How to take a complex current event and turn it into an educational moment for young people
By Gabby Cushman
With the recent overturning of Roe v Wade, conversations about reproductive rights have flooded our everyday lives. It’s safe to assume that children will also encounter these conversations due to adults in their lives or peers sharing what adults around them have said. Although abortion can be a challenging topic to address with children, it’s essential to have this discussion with them now more than ever. Below are five tips to remember when talking to kids about abortion access, reproductive rights, and Roe v Wade.
Start small with concepts that affect them.
Children should already be familiar with the ideas of consent and bodily autonomy. If they want to play with a toy that belongs to another kid, they must ask for that kid’s consent before using it. They get a say in how they want their hair to look or what clothes they want to wear, which is exercising bodily autonomy. If you explain to a child how these concepts affect them, then relate it to how they affect a person’s right to choose whether they want to have a baby, they will likely better understand why abortion access is so crucial.
If you’d prefer, you can avoid using words like “abortion” and “sex.”
Different caretakers have different boundaries regarding the language used around their children, and it’s valid to set a limit on what gets discussed with children about abortion. There are many ways to get around using “trigger words” when discussing reproductive rights. For example:
- Instead of “abortion,” you can say “a person’s right to choose if they want to have a baby or not.”
- Instead of “pregnant” or “pregnancy,” you can say “when a person is carrying a baby.”
You can discuss abortion without mentioning sex at all. However, if a child asks you something sex-related, you can give a vague response and gently return them to the topic at hand. For instance, if a child asks, “How is a baby made?” you can respond by saying, “Sometimes people plan to have a baby, and sometimes someone has the potential to have a baby without planning for one. That person might not be ready to support a baby, though, so that’s why they need to have the right to choose.”
Make what’s currently happening with Roe v Wade a part of the conversation.
Once children understand abortion access, it’s good to continue the conversation with what is happening to abortion access currently. There are many complexities to the overturning of Roe v Wade that can be condensed down to make the topic easier to grasp. To start, explain how all people in the United States could choose when they wanted to have a baby, and our government protected that right for almost 50 years. Then move on to how recently, the government decided that each state would determine for itself if people should have the right to choose. You can explain what that means for people in states that don’t allow abortion or even specifically talk about the state you live in and what abortion rights look like there. Either way, children need to know why they’re having this conversation with you now.
Remember that abortion is an intersectional issue.
It’s common for white cisgender women to dominate the conservation about abortion. When people say abortion is a “women’s health” issue, it leaves out transgender, nonbinary, and intersex individuals who can also get pregnant. Not only do anti-abortion laws affect these groups in the same way they affect cisgender women, but they may also experience additional mental and physical health complications and safety concerns that could come with pregnancy. It’s essential to remember how restricting abortion access will disproportionately affect BIPOC people too. People of color are more likely to experience childbirth complications than their white counterparts. On top of educating ourselves on the intersectionality of abortion rights, we should also ensure children learn about abortion from an inclusive perspective.
Provide a safe space for children to ask questions and express their feelings about abortion.
Children are curious and are going to have a lot of questions about a topic like this. You should acknowledge and answer their questions as honestly as possible, so they have a solid foundation to build on as they grow up and learn more about abortion. It’s also a good idea to prompt them with questions of your own to check in with how they feel about the conservation. Consider asking “What do you think about that?” periodically, so your kid gets the opportunity to share their thoughts. That gesture will show them that this isn’t a lecture but a conversation you both can equally contribute to.
Overall, the way you approach the topic of abortion with a child is up to you. These are just some guidelines to consider if you are unsure how to proceed. With time, patience, and compassion, you can help your little ones understand why abortion access matters now more than ever.
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