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5 Ways to Teach Kids the Importance of Free Speech in a Digital World
by: Priyanka Raha ~7/22/2022


Free speech is an expansive term that is carefully elaborated in the United States constitution. Freedom of Speech is a right preserved in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and formally granted by the laws of most nations. In its simplest form, especially for explaining it to a child, freedom of speech can be defined as a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to express their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation.

Free speech can also be taken too far and when it starts to emotionally belittle, intimidate or trivialize other people that’s when it gets out of hand. An ongoing debate exists about where to draw the line between free expression, and offensive or harmful content. This gets far more challenging on online or social platforms.

What freedom of speech means in a digital world

The internet has opened up many channels for people to speak up about important issues such as human rights, gender equality and climate change to name a few. Social media has given people immediate access to news and information that bring to light the injustices we face every day.

While social media has made it easier for people across the world to unite their voices and band together for a common cause, it has also created opportunities for misinformation or irresponsible online behavior rooted in disagreement.

It's worth understanding that free speech is different from abusive language such as hate speech or any form of expression that is used to humiliate or degrade others. As much as we have a right to free speech, we also have a responsibility to see to it that we respect other people and treat them humanely and with dignity at all times. Disagreements will always happen but when we can speak our minds yet listen and respond objectively to each other, that is when freedom of speech is truly exercised. Freedom of speech happens when we can allow ideas to be expressed freely without endangering or intimidating others for they have a right to an opinion as well.

These are all very important issues to address when it comes to discussing freedom of speech with our kids as they enter the online world.

We can help our kids exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression in their everyday lives in these 5 ways…

  1. Create an environment where your kids can learn about freedom and expression as they grow up. Provide a diverse variety of books focused on free speech and expression in your home, school and digital libraries. Introduce historical figures who have set great examples in using their voices to stand up for what they believe in and create lasting change.

  2. Give them opportunities to explore different ways they can use their voices to express their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Show examples like books, poems, artwork, songs, blogs, vlogs and podcasts that artists, authors and scientists use to express a certain opinion or share their work. Allow them to choose a medium through which they can best express themselves and let them have fun with it!

  3. Encourage your kids to share their creative work. Look for online publications where they can submit their art, poetry and stories. A good place to begin is by inspiring them to share their stories with their friends and family members. Display their artwork on your walls to show appreciation for their creativity, or post it on social media with their permission.

  4. Empower your kids to talk about social issues. Ask your kids about some of the big social issues that affect them. It all starts at home. Make it a safe space for them to share their ideas freely and most importantly allow them to make mistakes while they speak. When they do take the time to talk through and correct them if needed. Collaborate with them on a project to raise awareness for these issues on digital platforms.

  5. Talk about how free speech does not only involve speaking, but also listening. Encourage kids to be open to new ideas, viewpoints, authors and speakers by engaging them on different subject matters. Teach them to be polite and courteous when responding to opinions that differ from theirs. Provide them with alternate words and phrases so they can express their differences and alternate ideas with respect. Practice listening attentively and communicating tactfully. We can stand up for what we believe in while still treating others with respect regardless of differences.

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