WORLD VOICE: The Convention On The Rights Of The Child

WORLD VOICE: The Convention On The Rights Of The Child

Children in Nepal, Image credit to author

When we become parents, we make a promise to our children that we will do everything in our power to protect them and to help them learn, grow and thrive.  But did you know that the world has made a similar promise to all children to protect and promote their rights to reach their full potential?

On November 20, 1989 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been acceded to or ratified by 196 countries –  more countries than any other international treaty.

The Convention sets out the basic human rights that every child should have to develop to their fullest human potential, regardless of  where they live in the world. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; promoting the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.  The Convention also protects children’s rights by setting standards that governments should provide in the areas of health care, education, and legal, civil and social services.

As UNICEF notes,

 The articles of the Convention, in addition to laying the foundational principles from which all rights must be achieved, call for the provision of specific resources, skills and contributions necessary to ensure the survival and development of children to their maximum capability. The articles also require the creation of means to protect children from neglect, exploitation and abuse.

Interested in learning more?  Below are a few of the rights guaranteed by the Convention along with photos of children that I have taken around the world.

Article 1: “A child means every human being below the age of 18 years.”

A child in Zanzibar, Image credit to author

Article 2:  Children must be treated “ … without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of … race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” 

A child in Cameroon, Image credit to author

Article 3: “In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Articles 5 & 18: State signatories must “… respect the … rights and duties of parents … [and recognize that] both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing … of the child.”

A family in Morocco, Image credit to author

Articles 12-14: “… the child who is capable of forming his or her own views [has] the right to express those views [and] the right to freedom of … thought, conscience and religion.”
Article 19: Children must be protected from “… injury or abuse … including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents … or any other person….”
Article 22: “… a child who is seeking refugee status or who is … a refugee … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance ….”
Article 23: The State recognizes “… the right of the disabled child to special care” and the right to “… enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which ensure dignity ….”
Article 24: All children have the right to “the highest attainable standard of health … [including access to] primary health care … nutritious foods and clean drinking-water.” 

Children in Norway, Image credit to author

Article 27:  Every child has “the right to a standard of living adequate for [her/his] physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”

A child in the Iceland, Image credit to author

Articles 28 & 29:  State signatories must “recognize the right of a child to education…[that develops] the child’s personality, talents, mental and physical abilities.” 

Photo Credit to the Author

Articles 32 & 36:   Children must be “protected from economic exploitation … and from [hazardous] work [and] all other forms of exploitation. 

These are just some of the rights set forth in the Convention.  You can read the full text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child here.  

For ideas about activities that you can do with your kids to teach them about rights and responsibilities, check out our past Human Rights Day posts:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2011)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2013)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2014).

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Jennifer Prestholdt.

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

More Posts

WORLD VOICE: 12 Facts On Child Marriage

WORLD VOICE: 12 Facts On Child Marriage

My daughter, who recently turned 11, will be graduating from fifth grade in a few weeks. After the summer break, she will continue on to middle school. But for 34 million girls in our world today, the completion of primary school likely marked the end of formal education. It may even have meant that it was time for her to be married.

When I visited the classroom in the Peruvian highlands that is pictured above, I noticed that slightly more than half of the students were girls. I remarked on this fact to the human rights activist who was giving us the tour of this Quechua-speaking indigenous community. He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, but this is fifth grade. In sixth grade, children go to a lower secondary school that is farther away. Most of the girls won’t go. It takes too long to walk there and they are needed to help at home, so the parents won’t let them go. Besides, most of them will be married soon.”

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before the age of 15. Every year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That averages out to about 28 girls a minute.

Here are a few basic facts that everyone needs to know about child marriage.

1. Child marriage, also called “child, early and forced marriage”, is a formal marriage or informal union before the age 18. Child marriage also affect boys, but the number of girls who enter into child marriage is disproportionately higher.

2. Child marriage occurs in many countries throughout the world and is practiced by members of many religions. UNICEF reports that rates of child marriage are highest in South Asia, where nearly half of all girls marry before age 18; about one in six were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by West and Central Africa, then Eastern and Southern Africa, where 42 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood.

3. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality. Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice in which a girl child is valued less than a boy by her family and community. Child marriage is also happens because of patriarchal values, including the desire to control female sexuality and reproduction. According to UNICEF,

Marrying girls under 18 years old is rooted in gender discrimination, encouraging premature and continuous child bearing and giving preference to boys’ education. Child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden.
4. Girls from poor families are almost twice as likely to marry young as girls from families with more economic security. Not only are girls from poor families more likely to become child brides, but they’re also more likely to remain poor. Yet, in the context of poverty, families may be acting in what they believe is the best interest of their child by marrying their daughter off at a young age


5. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school. Conversely, girls who stay in school are less likely to marry and have children early and more likely to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Educating adolescent girls has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

6. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence. The International Center for Research on Women reports that child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.

7. Child marriage results in girls having babies before they are physically or emotionally ready, often with serious health consequences. According to the World Health Organization, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 around the world. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. The infants of young teenage girls are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life. And in developing countries, 90% of adolescent pregnancies are among married girls

8. Girls who marry before 18 often face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience.

9. Child marriage rates increase in the context of conflict and natural disasters. Save The Children has documented that the proportion of registered marriages where the bride was under 18 in the Syrian refugee community in Jordan rose from 12% in 2011 (roughly the same as the figure in pre-war Syria) more than doubled to 25% by 2013.6 The number of Syrian boys registered as married in 2011 and 2012 in Jordan is far lower, suggesting that girls are being married off to older men. Floods increased child marriage in Bangladesh and there is concern that the 2015 earthquakes have increased child marriage in Nepal.

10. Despite laws against it, the practice of child marriage remains widespread. Child marriage is technically illegal in many countries that have changed their laws to comply with the international standard of 18 as the age of marriage for both boys and girls. Social norms can be more challenging to change. In Ethiopia, for example, the legal age of marriage is 18, but nearly one in five girls are married before they turn 15.

11. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals include a greater commitment to ending child marriage. Goal 5 committed to “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls”. Part of that commitment was a pledge to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriages”.

12. Ending child marriage requires work across all sectors and at multiple levels. Evidenced collected by the ICRW shows that it requires: 1) Empowering girls with information, skills and support networks; 2) Educating and mobilizing parents and community members; 3) Enhancing the accessibility and quality of formal schooling for girls; 4) Offering economic support and incentives for girls and their families; and 5) Fostering an enabling legal and policy framework.

For more information, resources, and ways to take action, see:
UNICEF

International Center for Research on Women

Girls Not Brides

Too Young To Wed

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

More Posts

WORLD VOICE: International Women’s Day 2016: Taking Action for Gender Parity

WORLD VOICE: International Women’s Day 2016: Taking Action for Gender Parity

InternationalWomensDay-landscape

GRAPH_18_WomensDay-CS5Today – Tuesday, March 8 – people all over the world will be celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD).  IWD events across the globe include marches, rallies, sporting events, art expositions, and festivals with live musical and dance performances. IWD is a national holiday in more than two dozen countries; in some countries, only the women get the day off from work.  If you use Google, you might even notice that the Google Doodle honors the occasion.

But what is International Women’s Day really all about? 

The idea for a collective global day  that celebrates women’s solidarity emerged in the early 20th century and was closely linked to women’s involvement in the labor, voting rights and peace movements in North America and Europe.  March 8 has been the global date for IWD since 1913.   The United Nations officially proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day during 1975, the UN’s International Women’s Year.  According to UN Women, 

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is gender parity. The United Nations observance on March 8 is focused on building momentum for the global roadmap for implementation by 2030 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal number five -Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls- and number 4 –Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. t their implementation by 2030.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 5.14.58 PMThe UN’s IWD theme  “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” will also focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, which asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, 91 governments have made specific national commitments. You can read them here.

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and they are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, and global economic crises. Their contributions and leadership are central to finding solutions to these global problems. Yet women lag far behind their male counterparts in many areas of economic engagement.  

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. But only one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

For IWD 2016, a group of international corporations have launched the Pledging For Parity! campaign.   According to the website www.internationalwomensday.com:

Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.

Meet Sophie Walker: A World Mom Who is Taking Action on Gender Parity

WE_Policy_Launch-9488, 9462

The Women’s Equality Party launch their first policy document. Leader Sophie Walker addresses attendees.  Photo credit Fiona Hanson 2015©.

Sophie Walker was working as a journalist and a diversity campaigner when, last March, a friend asked if she would be interested in helping to set up a new political party. In the run-up to Britain’s 2015 General Election, many voters were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of inclusion and understanding from the other political parties when it came to equal rights and opportunities for women. A group of them came together, spread the word to more, who spread the word across the country – and The Women’s Equality Party was born. Sophie was elected as leader by the new party’s steering committee in July and the party now has 70 local branches across England, Wales and Scotland, and 45,000 members and registered supporters. The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is a non-partisan political party that welcomes members from right across the political spectrum to campaign for equal representation, equal pay, an end to violence against women, equal education, equal parenting and equal representation in the media. Sophie is now standing as WE’s candidate for London Mayor.

