Hey Elderly Aunt, our daughter wants to protest climate change. Should we let her skip school to do it?

Dear Elderly Aunt,  Our 6th grader and 3rd grader have become increasingly interested in the environment and trying to stop climate change. They’ve been especially inspired by Greta Thunberg. Now our 6th grade daughter has suggested skipping school to protest climate change like Greta did. We’ve tried to steer her toward other actions, like writing letters and making posters. What kind of strategies would you suggest that would be effective ways for young students like her to send a message … without missing school to do it?  — Proud Parents

If your daughter wishes to participate in organized demonstrations, then the Elderly Aunt is somewhat puzzled by your concerns, dear reader. It is, after all, the quality of daughter’s future life that’s at stake. Literally. Are you saying you want to give her the message that you, as her parents, truly believe that losing a day of school in the 6th grade is more important than the health of the planet she lives on? What if Greta Thunberg’s parents had confined her activities to after-school letter writing instead of allowing their daughter to demonstrate on the steps of the Swedish Parliament?  

For the Elderly Aunt there is another issue at stake here for you, as the parents of a 6th grade daughter. Do you or do you not care about instilling in your her a sense of agency—the “independent capability or ability to act on one’s will?” 

It seems to the Elderly Aunt that young women are still being given very mixed messages by both society and their parents when it comes to developing their own sense of agency. Certainly we applaud Me Too-ers, and we’re totally psyched that Virginia finally approved the Equal Right’s Amendment

But what the Elderly Aunt hears from your question is that you think your daughter would be ill-advised to buck society’s (and possibly your own?) established behavioral expectations in favor of her own deeply held concerns. So naturally, the Elderly Aunt is moved to inquire whether that is really the message you want to give your 6th grade daughter? Right now? With a lifetime of decisions looming before her?  Because whatever message you mean to give her, the Elderly Aunt would bet her entire stack of chips that the message your daughter will hear is that her parents don’t want her to stand up for herself.

The Elderly Aunt also feels strongly that children must be taught that their actions have consequences. With this in mind, she checked with both Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County schools to see what consequences your daughter might face should she skip a day of school to protest climate change.  

In response to her inquiries, the Elderly Aunt received this note from Kelly Lineweaver, Coordinator of Policy and Communication for Harrisonburg City Public schools:

"While we do not have a School Board policy regarding student demonstrations, we do try to support our students' desire to have their voices heard. In the past, our school and Central Office administrators have worked with students to accommodate demonstration plans in a way that minimizes interruption to the school day and maximizes student safety."

And according to Doug Alderfer, Assistant Superintendent of the Rockingham County Public Schools, the following sentence in the 2019-2020 Parent-Student Handbook applies to students who have parental permission to participate in an organized demonstration during school hours.:

"For any absence from school, class or school-related activities ... [a student] will obtain proper authorization and will document the authorization and reason for the absence." 

This indicates to the Elderly Aunt that both school systems are willing to work with you and your daughter when it comes to scheduling a day off from school so that she may suit up and show up in person to protest the current devastating pace of climate change.

The Elderly Aunt also feels strongly that you, as parents, are fully entitled to make it clear that your support of your daughter’s activism will be withdrawn if she fails to keep up with her schoolwork or turn assignments in on time. Again, children must be taught that actions have consequences.

But so does inaction. 

And for your daughter’s generation — much more than your own, dear reader — inaction in the face of the current devastating pace of climate change will have dire, life-altering consequences. It seems to the Elderly Aunt that the message that you, as her parents, give your daughter right now about her ability to act in her own best interests will resonate far into her future.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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