It’s understandable that, as a parent of a certain political persuasion, you’d want to grab your kid and head to the Women’s March on Washington. What better way to take advantage of this historic opportunity to teach your child about civic engagement and the beauty of the American way?
And while that response is certainly an admirable one, experts urge making many age-based considerations before hopping the next bus with your possibly miserable little one in tow.
“I brought my daughter to Obama’s first inauguration when there was a record crowd. She was 3,” Frank Smyth, founder and executive director of Global Journalist Security, a hostile-environment training and consulting firm, tells Yahoo Beauty. He recalls the at-times frightening crush of people around himself and his tiny daughter, who got separated from the rest of their group in the crowd. “My wife thinks she’ll look at the pictures and be glad she was there,” he notes. “I think it was not wise.”
Smyth will attend the Women’s March with his now-11-year-old this weekend, but not before hosting a sign-making party and safety-in-a-crowd presentation at his home, aiming to help other activist families prep for the big day. He believes his daughter is way more equipped to handle the situation than she was a toddler, suggesting, “If your child is not a tween and up I wouldn’t encourage bringing them.”
Still, he understands that plenty of younger kids will be taken along, and is not judging — just offering some possibly helpful advice.
“Stay near the exits and use situational awareness…and think about moving in pairs rather than large groups,” he suggests, noting that “crowd crush,” defined as six people within a square meter — is definitely a possibility, which could add to the feeling of chaos. “If they fence in the mall across the back, it can be incredibly packed, so you have to really discipline yourself to stay near an exit; otherwise it could take you an hour, minimum, to leave [when you need or want to].”
New York City mom and longtime political activist Maura Keaney agrees that deciding to bring or not bring children can be a tough call. On one hand, she tells Yahoo Beauty, “You want your kids to be activists.” But also, “There are going to be plenty of opportunities over the next four years for them to do so.” Keaney recently organized a Kids’ Speak-Out in Central Park, giving children a platform at which to express their post-election concerns. And while it was a success, it was a short and tiny event as compared to what’s expected on Saturday — and it still left one of her kids miserable from the cold.
But, she says, “So often we say, ‘You can do that when you grow up.’ I want my children to know they have the opportunity now to have their voices heard and to make change. You just want to think about engaging them in a way that’s empowering for them, even if it’s something as simple as them making a poster, and then following it up with other opportunities, whether that’s writing a letter or talking about public affairs at dinnertime.”
When planning to take your kids to the big march, Keaney — who remembers attending an anniversary March on Washington when she was about 8 years old as a “fun family activity” — suggests, “Think about it the same way as when you travel with kids: Is there a playground nearby? Is there something fun to participate in?” She suggests the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum or even a cup of hot cocoa at Starbucks as possible respites when the protesting gets to be too much.
In addition to brushing up on this and other excellent bits of practical safety- and temperature-related advice — offered in this article, as well as on the constantly updated Parents: Women’s March on Washington Facebook group — it’s important to help make mental preparations.
Child and teen psychologist Barbara Greenberg also stresses not overwhelming kids with too long of a stay. “Limit the amount of exposure and pay attention to their anxiety levels. Don’t flood them,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. Prepare them for possibly unpleasant moments, she suggests, by talking with them ahead of time.
“Tell them what to expect, such as the noise of people’s passion, and the idea that sometimes people don’t handle their opinions well,” she says. Another mom and protest veteran, Emmaia Gelman, says that dealing with possibly intimidating counter-protestors could be part of the experience. “Don’t sugarcoat it, and explain that scary jerks are why it’s so important that we all march together,” she suggests. “And be prepared to leave if you need to.”
Greenberg advises telling kids to “not engage with [counter protestors] in any way,” and reassuring kids that you’re there to keep them safe. Using visuals, such as photos of crowds from past marches, can also be helpful ahead of time, she suggests, as well as reassuring kids that they can turn to you if something is making them anxious at any time.
For Smyth, who acknowledges that a terrorist attack is now a typical fear at massive events like this, a more threatening situation is that of a panicking crowd — even if there’s no reason for the panic. “Loud sounds can lead to a panic. It could be almost anything,” he warns. “Somebody could scream, a car could backfire, that’s all it takes, or all of a sudden protestors could clash with police. People panic and then you have nowhere to go.” So it’s important, he says, “to really discipline yourself and stay near an exit.”
All that said, there are of course plenty of positives when it comes to including your kids in the plan. “Bringing them gives them the opportunity to see what empowerment looks like, and what civic engagement looks like,” Smyth says. To which Keaney adds, “I think it’s really important for them to see this.”