As a strong advocate for youth voice and engaging children, it is inevitable that people will make comments like “but kids don’t understand the world” or “they can’t give us meaningful input”. And I understand their concerns.
Children have limited life experience. They have not finished their schooling, let alone completed a university degree.
How can they possibly have the information they need to have informed, meaningful conversations about issues in society?
Children bring with them a unique perspective. They may have less time in the world than us, but they have experienced life first-hand. A child living in poverty is better placed to tell you what it is like to go without, than a university professor who studies economics. A child who stopped going to the playground when she turned 6 because she outgrew the equipment, can provide invaluable insight into how we can create inclusive play spaces.
Children and young people’s ideas guide us and help us make decisions that they can connect with, and benefit from. This is not an easy task. Listening to a child’s creative story about learning to fly or building purple slides, can seem like a waste of time. In my work, perhaps the most interesting and challenging component of working with children is the ‘translation’ – reading between the lines of what a child tells us to see how it fits into adult thinking.
I think it is important that we understand how we can take the creative, broad thinking of children and give it a genuine, meaningful role in community decision making. We can not always take what they say to us literally – especially for very young children – but it does not mean it has any less value. Their experiences of the world are still relevant and important to them, even if their time in the world is far less than our own.
When we listen the children beyond the words, when we observe their behaviour and their interests and give them space to think creatively, we honour them as citizens and valuable contributors. And as humans, don’t we all just want to feel valued and part of something bigger than ourselves?
Sonia Regan is a freelance Engagement Consultant, partnering with organisations and community groups to listen to, and embed, the voices of children in program development and evaluation. Through her own personal experiences and family history, Sonia has developed a strong sense of social justice and community inclusion. Sonia believes that involving children and young people in the co-design and delivery of community initiatives is essential to growing stronger, more engaged communities. Sonia holds degrees in Sociology and Disability Studies from Flinders University.