When Kids Speak Up, They Have the Power to Change the World

Kid-driven change — whether it’s for them, by them, or both — is often the most powerful kind.

Parker Barry

When families in Orange County, Florida, asked their school board to mandate daily recess time for its elementary schools, kids spoke up for their right to play. They attended board meetings, held protests signs and spoke to the media.

“I liked holding the signs,” said Zachary, an 8-year-old Orange County student. “It was great because I got to show people why it’s important to play and how fun it is.”

Carson, a 10-year-old Orange County student, told an Orlando newspaper reporter that his class had just two recess times since the beginning of the school year, and that he felt more stressed in class because of the lack of playtime.

Pretty compelling stuff from Zachary and Carson. Yet county administrators initially said no to mandated recess because, they said, teachers under pressure from new testing standards don’t have enough instruction time. So the kids and parents pressed on, starting a petition and continuing to put pressure on the decision makers.

Kid-driven change — whether it’s for them, by them, or both — is often the most powerful kind.

Kids are usually crystal clear about what’s right and wrong in the world, and as the planet’s newest citizens they’re highly motivated to make it better for the future. As educator Maria Montessori said: “Children, unlike adults, are not on their way to death. They are on their way to life.” When given the chance (and a little help from the adults in their life), kids often want to speak up and do something about the issues they care about.

Help kids become “Soultionaries”

Zoe Weil, founder of the Institute for Humane Education, says adults can play an important role by helping kids become “Solutionaries,” visionaries who create solutions for problems they encounter. Weil says kids need adult support and appropriate information, without overwhelming them with too much bad news.

“So they can see that change is possible and that they have the capacity to contribute to a better world,” says Weil, who also wrote the book Above All Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times. “They must know that they matter.”

Consider the work of 15-year-old Leanne Joyce, who founded the nonprofit organization Positive Impact for Kids to help alleviate the fear and stress felt by hospitalized kids. Leanne’s inspiration came in 2010, when she was barely a tween. She was anxiously awaiting cardiac test results at Duke Children’s Hospital in North Carolina when some teen volunteers gave her a $10 iTunes gift card.

“It made me feel so good,” recalls Leanne. “It completely relieved me of my anxiety … so I wanted to give back and do what they were doing.”

Leanne held a bake sale to raise money to do the same, and eventually (with the help of her parents on the legal side) created Positive Impact for Kids. She now writes grants and seeks donations. Her organization has given iPad minis, Xbox systems, and more to 66 hospitals in all 50 states that kids can use to distract them from their pain and anxiety during medical treatments. Leanne raised more than $32,000 already, and she hopes to raise $100,000 by her high school graduation in 2018.

Kids speak up and get heard

Check out the work of more kids who are using their voices and time to make a difference:

  • At 13, McKenna Pope petitioned the makers of Easy Bake oven to make a gender-neutral model for her little brother. They did.
  • Sydney Smoot, 9, recently testified at a public hearing in Florida about why she opposes new standardized testing procedures, and she made a resounding impact in the meeting (and on major media outlets on the Internet) with her unapologetic gusto.
  • Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote a letter at age 11 to the CEO of McDonald’s protesting the “boy” and “girl” toy policy for Happy Meals. Five years later, McDonald’s changed their toy policy to be more gender neutral.
  • Daniel Stefanski, wrote a book, How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, at 14 to spark friendships between autistic and non-autistic kids.

By speaking in public, raising money, writing a letter and writing a book, these kids took action — and our world is better because of it.

Back in Orange County, Florida, the school board recently made an official recommendation that every elementary school in the county should have at least 20 minutes of recess on days that kids don’t have physical education. This means thousands of kids who didn’t have recess last year will when they return to school this fall, thanks to the kids who spoke up for play.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

In honor of all the kids mentioned in this post and every kid who’s making their voice heard, we’d like to add: “Never doubt that a kid can change the world, too.”


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