Opinion

Kids and activism: How far should you let them go?

It’s important to raise kids who have beliefs and are willing to stand by them. But how much is too much when it comes to kids and activism?

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Photo: iStockphoto

Last year, my tween daughter was required to do a school speech on a social issue that was important to her. She decided to write about animals in captivity, specifically about the animals at a popular aquatic animal exhibition park.

During the research stage, she discovered a few facts that horrified her. She interviewed activists, read articles and, at some point, our family viewed the Oscar-nominated film Blackfish—a documentary dealing with the effects of captivity on sea wildlife. You can read about the condition, called zoochosis, in detail in a recent Slate article on the subject.

My daughter’s passionate speech led to an invitation to present it at the park’s opening day protest. My budding young activist went off and proudly delivered her speech to a huge crowd, some of whom hurled verbal abuse at her as she spoke and protested.

Whatever harsh words were tossed at her and the other protesters, she carried on and didn’t let it drag her down or deflate her passion.

Thus began the ban she put on our family visits to animal exhibition parks. Over time she shared what she learned with her five siblings. We had many conversations on the subject and the next thing I knew, two of my other children were boycotting a school trip to an aquarium.

I spoke with the children a lot about their feelings and how complicated the topic of animal rights is. They did not know where they stood on vegetarianism or some of the other major issues surrounding animal rights, but they were clear on their thoughts regarding captivity. Their stand is simple: We do not visit animals that are in captivity for the sake of human entertainment.

That basic principle meant that we now had to think twice about continuing some of the past summer activities our family has regularly taken part in. There is a growing list of places we won’t be visiting this summer. You won’t catch our family spending the day at the zoo. There will be no family drives through the safari park seeing cheeky baboons on the hood of our car. You won’t find us wandering around an aquarium or standing on the moving sidewalk experiencing sea life swimming all around us. Quite simply, there are no tanks and no cages big enough to house animals that belong in their natural habitat.

Activism can be tricky business for kids. There are many complicated questions and sometimes adults will try to make them feel like they are contradicting themselves. However challenging, it’s important to raise kids who have beliefs and are willing to stand by them. As such, I do what I can to support my children and their boycotts. I’m happy to learn more and share their message. After all, if we want the world to be a better place, listening to our children is a great place to start.

Julie Cole is the co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc. and the proud mom of six. Follow her on Twitter @juliecole and @mabelhood.

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