“I want to make London the first gender-equal city in the world, where the 4 million women who live here can do the jobs they want to do and walk the streets in safety. London needs a Mayor with some imagination!” – Sophie Walker

Ways That You Can Take Action on International Women’s Day 2016

  • Join the conversation for International Women’s Day, #IWD2016! Main hashtags: #IWD2016 (#DíadelaMujer, #Journéedelafemme); #Planet5050;  (And check out the automatic emoji on Twitter when tweeting with the hashtag #IWD2016!)
  • Change your Facebook and Twitter cover image with the banners available from UN Women in English, Spanish and French (under “General”) here.
  • Bring your IWD event to a global audience. If you organize or participate in a local International Women’s Day event, share your images and messages on the UN Women  Facebook Event page.
  • Join the campaign and make a #PledgeforParity.
  • Read ONE’s new report Poverty Is Sexist and sign the letter  calling for global gender equality.
  • Check out UN Women’s multimedia resources to learn more.  See the Interactive Timeline: Women’s Footprint in History  as well as the Photo Essay: A day in the life of women.

This is an original post written by Jennifer Prestholdt, the Human Rights Warrior, for World Moms Blog.

How will you celebrate #IWD2016?

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

More Posts

WORLD VOICE: Activities for Human Rights Day 2015

WORLD VOICE: Activities for Human Rights Day 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.02.15 PMEach year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.

The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.

This year’s Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.

The “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” 50th anniversary campaign will highlight the theme of rights and freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago.

We have a tradition at World Moms Blog of celebrating Human Rights Day by sharing ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can learn about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

For more ideas, check out our past Human Rights Day posts:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2011)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2013)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2014).

universal-declaration-of-human-rights1

The UDHR in a word cloud. From Article 26 website.

1. Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Download an illustrated version of the UDHR on the UN website here. You can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here.

2. Join the UNICEF Kid Power Team and work together to help end global malnutrition. Globally, one in four children is malnourished, about 159 million children worldwide. 50 million children suffer from acute malnutrition resulting in about one million children dying each year. And 16 million children suffer from the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which can require specialized feeding care such as treatment with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) packets.

Families can join the UNICEF Kid Power Team by purchasing a UNICEF Kid Power Band—available at Target—and downloading the free companion UNICEF Kid Power App. Kids go on missions to learn about new cultures and earn points by getting active. Points unlock funding from partners, parents and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to real, severely malnourished children around the world. In the pilot project earlier this year, more than 11,300 kids in Boston, Dallas and New York joined the UNICEF Kid Power Team and took enough steps to walk around the world more than 23 times. These kids earned enough Kid Power Points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets, enough to save the lives of 1,259 children.

3. Stand up for the rights of girls everywhere. Girl UP, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, engages girls to take action. Girl UP’s current advocacy priority is improving access to quality education for girls worldwide, especially those in vulnerable settings. Worldwide, 140 million children are not in school – more than half are girls. Learn more about the impact of education of girls on society here. Learn about ways you can advocate (no matter your age) here.

4. Sing your own song! Amandla! is a song that was a sung by Black South Africans during apartheid to give them strength. Amandla is a Zulu and Xhosa word meaning “power”. It was also the name of a documentary about the role of music in apartheid South Africa that won multiple awards at Sundance in 2003. The chorus is:

We will fight for the right to be free
We will build our own society
And we will sing, we will sing
We will sing our own song

The band UB40, which strongly advocated against apartheid in the 1980s, did a popular cover of the song Amandla!


Amnesty International created a full lesson plan around the song. Check out the full lesson, which encourages kids to sing along with the song. Take out specific words and have your kids fill in the blanks. Kids have such a great sense of justice that their words may surprise you! Then have your kids draw the images that the song evokes and present their art projects to others.

(Fun fact: Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games, was named for the word and its meaning.)

5. Play Rights of the Child Pictionary. Based on the game Pictionary, each child sketches his or her interpretation of one article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When all are done, you can take turns examining the sketch and guessing the article it represents. For this and other ideas for teaching children’s rights through art, click here.

