A brave new world

Young activists are making a real difference, so how can we support our mini crusaders?

As the Gretas and Malalas of the world have shown us in recent times, young people can feel a deep responsibility for the world they’re inheriting – and they’re not afraid to have their voices heard.

Closer to home, one such mini activist is 11-year-old Grace, who is passionate about reducing plastic waste because of its negative impact on the environment and, in particular, marine life. “The majority of waste goes to landfill and gets buried in the ground,” says Grace. “Although, some of the waste ends up in the ocean for birds and sea life to mistake as food.”

Inspired to create change, Grace organised to speak at her school assembly to spread the message about the importance of reducing waste in the environment. Going a step further, she also met with her principal to come up with ways to cut down on waste from the school canteen, and asked her local MP to ban plastic in their shire.

“Gracie devours the information she learns from documentaries and school. I am surprised at how much she retains,” says her mother Elissa. Along with her husband Kevin, Elissa is proud of how proactive Grace and her younger sibling Claire, nine, are when it comes to creating change and caring for the environment. “Children have an understanding of nature that comes naturally to them,” she says.

Not having been to many protests themselves, Elissa and Kevin took their girls along to a climate rally in their local area, where Grace and Claire enthusiastically held up homemade signs to show their passion for the cause. The family also focuses on the small ways they can make a difference too, “a simple thing like asking for a glass with no straw when going to the local café for a milkshake”, says Elissa. “My hubby went with Grace to talk to a couple of café owners in the neighbourhood about switching plastic straws to paper and they made the swap!”

Leanne and Drew have two daughters as well – 15-year-old Ava and 12-year-old Hilary. Ava has been passionate about many causes, such as climate change and human rights, ever since her primary school days. She has even had the pleasure of attending several rallies, often accompanied by her supportive mother Leanne.

“Mum and I both attended the Black Lives Matter protest right before lockdown and I’m planning on going to the Invasion Day one,” says Ava. “I’m very lucky to have open-minded parents who let Hilary and I do what we believe in, even if they aren’t fully on the same page.”

Dr Sally Gillespie, a climate change researcher and Jungian therapist, has attended many protests in her time. The author of Climate Crisis and Consciousness: Re-imagining Our World and Ourselves has, over the years, noticed more parents attending rallies with their young ones. “I have seen a lot more family involvement, and that’s quite a change from what I saw in the early days of climate protests,” she says.

As demonstrated by Ava and Grace, young people are increasingly leading this charge, rather than simply being brought along to protests by politically active parents. “Children are prodding their parents into being much more active,” says Sally.

“We have let Ava attend protests, the ones that really mean something to her and that she continues to support,” says Leanne. “We make sure it’s really important to her and that she’s not participating just because her friends are doing it.”

This open dialogue, as shown by Leanne and her family, is important when it comes to realising how much your child understands and finding out what is driving their beliefs. Being genuinely curious about their passions and not being instantly defensive can lead to learnings and new understandings between child and parent.

“Listen to your children and their concerns,” says Sally. “Don’t try to falsely reassure them or dismiss that energy, but really support that desire for action and listen to your child’s worries.”

“The more you’ll listen, the more they’ll trust you and talk to you,” she says. “It’s also not such a bad thing for parents to say, ‘I feel concerned about [the issue]’, because then the child won’t feel so alone.”

You never know, you might find yourself becoming more engaged with world issues as a result of these conversations. Perhaps you too are worried about the degradation of our environment, the treatment of animals, human rights abuses, whatever it may be – yet you feel powerless or unsure as to how you can make a real difference. As adults, we may dismiss small actions as a ‘drop in the ocean’ and therefore abandon efforts altogether, while children can be more proactive.

“When I really take the time to listen, I learn so much,” says Elissa. “I believe the best way to support my daughters in learning how we can look after the Earth is by trying to be a good role model.” This has led to Grace and Claire being involved in activities like composting, growing vegetables, herbs and fruit, as well as keeping chickens.

In Leanne and Drew’s household, they’ve seen first-hand how young people are proactive in creating change. “They really do walk their talk, and there’s a point to them taking action – our inactivity has actually made the world a worse place and their activity gives me a lot of hope,” says Leanne.

“Their generation has conviction, and they want a better world.”

Words by Samantha Allemann

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