‘The more information the better’: Experts say teens can be empowered to protest safely

Experts say there are many ways to ensure teens are mentally and physically ready to protest safely. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Teens are more connected than ever with news about activism, protests and social justice issues. But as more and more young people take an interest in championing issues like racial injustice or the need for climate change, parents may wonder: is it safe for teens to attend protests?

Aidan ElDifrawi and his father, Ash, a clinical psychologist, are co-hosts of the Stop me podcast, where they discuss the differences between Gen-Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, and their parents.

When it comes to protests, ElDifrawi (16) urges peers to make sure they really know what they stand for before asking their parents about attending protests, doing research at home, and discussing the issues with parents and friends to make sure the causes supported in specific protests are the ones that resonate with their values ​​and beliefs.

Aidan ElDifrawi, who co-hosts the Hold Me Back podcast with his father Ash, says he tells his colleagues to make sure a protest fits their belief system before considering participating.  (Photo: Aidan ElDifrawi)Aidan ElDifrawi, who co-hosts the Hold Me Back podcast with his father Ash, says he tells his colleagues to make sure a protest fits their belief system before considering participating.  (Photo: Aidan ElDifrawi)

Aidan ElDifrawi, who co-hosts the Hold Me Back podcast with his father Ash, says he tells his colleagues to make sure a protest fits their belief system before considering attending. (Photo: Aidan ElDifrawi)

“It’s tempting to go with the crowd, but teens should be prepared not to follow the crowd,” says ElDifrawi. “[If you go to protests] go with friends and family and hold each other accountable. And call each other if you start to see bad behavior. It’s not supposed to make people violent, but it happens.”

Yet, even with the best of plans, it can be difficult for parents to know the best way to support a child’s desire to be part of bringing about change, while still helping them physically and mentally. keeps safe. Yahoo Life talked to mental health and public safety experts, as well as parents, about what it’s like to attend protests with teens and how teens can stay safe at these types of events.

Trust your gut

Walter Hahn, a retired Warren County Sheriff’s Department police officer in Warren, NJ, says that when it comes to physical safety, it all starts with intuition.

“My first reaction is to take in all the information and make an informed decision before taking anyone under 18 [to a protest]Hahn says. “If you think this peaceful protest could get dangerous, trust your gut and find other ways for your teens to get involved from home.”

have a plan

Once a decision to attend is made, there is a short checklist of safety procedures that Hahn suggests parents go through, including creating a detailed plan for the event.

Agree on a meeting point – a special meeting place that everyone in the party knows about – in the event that you are separated, make sure digital devices are fully charged and make sure there is plenty of water and snacks. As soon as you arrive, carefully take in the situation around you and make yourself fully aware of your surroundings.

“Never put yourself in a position where you’re stuck,” Hahn says. “Make sure you and your family have a clear plan on how to get out of the area if something goes wrong. Always put yourself in a location where you can see law enforcement — that way if you see anything suspicious or need help, they’ll be there.” easily accessible.”

Do some prep work

Nicole Berkens, a licensed psychologist from Caledonia, Michigan, says the first step in psychologically preparing teens to attend what can be an emotional event should be a conversation at home.

According to Beurkens, the talking points should include everything from what teens can expect at the event to what to expect from law enforcement and even counter-protesters.

“The more information they have, the better,” says Beurkens. “The more knowledge they have, the better prepared they are and feel, which can ease anxiety on the day of the event.”

dr.  Nicole Beurkens says she and her family protested together after the death of George Floyd in 2020. (Photo: Nicole Buerkens)dr.  Nicole Beurkens says she and her family protested together after the death of George Floyd in 2020. (Photo: Nicole Buerkens)

dr. Nicole Beurkens says that she and her family protested together after the death of George Floyd in 2020. (Photo: Nicole Beurkens)

Set realistic expectations

This is also a great time to empower teens: helping them understand that while things may not change overnight, their contribution is important to the overall greater cause.

“Help them see that it might feel like a little drop in a big ocean, but the way we get there is with those little drops,” added Beurkens. “A quote from Margaret Mead, who I often refer to with my own children and children in therapy, is, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It is indeed the only thing that ever existed.’ This way of framing helps set expectations and reminds them that they are contributing to something bigger.”

Beurkens, a mother of four, says she took her own daughter to protests.

“She was adopted and she’s African-American, so Black Lives Matter has always been a very important core theme for our family,” said Beurkens, explaining that the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in 2020 a big impact on her daughter.

“She was 13 at the time and she really wanted to participate [by attending protests]. We felt that she was ready with our support, so we went to several local marches,” says Beurkens. “We went to an event in Chicago and that was very important to us as a family, to support that broader issue, but also to support her in that way. It made a lot of sense to her.”

Beurkens is not the only one who shares that protesting makes sense for their family.

Paul Irwin-Dudek with his daughter Kensi at one of her first protests.Paul Irwin-Dudek with his daughter Kensi at one of her first protests.

Paul Irwin-Dudek with his daughter Kensi at one of her first protests.

Paul Irwin-Dudek, a father and veteran activist from New York, NY, says growing up in a small Texas town, he wasn’t comfortable being outside or being seen at LGBTQ events. It wasn’t until 2000, at the age of 24, that Irwin-Dudek attended his first protest: the human rights campaign march in Washington, DC.

Irwin-Dudek shares that he attended Pride events as a spectator for years, but it was after the birth of his daughter, Kensi, in 2009 that he and his husband became more involved and attended as participants. Since then, their families have participated side-by-side in dozens of events, supporting causes such as the Marriage Equality Council and the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth.

Kensi’s time in peaceful protests has also had an impact on their local community.

“Because of her fame, Kensi signs up for her first club in high school – the Gay-Straight Alliance,” says Irwin-Dudek of his 12-year-old daughter. “We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

“While there are only two students in her class with same-sex parents, at Pride she has thousands of girls and boys who have a family unit just like hers,” says Irwin-Dudek of protesting with his daughter. “I’m going to show her she’s not alone.”