6. Play Human Rights Musical Chairs. This lesson developed by The Advocates for Human Rights is game similar to musical chairs, with a writing and/or drawing twist. Select magazine and newspaper images that you feel effectively demonstrate a particular article of one of the 30 articles of the UDHR. For example, if the picture shows a scene where a group of children, boys and girls, are happy and walking with backpacks on their way to school, you could discuss Article 26 the “Right to Education” and Article 2 “Freedom from Discrimination” as both girls and boys are attending school.

Tape one image onto each chair along with one sheet of paper. Select music to indicate the starting and stopping of the writing. Tell the kids that they can write about whatever the image makes them think of. When the music starts, have the kids write the beginning of the story based on the image. After a few minutes, stop the music and have them move to the next image. Start the music and have them write the middle of the story based on that image. Encourage them to follow the storyline already in progress but allow them to get creative. Stop the music and have them move to the third image and write the ending. For more ideas, check out The Advocates for Human Rights’ resources for educators.

7. Learn more about famous and not-so-famous human rights heroes. There are many great biographies of famous activists (I Am Malala is one you may enjoy) but there are also many other inspiring peace and social justice activists to learn about.
Better World Heroes is an informational website which includes the biographies of 1000 heroes who have fought to build a better world.

The Giraffe Heroes project tells the stories of “Giraffe Heroes” – people who stick their necks out for the common good.

8. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches as part of an anti-racism, anti-bullying activity. Teaching Tolerance has developed a great simulation activity. The simulation exercise can help children understand the emotional impact of unfair practices. The follow-up activity on discrimination helps ensure that students understand that the goal is to change those practices, not the characteristics that make us different from one another. Check out all of Teaching Tolerance’s resources here.

9. Take a test together. The Representation Project has developed two quizzes to examine how mainstream media shapes our beliefs and practices about women and girls, as well as what it means to be a man. For families with preteens and teens who are interested starting a conversation about this issue, the Representation Project’s family resources can be found here.

#TheRepTest is a media literacy tool, sparking conversation about overall representation in film, television, and video games and encouraging more diversity in the entertainment industry.

The #BeyondTheMask quiz lets you grade male characters as role models.

10. Have a conversation with your family about what it means to be “free and equal”. Watch this video with your kids and discuss their reactions.

What else does it mean to be “free and equal”? the United Nations recently launched a new campaign called “Free & Equal” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. There are fact sheets, information about a film series, and much more on the Free & Equal website. You can even check out the very first Bollywood video for gay rights. The UN is asking that you share if you believe everyone should be welcomed into their family’s hearts, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The 2015 “Faces” video from the Free & Equal campaign celebrates the contributions that millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people make to families and local communities around the world. The cast features “real people” (not actors), filmed in their workplaces and homes — among them, a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Can you see past the label?

If you are not sure how to talk to your kids about LGBT issues, check out these Human Rights Campaign resources that provide the language and information needed to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and issues in an age appropriate way with children and youth.

I hope you and your families have a great Human Rights Day 2015! If you have other ideas for human rights activities, please share them with us!

What are your ideas?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Jennifer Prestholdt who also writes at HumanRightsWarrior.com.

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

More Posts

WORLD VOICE: Why I Send My Kids To Camp

WORLD VOICE: Why I Send My Kids To Camp

IMG_0826I just returned from two weeks in the woods of northern Minnesota. This was my sixth summer reprising my college job as a camp counselor. The opportunity to be at camp at the same time as my three children has allowed me a unique perspective: I get to witness firsthand the benefits of sending my kids to camp.

I am proud to work at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian language and cultural immersion program that is one of the fourteen Concordia Language Villages.  Respekt is the guiding principle; all deltagere (campers) and staff promise to both have and take responsibility for their actions as part of the Skogfjorden promise. But I am willing to bet that most of the following benefits of sending your kids to sleepaway camp apply to pretty much any high quality summer program.

Kids do things at camp that they may never attempt at home. Being outside of their normal social circle allows kids to try new things. Sometimes this is as simple as a picky eater who samples food at camp that he would flat-out refuse at home. My daughter, for example, barely nibbles the kid-friendly items in her lunchbox but she chows down on almost everything she is served at camp. But sometimes I have seen kids do incredible things that they would never dream of doing at home. I remember a girl in my cabin one year whose parents pulled me aside when they dropped her off to brief me on how incredibly shy she was. And she WAS painfully shy. But exactly one week later, I saw her stand up in front of the entire camp and sing a solo a cappella in the talent show. It was so beautiful that I teared up. Her parents saw a video of it on the camp blog and were. Totally. Blown. Away.

