Jamming to the radio in the car like we usually do afterschool, I hear my youngest pipe up from the backseat.
“Mom, when are we going?” Little Brother (age 5) asks.
“What?” I asked, confused. Driving down the road to get to the store, I wondered where else he was considering going.
“Mom, when are we going to rescue them?” he yelled out as I finally figured I should turn down the radio.
It hit me. Hit me hard. Remembering we had recently talked about child labor and the things that we could do to build awareness and help, I realized Little Brother had readied himself to go and rescue those kids, children caught in human trafficking situations.
I answered him with a question, “Well, we physically won’t be going anywhere to help them right now. But, what are some things that we can do to help without going anywhere?” . . . And the resulting meaningful discussion helped us move further to understand the issues and take action.
Can we really teach kids about modern day slavery? YES.
How? Good question.
The following begins to answer that question. By age group, there are suggestions and actionable items to help families talk about modern day slavery, engaging kids on the real issue of human trafficking.
- When introducing and teaching kids about human trafficking, it isn’t necessary to talk about sex, prostitution, or pedophilia. Place aside those issues until, developmentally, your children are ready (teen years).
- You don’t have to have all the answers about an issue before talking about them with your kids. Be open to exploring a social problem together and working alongside one another to gain better understanding and decide how your family can help.
- This article is a BEGINNING in starting a conversation with your kids. Are there actionable items, yes! This article is intended to get you and your family in the place to talking about and then being actionable when ending modern day slavery.
- If you missed it, read the first article in this series- What Families Can Do: Let’s Get Started
How to Talk to Kids About Modern Day Slavery
Toddlers and Young Preschoolers
This age group understands the world that is immediately around them: family (and friends). Children at this age are developing language around helping, recognizing emotions in themselves and others, and learning to express feelings. For this age, it isn’t necessary to go into detail about the vocabulary or slavery situations. Instead, focus on a conversation about how having friends, family, and teachers makes them feel.
Using a family picture or picture of friends, talk with your child about what family means to them. Use the following questions for discussion:
- How do you feel when you get to play with Mommy or Daddy?
- How does spending time with friends make you feel?
- What it is like when you play a fun game with your sister or friend?
Many may respond with basic one word answers or short phrases such as: Happy, fun, I like it
For those that are not verbal, you can simply use thumbs up or thumbs down to help them express how they feel. You can also utilize drawing faces to help them express how they feel: choosing a “happy face” to show how they feel when they get to play with friends.
Then, you can gently turn the conversation and talk about how they would feel if they didn’t have family and friends.
- What if you don’t get a chance to help Mommy? How do you feel?
- How do you feel when playtime with your friend is over and you have to say goodbye? Why?
Express to them that there are kids that don’t have family, friends, and chances to play. And, then give them space to respond. More mature or older preschoolers will ask more about Why, and then you can continue the conversation, letting them guide how deep to go.
Lower Elementary Age
At this point, many children are already learning about slavery during the Civil War era (period in US history) and the civil rights movement. Parents can build off of that beginning knowledge and explain that slavery still exists. Try using a book that discusses slavery during that time and extend the conversation to the fact that many kids now are slaves, that slavery is not “over.”
When my boys were 6 and 4 years old, we used 50 Cents and A Dream about young Booker T. Washington and extended the conversation about the type of childhood that my boys are able to enjoy and compared it to the type of lives that children in child labor situations experience.
Similar to toddlers and preschoolers, many children this age may be caught enough in understanding that a child like them doesn’t have the same fun opportunities that they do. They may stop there and express sadness and not extend the conversation immediately. That’s okay. Let them guide the conversation.
My boys wanted to know more. They felt the injustice of the situation and wanted to do something. This is a great time, as a family, to dive deeper into why there is child slavery. (See the next section)
Upper Elementary Age
Slavery is about economics. Why does it exist? Because people gain profit and power from utilizing and exploiting slaves for personal and business gain.
