Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

kids at protests

The author's kids made signs to share their views. Photo by Joshua Huston

Should young kids go to protests?

Considerations for engaging the whole family in activism

In June 2018, hundreds of people marched through downtown Seattle to protest immigration policies that were separating families seeking refuge in the U.S. My family was among the attendees.

My kids were ages 1 to 6 at the time. Shortly after we began, my 4-year-old refused to walk, so my husband carried her the whole way. My daughter’s face was weary, her eyes cautious.

She later communicated that she feared being taken from us, just like the kids we had been talking about. In the security of our home, the words hadn’t affected her. But in marching alongside other people, the words seemed threatening.

Knowing what I know now about my daughter and her anxiety, I wish I had approached the situation differently. I would have explained the crisis with more caution or rethought our participation as a family. 

Navigating kids’ needs while standing for power and community

I recently spoke with Krysta Strasbaugh, a Renton parent of an incoming 7th-grader and high school sophomore. Her family was formed through intercountry adoption and navigated years of red tape before they could live together in the U.S. She recalls that, at that point, the national uprising for Black lives was in full effect. 

Strasbaugh and her family have attended numerous demonstrations, usually around the Black Lives Matter movement or antiracism in general. Her children were 4 and 7 when they attended their first event.

Here is part of that conversation:

Seattle’s Child (SC): How did you decide to include your children in the events?

Krysta Strasbaugh: History was happening all around us, and I remember feeling proud that Barack Obama was president. Within a year, Donald Trump had won the next election. Hate crimes increased across the country, and we knew our community was not immune. As parents, we felt responsible to help the kids make sense out of a situation that felt senseless most of the time. We knew they were absorbing some really confusing, potentially harmful messages, and protesting was like a glue — it solidified where we stood as a family and connected us to the community, which we all really needed at the time. Still do.

SC: Did you have conversations beforehand to prepare your children?

Strasbaugh: We’d discuss our usual norms for what to do in large groups. What happens if we get separated? Who do you look for? What are Mom and Dad’s phone numbers? We’d also check in intentionally about thoughts and feelings after events. I admit, many times there didn’t seem to be sufficient answers, and I’m sure I stumbled through a lot of it, but I think there’s value in opening up the space even if it’s just to hold the questions together. 

SC: How did you mitigate safety concerns?

Strasbaugh: Physical safety wasn’t our only concern. Felt safety and emotional safety are huge. With the world seemingly spinning out of control, it was important our kids knew there were people right here in their community who have their backs, literally and figuratively, for the long term. 

Over time, the kids didn’t always want to attend the protests, and that’s OK. Sometimes, they needed to be there to experience the power of community and take a little power back. Other times they just needed to get a cheeseburger with their dad and play at the park while I marched. Both seemed important. 

SC: Did your kids understand the purpose of the events?

Strasbaugh: In a broad sense, yes. … We didn’t always go into detail about traumatic events preceding a community gathering, but I think our kids, like most, easily grasped concepts of fairness and standing up for each other. As my own kids got older, we tried to offer choice in how much they wanted to know — partly because we want them to exercise that agency, but also because we know it’s almost inevitable the news will reach them through media or peers. 

Knowing your child

Several years later, my family marched again for the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements. This time, I was more sensitive about disclosing details to my kids. I didn’t want to make light of the violence, nor did I want to trigger fear in my kids. I wrestled then — and still do — to balance exposing our kids to the realities of the world while honoring their emotional parameters. It comes down to knowing your child. A young child may be able to separate the issue at hand from their own circumstances, while an older child may feel anxious even hearing about people in distress.

If a public event feels too nerve-wracking for your child, consider making window signs or writing letters to elected officials. Children can still learn about what others are experiencing without being in settings that create anxiety and overshadow the cause you’re trying to fight.

Read more:

Students to lead forum with SPI candidates

Stand against gun violence at community gatherings

Family volunteer opportunities all year round

  

About the Author

Melody Ip

Melody Ip has been an avid writer since she got her first diary at the age of 5. Today, she is a freelance copy editor and writer, in addition to being the copy chief for Mochi Magazine. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.