In this piece, Seran Demiral looks at how digital technology is utilized by children to highlight, express and redefine children's rights, in the context of turbulent social and environmental change.
In our contemporary world, certainty has left its place to flexibility, adaptability, and willingness to change (Lee 2005:19). The new sociology of childhood addresses the agency since children are both individuals for their own lives and social actors to affect the world. At that point, agency matters through other concepts, like subjectivity or competency; Bollig and Kelle (2016:37) claim that “the acting subject or the competent actor is replaced with a concept of participation in practices.” In addition to globalization, digital technologies have changed our culture, so that “from a global perspective childhood culture is becoming more homogenized” (Prout 2005:29). Besides, politics and childhood movements all around the world have become similar during this decade. The effects of COVID19 have deepened the uncertainty for different aspects of our lives, and it has made visible the unequal conditions of children, just like digital technologies.
According to Human Rights Watch (2020) report, the accessibility to the child's rights has become more difficult due to the impacts of COVID19: that report dwells on the long-term effects of education, organization, and expression of children through digital technologies. There are already “the right of expression,” and “the right to access the knowledge” in the convention of child rights, whereas, accessibility of digital technology should become a significant right for children as well anymore. To have digital competency has just become a requirement for this new era, and children need to take places in online/virtual spaces for their future lives. At least, children can access the right of education only through digital literacy for now. So, there are some essential topics to reconsider for future generations, like blended learning.
What about children subjects in the middle of the changing circumstances and uncertain future? Let me give some examples of today’s children's tendencies. Turkle (2011) indicates that human beings structure their selves through technological devices. In recent years, we all have already experienced our digital selves as human beings from various ages and generations. For children, accessibility is both the source of unequal conditions and the potential for awareness about the world. It is like the two sides of a coin: on the one hand, digital technologies might become the reason for new hierarchies among children from different nations, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., on the other hand, they can have the power to face the difficulties and develop new strategies against the troubles existing in the world. For instance, the childhood movement against the ecological crisis has already provided solidarity among children utilizing the internet.
Children can be aware of what happens in other places in the world and how their peers live. We know that Greta Thunberg has become an enormous inspiration for many children and young people from different countries. For instance, Atlas Sarrafoğlu gave a start to children’s climate activism in Turkey. Atlas was also honored by the 2020 WWF International President's Youth Award (BIA 2020). It shows us institutions and authorities recognize the childhood movement. After several months of the first universal school strike of children, Atlas and another young activist from Turkey, Selin Gören attended the “Smile for Future summit in Lausanne, Switzerland.” Their meeting might have affected Greta’s sensitivity about ecologic resistance in Canakkale, so that she said, "Ida Mountains belong to us all" in Turkish (BIA 2019).
Atlas Sarrafoğlu, Greta Thunberg, Selin Gören respectively
In this age of uncertainty due to various reasons from unexpected viruses to ecological issues, it is only possible to struggle against emerging crisis via unusual perspectives by new generations. Today’s children as “naturally adept users of technology” (Prout 2005, 119) are more competent to use ICT effectively to access and create knowledge. Despite arising inequalities between children with different experiences upon their socioeconomic background or the country they come from, they have the power to be aware of all matters in the world through spending time online, and there is a potential for them to unite via online platforms. For example, there is an association for children: XR Kids, who are related to a universal activist group, Extinction Rebellion (XR) whose latest statement is “COVID today ￫ Climate tomorrow ￫ Act now” (Campbell 2020).
Trafalgar Square, London. Extinction Rebellion cover it with children's shoes in protest against climate change - Copyright Anthony Jarman
Furthermore, Atlas might have learned about the XR movement from Omer Madra, who has also been a part of this global movement, in the climate conference in Istanbul, Turkey, he was one of the speakers. Besides, there was a section for children (The Green Thought Association 2019). It is quite important to influence children to start an action for the world they will survive. During the lockdown process and the beginning of online education, children’s digital activism and possibilities to develop new strategies for childhood movement have also been argued through various writing and commentaries; for instance, I discussed children’s potentials to create organizations at the micro-level (Demiral 2020:65) by referring to Janusz Korczak’s heritage on children’s rights and participation.
Elsie Luna, the founder of XR Kids, said “I dream of a world free of racism, adultism, ageism, sexism, disablism, and classism” in her interview with Sarrafoğlu (2020). Besides, Elsie states that homeschooling gives her “more time to study activism-related things. In a way, it’s like striking every day!” which shows us children’s perspectives as flexible, willing to change the circumstances through digital activism. Therefore, the effects of coronavirus and online education/learning as mandatory may create new opportunities for children and young people to develop. Homeschooling has some disadvantages, like insufficient socialization. On the other hand, it is quite possible to socialize and gather through digital spaces in our contemporary world, which has already become a common practice for younger people. As an inspiring example, a small-sized collective community, ‘Extinction Rebellion Kids’ can benefit from the digital world. The manifesto by XR Kids (2020) demand change to handle the challenges their generation has faced and not to be underestimated because of their age, by saying: “We 8-12 year-olds are more than capable of creating mass systematic change”.
