, use the apple-green texta (that actually smells like apples!) instead of the blue pen, sing a few Wiggles songs, jump a rope or two, but hey, all in the name of saving the world.
How do you include the views, ideas, feedback and suggestions of children in your program or school? Have you got any innovative and practical suggestions for prioritising children’s rights and hearing their voices? We would love to hear from you—feel free to share your thoughts below.
Dr Sue King-Smith
Tell A Trusted Adult is a resource that is designed to help children express, and help adults hear, what children have to say about feeling safe or unsafe.