A couple of weeks ago, a picture of a toddler at the Women’s March swept the Internet. This toddler was holding a sign that was clearly self-made, containing no words or recognizable designs, and rather was covered in crayon scribbles. The picture depicts the toddler hoisted on her parent’s shoulders, holding up the sign with a defiant facial expression. The picture became incredibly popular on the Internet, earning the title “woke baby.” Many people mused that the toddler’s sign might hold a secret message that is integral to the protests in some way. Many people also expressed pride and praise for the parents. However, some people thought that a protest was an inappropriate environment for a young child.
People who think this believe that taking a child to a protest either exposes them to inappropriate violence and language, or that it is a form of indoctrination. Neither of these concerns about protests are true. These concerns are actually just thinly veiled means of expressing one’s dislike for protests.
A common example of these arguments about children at protests occurs at gay pride parades. Pride parades are not quite the same as protests, since they are usually city sanctioned, which takes away the potential to be radical or dangerous. It’s worth mentioning that the Women’s March, while not technically state sanctioned, was attended by many celebrities and politicians that gave it a type of legitimacy and safety that is rare for protests. Since pride parades are usually seen as community events, it is fairly common for parents to bring their children. The children often wear rainbow attire that matches that of their parents, carry signs and dance.
Some people believe that children’s participation in these parades is unethical, because the parades sometimes feature sexual themes and because it indoctrinates children into the arguments made by protesters. However, in the case of pride parades, these arguments are just manifestations of homophobia.
While these parades do often feature sexuality, with marchers wearing sexual costumes and protest signs having sexual slogans, it is likely that children will encounter similar levels of sexuality in the outside world in general. The only difference between the outside world in general and a gay pride parade is the orientation of the sexuality displayed. People who don’t think that children should attend pride parades see non-straight sexuality as inherently more inappropriate than straight sexuality.
Furthermore, the idea that taking children to a pride parade, or any other type of protest for that matter, is a type of indoctrination is flawed because it is impossible not to expose children to your beliefs. Societal and familial factors are the most important factors in forming a young person’s political beliefs. This is true whether or not you take your child to a protest. You cannot avoid exposing your child to your views, and you cannot avoid affecting your child’s views through this exposure.
It is also important that children feel included in their parents’ lives. If a certain political cause is important to a parent, it can be psychologically beneficial for a parent to include their child in that cause. It makes the child feel like they are an important and valuable part of the parent’s life and helps them understand their parent as a person.
Protests like the Women’s March and pride parades, however, are safer than some other types of protests. This is because these protests and parades are state sanctioned and only mildly controversial. Other protests, such as Black Lives Matter protests, which are not state sanctioned and often have a more radical purpose, could be actually unsafe for children.
For example, many of the protests in Ferguson featured police violence against protesters, with local police throwing tear gas and charging into the groups of protesters, throwing punches and yelling slurs. Some children of color are exposed to violence like this in their daily lives, but this environment could still be uniquely traumatic for them. Repeated exposure to violent and racist environments is already traumatizing enough for adults and would probably have a much more profound effect on children. While it is important for children to feel important and involved through more radical causes like Black Lives Matter, when these protests are met with racist reactionaries, it might leave them demoralized and traumatized.
Generally, taking kids to protests can be a healthy and valuable part of parenting. It helps kids feel included in their parent’s lives and empowers children to care about the world around them. The only exception to this is when protests are met with violent responses, since many children would find the responses to be traumatic. Typically, letting your child participate in a protest with you is not indoctrination but rather a great way to make your child feel valuable and included.