“Declaration of XR Kids”
As another example, a sign campaign took a start in Turkey via change.org: “We want to have a say in our education” (2020). Children criticize the traditional educational model in schools. At the same time, they explain the negative sides of online education for themselves with those statements: Now we get bored when the same thing is done in online education, and we turn off our camera and learn nothing. With the online lessons, we realized that we are not learning. In this uncertain time of the world, we need to develop solidarity in the middle of the intensifying crisis. It seems clear that children have the advantage of using digital devices better than us, as older generations, digital immigrants so to say. New generations have digital tools to conduct new types of associations. Children have the power to develop new social movements utilizing digital potentials. Online platforms might be beneficial for us to reconsider the circumstances. In conclusion, children have awareness and furthermore feel competent to change the world. Therefore, we, as researchers, should remember to take children seriously and recognize children as political subjects.
 The source: https://twitter.com/AtlasSarrafoglu/status/1159157981252075521?s=20 (from Atlas’s public account on Twitter)  The source of the photograph: https://www.euronews.com/living/2020/05/19/thousands-of-kids-shoes-appear-in-london-square-as-a-form-of-protest  The source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B3Ua_j7HIWb/ from the public account of XR Kids on Instagram.
Bollig, Sabine, and Helga Kelle. 2016. Children as participants in practices: the challenges which practice theories pose to an actor-centred sociology of childhood.” In Routledge research in education: Vol. 161. Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood: New Perspectives in Childhood Studies, edited by Florian Esser, Meike S. Baader, Tanja Betz and Beatrice Hungerland, 34-47. London and New York: Routledge.
Demiral, Seran. 2020. “Visible, more than Ever: Unequal Childhoods in Istanbul during COVID-19.” In WHAT WOULD KORCZAK DO? Reflections on Education, Well-being and Children’s Rights in the Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic, edited by Anna Odrowąż-Coates, 58-69. Warsaw: The Maria Grzegorzewska University.
Human Rights Watch. COVID-19 and Children’s Rights, 2020.
Lee, Nick. 2005. Childhood and Society: Growing up in an age of uncertainty. 3rd Edition. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University.
Prout, Alan. 2005. The Future of Childhood: Towards the Interdisciplinary Study of Children. London and New York: Routledge Falmer.
Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York, Basic Books.
BIA News Desk. 2019. “Message from Greta Thunberg: Ida Mountains Belong to us All.” Accessed August 21, 2020. http://bianet.org/english/environment/211516-message-from-greta-thunberg-ida-mountains-belong-to-us-all
BIA News Desk. 2020. “Climate Activist Atlas Sarrafoğlu Wins WWF International Youth Award.” Accessed August 21, 2020 http://bianet.org/english/youth/224581-climate-activist-atlas-sarrafoglu-wins-wwf-international-youth-award
Campbell, Maeve. 2020. “Thousands of Kids’ Shoes Appear in London Square as a Form of Protest.” Accessed August 21, 2020 https://www.euronews.com/living/2020/05/19/thousands-of-kids-shoes-appear-in-london-square-as-a-form-of-protest
Eğitimde Söz Hakkı İstiyoruz!!! We Want to Have a Say in Our Education!!!https://www.change.org/p/aileler-eğitimde-söz-hakkı-istiyoruz-we-want-to-have-a-say-in-our-educationAccessed September 13, 2020.
Sarrafoğlu, Atlas. 2020. “Elsie Luna: Ecological breakdown has already started [Climate Generation Talks-4]” Accessed August 21, 2020 https://yesilgazete.org/blog/2020/02/26/elsie-luna-ecological-breakdown-has-already-started-people-are-already-dying-climate-generation-talks-4/
The Green Thought Association [Yeşil Düşünce Derneği] 2019. “Climate Conference” http://yesildusunce.org/en/climate-conference/
XR Kids Instagram page: extinctionrebellionkids2019. “Declaration of XR Kids” Accessed August 21, 2020 https://www.instagram.com/p/B3Ua_j7HIWb/
Seran Demiral is a children’s literature and sci-fi writer from Istanbul. She has a PhD in Sociology and is a P4C (Philosophy for Children) trainer. She is a part-time lecturer at Boğaziçi University, Primary Education and at Kadir Has University, City and Children Studies. As a teenager, Demiral published Münzevi [Hermit] and Hissizleşme [Numbing], fantasy novels. She graduated from Architecture at Mimar Sinan University. Parmak Uçları [Fingertips], Likya’nın Şarkısı [Likya’s Song], Hatırla [Memento] and Benden Bize [Me to Us] are her novels for adolescents. She also published a science-fiction novel, Hayat Üretim Merkezi [Life Production Center] and many stories in anthology and magazines. Her first non-fiction work, Living Alternative Lives, is about Ursula K. Le Guin’s literary works. Demiral continues working on her novels.