You would be hard pressed to find a person who still goes by the adage ‘children should be seen and not heard’ in 2021, but how much are we really hearing children and what could we learn if we listened harder?
For the average child their day is dictated by the decisions and opinions of those around them, from the curriculum that they are taught to the time they should go to bed, adults seem to know best.
However child voice is making a comeback, be that through a global movement inspired by a 15 year old teenager from Sweden passionate about climate change, or a group of students who held a ‘sit-in’ in objection to what they felt were discriminatory policies at their school.
Perhaps there is no better time for us to start listening, and there is emerging evidence that 12-24 year olds are one of the worst affected groups in terms of the social and economic impact of Covid-19.
‘Children Heard’ an organisation dedicated to amplifying the voices of children recently gathered the views of children on the pandemic and found that children were highly conscious of the limits on their freedom during the lockdown, but saw both the limits and opportunities of their situation.
Their perspectives showed some unique insights into the global experience and a rich understanding of the experience, as exemplified by this press conference with the Norwegian prime minister answering question from children.
By listening to these voices at the very least we are likely to see a different perspective and at the very most we might build a different world.
In order to practice what I have preached above; I leave the rest of this blog to the perspectives of the young people themselves on why it is so important for them to be heard.
A group of Year 6 students at Granard Primary School in Wandsworth, London were asked to write about why it was important for children to be heard.
Their views have been collated and presented, as far as possible, in their own words (where italicised).
“A lot of the time we get ignored”
The theme of being overlooked, not prioritised and “[not] even thought about” pervades many of the views. In particular children often got the impression that their opinions aren’t valued despite having the experiences and insights that might make these views very valuable - “just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you are more important than children, this is utterly disgraceful”. This, understandably leads to some frustration, “we are never really heard and this can really annoy us…and causes children to have tantrums and mess around”.
“A lot of the time we get ignored, we don’t get listened to and quite regularly our ideas and opinions aren’t even thought about. Our opinions don’t get put in records or on paper because adults underestimate us when it comes to serious matters but have dealt through huge things like the pandemic” (Ailsa, Y6)
“We are creative, we have imagination like no other”
The creativity, fun and innovative nature of childhood shines through in the opinions, “children are more creative and smarter than adults”. Adults are seen as struggling to find ideas that come to children easily and so listening to these “ideas can benefit adults”.
“Some adults are immature and make the wrong choices. On the other hand, children have a strong imagination that should be heard by adults as they don’t have a strong imagination like kids. Children could have ideas that adults might have never thought of where as adults have to think really deep in but can never find an idea…” (Eyul, Y6)
“I strongly believe that children should be heard. This is because we are all equal”
There is a strong sense of the inequality of not being heard and the injustice that this does to children, often with an appeal for adults to think about how this would feel - “the adults themselves would not like it if they were not heard”.
“Do you even know how you would feel if you weren’t heard? Anger, left out, disappointment…” (Kinza, Y6)
“Imagine being ignored 24/7, it wouldn’t be good for your mental health”
For many children the idea of being heard, being happy and living are closely linked. Being heard seems to bring with it the idea of living for a purpose and therefore ‘existing’ whilst also promoting positive emotions and feelings about the self.
“Children should be heard, adults think they can say anything to the child or make decisions without their say but then this would mean there is no point [in] a child existing.” (Maliha, Y6)
“Some adults with power make bad decisions”
Alongside a sense of the ideas that young people could bring there is a sense of frustration about the decisions that were being made for them “by adults who don’t know a thing”. A sense of the abuse of their power, from a child’s perspective, also dominates.
“Sometimes children’s ideas really benefit the world while we have a joke of a prime minister running out country. I think everyone should listen to children since adults have already destroyed our world.” (Adrian, Y6)
“We are the ones who forever have to live [in this world]”
As is often said, ‘children are the future’, and they know it. The children are aware that decisions made now are going to impact their future. Many propose a collaboration with adults to make the best decisions that will impact the rest of their lives positively.
“If you listen to at least one child it is possible it could benefit your life. The reason it could benefit your life is because, say, a child had an idea and you listened to it then you make the idea into a reality it could make your life so much easier too. Children are also the next generation so therefore we should give them to respect they deserve which is someone listening to them.” (William, Y6)
Many thanks to the children in Year 6 at Granard Primary School for saying it better than I could say it myself.
Please note: the children chose to use their own names in the article.