Together, we'll help you jump-start the conversations, breaking down the news into kid-friendly bites.
The Occupy Wall Street protests offer a great opportunity to talk about the important social and economic problems with our kids. Even though every day more OWS protesters are being forced out of encampments around the country, the movement continues to maintain its momentum. A mother in Brooklyn started Parents for Occupy Wall Street, while kids have held protests to voice their concerns about cutbacks in education and arts programs chanting: “We are marching today, for a better tomorrow.”
Here are a few main issues that you can discuss with your kids.
Income inequality. Your child might have heard the anthem of the OWS movement: “We are the 99%.” This is simply describing how protesters think it’s wrong that 1% of the U.S. population holds 42% of the nation’s wealth. Kids might not feel a connection to OWS’ signs and chants. They’d probably understand this concept better if a parent or a friends’ parent has lost their job and now they worry about paying monthly bills. With unemployment still high and many companies still holding back on hiring, this problem is not likely to go away anytime soon.
Right of free speech. One of our country’s sacred rights is free speech. You can explain to kids how it’s ok to express your opinion, but it’s best to do it in a peaceful way. Show them the “Children’s Crusade” video of kids protesting in New York. Or if your child is really interested in going to a protest, take them to one and supervise them at all times. By seeing a protest in person, kids can better understand the protesters’ commitment and what they’re fighting for. You can also give a history lesson about how peaceful protests in the streets helped foster social change in our country in the past — from the civil rights and women’s rights movements and the 1960s anti-war protests, up to the recent advocacy for gay rights.
Wall Street greed and bailouts. When the large investment and insurance companies made big bets on the housing market and risky things and lost a lot of money, the U.S. government came to their rescue. But there’s been little help for Joe down the street who lost his job and had to leave his home because can’t pay his mortgage. That’s essentially why OWS wants policy changes that would punish companies for bad behavior.
What if your kid asks if OWS has been successful in making any changes? One result of OWS is the increased public awareness of bad bank policies. OWS wasn’t directly responsible for the Bank Transfer Day campaign that urged people to move their money from major banks to the friendlier credit unions. But the swelling consumer opposition to Bank of America’s and other big banks’ plan to charge a fee to use debit cards forced the banks to scrap the idea.
OWS has also raised more awareness of the government’s tax policies that favor the rich — but your kid probably won’t want to talk about taxes!
On the other hand, some parents don’t believe the protests are an effective way to bring about change and worry that the protests can cause disagreements among families, friends and neighbors — and divide a community.
Nevertheless, the debate about these issues will surely continue. Here are some other questions to spark up a conversation with your kids:
* What do you think are the important issues of OWS?
* What would you do if you thought a situation or rule was unfair? How would you try to change that situation or rule?
* Do you think protesting in the streets can bring about social change? Or would you (as an adult) join a community board or try to run for political office?
* How would you attract people’s attention at a protest? Would you invite musicians and organize walks and meetings?
* Even if the “encampments” were getting run down, do you think it’s fair of the government to close them down? Does it make a difference whether protesters are on private land (like Zuccotti Park) vs. public land?
* Do you think wealthy people should be obligated to give back to society more than other people? What issues or charities to do you think wealthy people should help?