How are people even enslaved to start with? Many communities are impoverished, and family members, desperate to provide for their families the basic necessities, turn to situations (often in ignorance) that they think will provide them with greater financial stability. (There are many forms of slavery today. Discussing each type is a conversation you can have with your children. This article is focusing on beginning the conversation with them.)
At this age, kids are starting to build a foundation of economics. In order to get a toy or game they want, kids understand that it involves: money, stores, businesses . . . use that knowledge to further talk about that process. After introducing the idea that there are children caught in slavery, use the following questions and resources to extend the conversation. I would suggest looking through the resources ahead of time to make sure they match what you want your child to see.
- What is the path to making a product (from gathering ingredients or parts, to putting it together, packaging it, and then delivering it to the store)? How can using free slave labor affect the cost at each stage?
- What motivates a business to produce something (profit), and how does using free slave labor affect profit?
- Is it right or wrong to use slave labor to decrease costs? How do those decisions businesses make affect kids that are slaves? How does that make you feel?
- Then, check out your family’s Slavery Footprint (we scored a 53 in our family).
- Discuss what Fair Trade is and how that can or cannot change your family’s spending habits
There is a huge HOLE across the world on books about modern day slavery that are appropriate for kids, which is an odd way to say: I can’t find a single book that I think is good to use. (Do you know of one?) To help with the conversation, I suggest using pictures and videos to help them visualize what child slavery is.
What next? After the conversation, kids usually drive the next steps with more questions.
Recently, my boys and I saw a documentary about child labor and the chocolate industry on the Ivory Coast. Through that video and subsequent conversation, we talked about humane business practices, the use of legislature to drive change (it *is* already against the law to use slave labor — like every where in the world), the limitations of using laws to create change, and the flaws in the justice system when it comes to protecting children.
What next? Well, for my boys, they want to learn more about what companies are actually using fair trade to make chocolate and see if those are the same companies we use when we shop. After that, maybe we’ll write our legislative representative or find a nonprofit working to end child labor in the chocolate industry. I am excited to see where the conversation leads us.
Talking about human trafficking, child labor, should be considered a process that builds upon itself with each conversation. As we each better understand the issue, our decision making process about what we can do becomes further refined. Then we take action as a family. THAT is what this whole process is about.
As we each learn more and take action, we participate in a growing and powerful movement to end human trafficking.
WAIT! I didn’t forget . . . Middle Grades and Teen Years
Many nonprofits already do a great job of addressing kids at this age. I will list a few resources for you to get started. Please review the websites before using them with your kids.
- End It Movement
- Love: 146
- Anti-Slavery Australia (you can live anywhere and get great info from this site)
- International Justice Mission
- Operation Underground Railroad
Want more, detailed plans on helping your family better engage and understand human trafficking? Participate in the Family Kindness Adventure Program, where you can select a section on human trafficking. (or contact me and ask me more about it)
Other resources great for your family:
- KID Abolitionist: Sharing Timely and Meaningful Information on Human Trafficking
- #TalkJustice: Human Trafficking from Lisa Van Engen with About Proximity (highly recommend this one)
- A Celebration of Courage by The House of Hendrix
- 5 Tips for Teaching for Teaching Your Kids About Modern Day Slavery by Intentional Jane
- Human Trafficking by Teaching Tolerance
- Fighting Modern Day Slavery (for kids) by Compassion Family
- 10 Ways for a Regular Person to Fight Modern Day Slavery
- End Slavery in Houston by Houston Moms Blog (practical ideas)
- National Educators to Stop Trafficking (NEST)
You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know. – William Wilberforce
How do you talk about modern day slavery with your family? Please share!
Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in the series listed below!
Series on Ending Modern Day Slavery: What Families Can Do
- Help End Modern Day Slavery: The Start
- Talking with Your Kids (even the young ones) (You are here now)
- Awareness and Prevention from Online to Real Life: Is Your Kid at Risk?
- What Kids Can Do to End Modern Day Slavery
- Kids Aren’t Funding Streams: How to Make Donations to Nonprofits Meaningful?
- Why Kindness Is a Power to End Human Trafficking