A few days ago during grocery shopping my son asked me an unexpected question. We are aware of all the noise Donald Trump is making in the political news; we watch the news each morning before starting our day. He asked me, “If Trump is president where would we live?’ Now we are of mixed races hailing from Spain, Ecuador, & Puerto Rico. With that huge statement Trump made about sending Latinos back to their homeland, there’s no wonder why he was worried. Then, I wondered do politics really affect our children? If so, how? It’s safe to say that my son’s questions gave me some stuff to think about and question myself.
Children’s relation to politics can be understood in a variety of different ways, including the impact of politics on children, the political rights and status of children, children’s understanding of politics, and children’s involvement in political activity. Several schools have shown an interest in these topics at different times. In the 1960s children and politics tended to be the province of political sociologists and psychologists, using a lens of socialization theory; more recently it has begun to receive some attention from scholars in the new social studies of childhood, with greater attention paid to children’s agency. The impact of political decisions and processes on children has been an abiding area of interest not only for children’s rights advocates but also for economists and political scientists. Lawyers and political philosophers have also addressed questions of children’s status in relation to the political world. However, children are remarkable in mainstream political theory mainly by their absence. The general picture is of a working assumption in the field of political writing that children, except as objects of policy, are not relevant to the discourse. The occasions when this notion is explicitly stated, are rare and worth noting for that reason. More often it is unstated and, to all appearance, not thought about. Apart from a period early in the last century, when child labor was a major issue and a spell in the 1960s and early 1970s, when political socialization received a great deal of attention, this lack of attention has been the picture for more than a century, and remains so now.
Whether they participate in politics and whether they understand it, children cannot escape the consequences. Decisions about the economy, taxes and benefits, planning and transport, and the general distribution of public spending as well as decisions about more directly child-related matters such as education and health and wider discourses around the politics of childhood all have direct impacts on children’s lives. A key issue is how political systems that exclude children from participation can ensure that their wishes and interests are not overlooked.
Dira Monroe ©