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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

28 August 2020

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What Australian children really care about

For her PhD in sociology, Nita Alexander studies children who want to have a say in the future of Australia, and the planet as a whole.  “Children’s activism is any sort of action with a political intent that children engage in,” Nita says.  “Children are really standing up politically and expressing their opinions and their demands to the government.”

Currently, adults in Western countries tend to disapprove of children’s activism, instead of supporting their children to have an influence on the society of the future. Nita still remembers well the trigger moment that changed everything for her, that sensitised her to environmental activism. “I was living in Cairns at the time,” she says. “Matt Canavan, the politician, made an announcement about Adani on Twitter. It was a real celebration, like ‘yeah, it’s going ahead’, and I just go so angry.”

Nita noticed, too, that children were getting angry as well and trying to make their voices heard. “I was so impressed by the young people,” she says. “It really changed the way I looked at things. I was so shocked at how adults still tend to view kids with these outdated attitudes. So, I wanted to learn more about it and be part of the discussion.”

Remote but connected

More recently, Nita moved to Perth for family reasons and decided to work remotely on her PhD, even before the onset of Covid-19. The internet has not only made working from home easier, it has also helped children to learn about issues they care about. “There is a wealth of information online, and children are able to access that very easily. It comes natural to them to just check everything on Google.”

If you look at Greta Thunberg in Sweden, she was one person doing one act every Friday. And because of the media and how it was spread on social media, it enabled everyone to share information, and also to organise actual events and create a global movement.”
JCU PhD student Nita Alexander

Greta was an inspiration, but she is not alone

Even though Greta Thunberg had a big impact on children’s activism, it’s not all about Greta. “There are lots of kids doing very similar things,” Nita says. “But Greta has, through the media, become a bit of a figurehead of this movement. It is now a global movement, and there are lots of children doing as much work and expressing as much political voice as Greta.”

Moving forward, Nita plans to hear directly from child activists.. “I am hoping to be involved in human rights and environmental activist groups involving young people,” she says. “And then I will actually be observing them and also interviewing them in surveys directly with the kids themselves.”

Which topics matter to politically active children?

In addition, Nita Alexander is trying to find out what kind of topics matter in particular to Australian children.

“I am hoping to set up and facilitate a young children’s activist group for the year, sort of running along the school terms, and to see how we go over a 12-month period.”

“In relation to my research, I want it to be children led, and so I am going to try not to influence that. A part of what I am going to look at is what sort of topics do children choose, and what they are interested in.”

Making a difference in society

When it comes to children’s activism, it is of course also important to find out what Nita’s own children think about their mum’s PhD project. “They are really supportive. They feel quite happy and passionate about it all,” Nita says. “And I think they are thrilled that I believe in young people and that’s been really positive for them.”

Interested in how our present circumstances can affect the future of our next generation? Check out the JCU webinar on COVID-19 and Young Australians.

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