The corollary of this is that kids get to explore different aspects of their personalities at camp.

At school, a kid may be labeled as this, that or the other, but they get a chance to start fresh at camp. At camp, most kids just get to be valued for who they are, without having to worry about how they are viewed by their long-term peers. In fact, two of my three kids kind of don’t want their friends to go to camp with them. It is THEIR place and don’t want to cross the streams of their lives.

Camp helps kids learn how to problem solve and make decisions for themselves. One of the things that I have learned from parenting is that kids actually have very little control over their lives. Understandably, that can be frustrating. In a lot of ways, camp helps children feel in control of what happens to them. At Skogfjorden, kids get to choose between activities twice a day, they choose what they will do during free time, choose how much money they will take out of the bank and what they will buy with it, choose to be kjempenorsk and speak only Norwegian all day.  I think that these experiences make kids feel competent and independent, which in the end will help them to be better problem-solvers in any new situation.

And sometimes it can lead to brilliance. One summer, I was assigned to work the camp candy store (or kiosk, as we call it at Skogfjorden). In terms of kid priorities, candy is at the very top of the list. Since the store was only open once a day, the lines were looooong. My oldest son showed up one afternoon and placed a massive and complicated order of soda, chocolate, gummies, etc. He had done the math in his head and paid with exact change for each category of item. I flipped out. “What do you think you are doing? You can NOT have all of that candy!” “Mom,” he responded calmly, “it’s not for me.” Turns out he was running a business. For a small but reasonable fee, he would stand in line for you and buy your candy. Understandably, he had quite a customer base. Not only that, but what he bought for himself he would save until the next morning – when everyone else had eaten up all of their own candy and were desperate for more. Then he would sell at with a steep markup. I gave him $20 at the start of camp on Monday. By Friday, he had doubled his money and started a matching fund for a kid in his cabin who didn’t have much money.

Camp forces kids to take a break from their ever-present technology. Everyone talks about how one of the benefits of sleepaway camp is that today’s plugged-in kids are forced to unplug and commune with nature. That’s true, of course, but it doesn’t capture the sheer beauty of some of the things I have seen at camp. I helped a 7-year-old with her camp evaluation last week and the most important thing for her was that she “had seen more animals than she had in a really long time”. This happened on a day that I saw two deer sprint through camp, as well as a woodchuck, a red-headed woodpecker, and a hummingbird, not to mention all the various insects, birds and bees. (We have bears, too, but that just means you have to sing on your way back to the cabin.) I especially love how the girls in my cabin were constantly showing me the caterpillars, inchworms, moths, shells and frogs that they had discovered.

Speaking of frogs, I have to share the beauty of The Night of the Frogs. It had rained hard – torrentially hard – that day and then cleared off. On my way back to my cabin, I encountered my son Simon and 3 of his buddies in the middle of the flooded path, catching frogs in the moonlight. There were frogs EVERYWHERE – big and small. It was like something out of the Ten Commandments. The boys had already caught more than a dozen frogs of all sizes. Somewhere they had found a cardboard box. They showed me the inhabitants of their cardboard box with pride. They had worked out a system for catching the frogs and their cooperation was yielding enormous success. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and remember their young voices raised in laughter and exhilaration.

Kids benefit from relationships with trusted adults who are NOT their parents. At camp, kids have to create new relationships – on their own, without parental guidance or influence. New friends among their peers are important and perhaps what they will remember most about camp. But the relationships that they forge with trusted adults who are NOT their parents is hugely important. While counselors are not parents, they are more than school-year teachers. They are positive role models who have time and energy to listen, talk, and laugh with our kids. They reinforce the messages and values that we parents are trying to instill, but – unlike us sadly lame parents – THEY are inherently cool. Sometimes kids listen better to these non-parental authority figures who are closer to their age. Parenting is a lot of responsibility and I, for one, feel better knowing that my husband and I am not alone in raising our kids.

Camp helps kids figure out who they are. It helps them to grow up. The truth is that putting a kid in the somewhat uncomfortable situation of living with a lot of other people in a small space helps them learn not only about cooperation and teamwork, but how to respect others and negotiate. This helps kids build confidence, courage, independence, resilience and flexibility.

I sent my two sons off to camp today. They have reached the point in their teen years when they don’t especially need – or want – their mom around when they are at camp. But that’s ok with me. I know that they are in one of the most safe and supportive environments that will ever be in and that they will come home to me the better for it.

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Jennifer Prestholdt.

Do your kids go to any sort of summer camp?

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

More Posts