Children’s and Young People’s Participation in Political Spaces by Jennifer Tang

Although children have always been active members of our society, their contributions are often overlooked.  Around the world, children are actively contributing to their families through work inside and outside of their homes, in their communities by as actors in development projects, and in the cultural life of their societies (Lansdown 2005). In Western societies, children have increasingly been partitioned into smaller and often private spaces such as their homes, schools, and extracurricular activities in which they are enrolled and directed (Ansell 2009). Unfortunately, the participation of children as political actors in all of these settings is often discounted (Skelton 2013). Political scientist Jessica Kulynych argues that we do not see the political identity of children as political actors and that such failed to include them in in the public sphere, creating a gap in our quest for a true democracy (2001). This reading list addresses that gap by pulling together key readings on children’s and young people’s participation in political spaces.

Children have been active politically though their participation takes various forms. Since the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child in 1989, child rights advocates have begun to create opportunities for children to participate in formal political processes through international conferences, and national children’s parliaments, and even in municipal youth councils influencing budgets, programs, and policies (Guerra 2005, Hart 2008). Children have also been agents in non-formal political ways, self-organizing to carve out their own opportunities, to protest, to raise awareness, to get a seat at the table, and to help create policies (Jeffrey 2013, Ginwright & James 2002, Rogers et. al 2012). While acknowledging that children face challenges not only in entering public forums, but also in participating freely and openly in deliberative forums with adults, still children can create “spaces of possibility” to contest for the extension of governmentality (Cockburn 2007, O’Toole & Gale 2008). We must be critical to connect the changes that children are able to make in their communities, as well as the challenges they face in having their views taken into account on issues that affect them, with the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that swirl at nation, regional, and global levels (Answell 2009, Hart 2008, Katz 2004). Moreover, we must work with children to be critical social change actors themselves to analyze and initiate structural and systemic transformation.

Jennifer Tang is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Psychology program, working on issues related to the promotion of children’s participation and participatory democracy. She holds a Master’s Degree in Human Security and Peacebuilding from Royal Roads University in Canada. Currently, her work is focused on children’s participation in community and municipal level governance. Spurred by her work in East and West Africa, the challenge of working in ways that respect and support community-generated and contextually cognizant approaches and systems is integral to her approach. She has taught courses in Human Development, Human Sexuality, and the Psychology of Sex and Gender Roles at Hunter College and the Pratt Institute. Currently, she is a Research Associate at the Children’s Environments Research Group and a Writing Fellow at Hunter College in New York City.

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