RENO, Nevada — Parents and educators often question how much they should talk about the world’s problems with children. With many tragedies taking place within 2020, this concern seems even more urgent. Adults want to prepare children for what they may face without terrifying them. Discussing world issues with children is important because it has a greater impact on society as a whole. When parents and educators discuss world issues with children, they raise a generation that is aware and willing to aid in ending global poverty.
Though there are common fears about discussing world issues with children, it is important to recognize that children can have these difficult conversations and often want to. Talking about world issues does not have to be fear-inciting. While adults should always seek to be honest when discussing world issues, they can speak with a sense of hope by focusing on possible solutions and the power an individual has to make an impact and create change.
A study done by the Sesame Workshop in 2019 shows that while most parents are comfortable talking to their children about a difficult topic such as socioeconomic class, only 8% of parents said they spoke about the topic often. Roughly 67% of parents say they rarely or never talk about the topic at all. Meanwhile, for teachers, even though 76% of them have had training and education on discussing issues such as social identity with students, many teachers feel that it is not their place to do so.
The Curiosity of Children
Children are exposed to world issues no matter how much they are shielded. Media often exposes children to these issues and they may also hear about these issues from peers. Often, a lot of the anxiety children feel around these issues comes not just from the issue itself but from feeling like they cannot talk about it because it may create conflict or controversy.
What most people do not realize is that silence also carries a message. Neglecting to discuss world issues with children can send the message that it is not acceptable to talk about difficult things. It also leaves children with unattended feelings of fear, unease and anxiety that can only be addressed through a reassuring and comforting conversation with an adult. Silence from an adult also forces children to rely on other sources for more information, which can mean misinformation. This includes media and other children or potentially biased adults.
However, many children approach these issues with a curious mind. They want to not only know what is happening but why it is happening. Many children also have a natural desire to fix disparities and have a strong sense of fairness and justice. Studies also indicate that children who are aware of inequalities are more likely to take corrective action to fix it when they are in a position to do so.
Guidelines for Discussing World Issues With Children
It is important to recognize that children are the next rulers and leaders of the world. Children are already seeing the problems of the world and have a desire to understand them. The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides guidelines for discussing world issues with children:
- When discussing a distressing issue, the adult should be a safe and reassuring presence during the conversation
- Find out what the child is feeling about the situation and what their thoughts are about it
- Honestly state the facts of the matter and clear up any misinformation in an age-appropriate manner
- Check back in with the child to find out feeling and thoughts on the information expressed
- Discuss values and actions that would be considered hurtful, helpful, fair or unfair
- End the conversation off in a positive manner by reassuring the child that people are taking action to resolve the issue
- Empower children by brainstorming ideas together on how to positively contribute to resolving the issue in an age-appropriate way
The Impact of Inspired Children
Just like adults, many children have a natural desire to help others. If adults discuss world issues with a sense of hope, it can inspire children and young people to make a difference. Many young people have started nonprofits and charities after learning about a global issue.
One such example is Craig Kielburger who started the WE Charity. When he was just 12 years old in 1995, Kielburger was inspired after learning about a child laborer and child rights activist his age named Iqbal Masih who was murdered for speaking out. Still running today, the organization has helped people in several developing countries such as Kenya, Ecuador, India and Haiti. Thanks to WE Charity, one million people have received access to clean water and more than 30,000 women have the tools to be economically sufficient. Furthermore, 200,000 children now have access to education.
A Generation of Changemakers
Having open dialogues about world issues teaches children about advocacy and standing up for what they believe in. These conversations teach life skills such as teamwork and effective communication, which are essential skills for children to have as adults. Discussing world issues with children is impactful because as they become adults, they will be more likely to be inspired to take action against the disparities they see globally and will be more open-minded and empathetic about the plights of others. Having a compassionate, well-informed and aware generation of people who care about helping others is crucial to solving the issues in the world today and ultimately helps alleviate global poverty.
– Mikayla Burton