Today is World Children’s Day and November 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). On this day, governments around the world should be looking back to see if the lives of children have improved since 1989. Many children’s rights groups abroad and in Canada would argue that our view and treatment of children has not improved enough. One recent example is the un-informed decision in 2018 by the Ontario government to close the provincial Child and Youth Advocate Office thereby silencing the voices of Ontario’s children.
Our society has become so focused on preparing our children for the future that we have forgotten that children have the right to be heard and make decisions on issues that impact them now. Children and youth rarely have the opportunity to explore their physical and social environments on their own terms which results in many children not gaining the tools and skills they will need to navigate life’s challenges. Our education system has become increasingly focused on academic achievement and has lost sight of the overall well-being of our children. For far too many of our children, school has become another place in their lives where they are told that they just don’t measure up.
In Ontario, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports that amongst students from Grade 7 to 12, over one-third (39 per cent) indicate a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression) and that one-in-six (17 per cent) students indicate a serious level of psychological distress (representing about 159,400 students). American psychologist Peter Gray has been looking at how children interact with their environments through their self-direct play and has noted that this type of free play has been steadily decreasing in the past 50 years. At the same time, child and youth anxiety, depression and suicide have been increasing (Gray, 2011).
Children are the future, but we must remember that the best way to prepare our future leaders is to let them participate fully in their present. In the words of American psychologist John Dewey: “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” Recently, it has been wonderful to see children around the world expressing their views and challenging the status quo on issues that include the environment and gun control. On this day which celebrates the rights of the child, let us pledge: to provide children with more opportunities to express their voice; to listen to these voices; and to recognize children and youth’s rights to be active and respected citizens in this world.