“Children should be seen, not heard.”
We’ve all heard this old adage before. But nothing could be further from the truth.
All children, even the very young, have strong views on what’s happening in their lives. And they deserve to participate in the decisions that affect them. I’ve found this to be true of my own childhood experiences, but one particular incident stands out in my mind.
When I was about eight years old, my brother and I attended an after-school program. I loved having the chance to hang out with my friends at the end of the day, but the school had one rule that really bothered me: No matter how bad the weather got, we all had to go out for an evening recess.
This just seemed wrong to me, so I rallied a group of my friends and we staged a protest. We created placards, recorded a song and marched in the hallways.
That evening my parents got a call from an infuriated school supervisor, who was outraged with our insubordination.
Rather than grounding me, my parents took a moment to listen to my views. They agreed that my friends and I had a valid point, so they chose to speak up for us. And, lo and behold, the school changed the rules and allowed us to have an indoor recess. This experience had a profound impact on my life. As a very young child, I experienced in a powerful way what it means to be seen and heard.
Every child has the right to be heard. When children can speak up about the problems they face in their daily lives, and when they’re supported by adults who will listen to them, kids can change the world in which they live.
Whether it’s small changes like my friends and I made with the recess policy, or big changes like advocating for laws to combat racism or protect themselves from violence, children’s participation in decision making can improve their quality of life and make life better for those around them. Children’s ability to speak up and being heard when asserting their rights also sets them on a life-long path to be more actively engaged citizens.
National Child Day is on November 20, and it’s a time to celebrate our country’s commitment to upholding the rights of children. This special day recognizes two historic events: the 1959 signing of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989.
As a mother and a long-time advocate for children, I can’t think of anything I would want to celebrate more. Yet National Child Day is one of the least recognized days of the year. Although it falls between two of the most popular holidays for kids – Halloween and Christmas – many people have never heard of it. These holidays create great opportunities to engage with kids, but celebrating their rights is just as important. This is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give to our children.
When children know their rights, and adults are equipped to enable their voices, they can thrive and reach their full potential. All 8 million kids in Canada will experience healthier, happier childhoods when we honour their rights.
Children have valuable ideas and opinions that are crucial for the development of truly child-centred policies. When young people are informed and engaged, better decisions will be made within families, schools and even at the highest levels of government. Effective and sustainable change can only happen when we act with children, not for them.
This National Child Day, Children First Canada is calling on Canadians to show their support for kids. We invite you and your family to join our digital celebration on November 20 at 1 p.m. ET.
At this year’s event, children and youth from across the country will discuss what it means to be #SeenAndHeard. Hosted by CBC Kids News, the event will also amplify the voices of youth activists who are speaking up about climate change, racism and other social movements. Canada’s leading voices for children’s rights, government and industry leaders will also join the discussion.
Together, we can speak up for children and we can support children to speak up for themselves. Will you join me in listening to what they have to say?
Children First Canada is excited to celebrate National Child Day with children, youth and adults from coast to coast to coast!
We invite you to join us for an interactive digital event – for children
and adults alike – on November 20 at 1 p.m. ET.