Today’s political climate is volatile, stressful, and filled with angst. But it’s this unsettling environment that has ignited a spark amongst a group that is often ignored or pushed aside—the nation’s students. And they want to be heard. All across the country, students are banding together and using their voices to impact change. From protests to walkouts, they are making their voices heard on everything from gun control to women’s rights.
Many protests and marches started cropping up after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed. Their goal is to convince lawmakers to address gun control. Some examples of their demonstrations include a “March for our Lives” in Washington, D.C and several “National School Walkouts.” One walkout, set for the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, was organized by a student that lives near Sandy Hook Elementary where 20 students and six staff members died in a school shooting in 2012.
If your teen has expressed interest in advocacy and participating in demonstrations or walkouts, it is important that he knows what his rights are. Additionally, he needs to know what the rules and regulations are regarding peaceful protests.
What the Constitution Says About Protests
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects not only a person’s freedom of speech but the right to assemble peacefully. However, there are some restrictions in place when it comes to demonstrations and protests.
For instance, students can assemble in public places like the streets, sidewalks, and most public parks. But private property like the mall or city hall are off limits. And if your teen plans to march, there are additional regulations and permits required. Be sure your teen does his homework before planning a march, a protest, or a demonstration. Nothing is worse than putting months of planning into a protest or march and having it come to an end before it even gets started.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), rules vary by city. For instance, some authorities can require permits for large group gatherings in certain parks, marches that block traffic, or protests that use things like megaphones or speakers. Normally, people need to submit an application for a permit weeks before they plan to protest. If you check out your area’s permit requirements and you feel like they are too restrictive to free speech, you can contact the ACLU to see if they can challenge it.
Meanwhile, if a protest is in response to recent news, the ACLU says that the First Amendment allows people to organize without giving advance notice. What’s more, they say that a permit cannot be denied just because the event is controversial or contains unpopular views. If you run into issues, the ACLU can assist you.
How to Stay Safe When Taking a Stand
Fortunately, our teens live in a free society where they can make their opinions known if they want to. What’s more, as long as they have a few guidelines on how to stay safe, they should not be at risk. Here are the top seven things teens need to know in order to stay safe during a protest.
Use the Buddy System
Your teen should never go to a protest or demonstration alone. Instead, they should go with friends and plan to stay together at all times. They also should have a plan in place on where to meet should they get separated from each other. Sometimes protests or marches are crowded and chaotic. Stress how important it is to stay with their buddies or their group.
Unfortunately, there are people in the world who look at these types of events as an opportunity to exploit young people. Make sure your teen has a safety plan in place and that you have the cell numbers of his friends and their parents should you need to reach them.
Additionally, you should know where the meeting place is if your teen gets separated from his group. In some cases, parents can demonstrate right alongside their teens.
Make His Smartphone Work for You
Before your teen heads out the door, his cell phone should be fully charged. What’s more, it is a good idea to pack a small portable charger or battery pack and cord so that he never loses a way to communicate with you and his group. Other options for staying in touch include using the “Find My iPhone” service if he has a iPhone or the Life 360 app if he has an Android phone. Both services allow you to use GPS to track your child’s phone. Assuming he keeps his phone on him at all times, you should be able to locate your child. Another useful tool is FireChat. This app works on both iPhones and Android phones and allows teens to use their phone like a walkie talkie with anyone else who has the app. This is especially useful if there is no WiFi or cell service and they need to talk with their friends.
Pack (and Dress) Wisely for the Day
Be sure your teen checks the weather before heading out the door. He should not only dress for the weather, but dress comfortably as well, especially if he plans to stand or walk a lot. There’s nothing worse than being stuck outside in uncomfortable shoes and no umbrella in the pouring rain. What’s more, he should bring his ID, cash, a bank card, a few coins for a payphone, snacks, and water. Meanwhile, your teen should not bring anything valuable like a pair of expensive headphones, a computer or expensive watches or jewelry. With such a large crowd of people there are just too many risks for theft.
Know How to Interact With Police
As long as your teen obeys the law and is peaceful, he should not have any issues while protesting or demonstrating. But it is still very important that you talk with him about being respectful and polite toward law enforcement. For instance, if your teen gets stopped by the police he should know to remain calm, polite, and respectful. It is never acceptable (or wise) to be rude to a police officer. Remind your teen to keep their hands in plain view and to follow the officer’s commands. Never under any circumstance should he run from a police officer.
Also, be sure he knows what the city’s laws are in advance. For instance, in Washington D.C. if a police officer stops your teen and asks his name, he is required to tell the officer. These are called stop and identify laws. Finally, if your teen is arrested, which is highly unlikely, tell him not to resist arrest even if he thinks it is unfair. As long as he follows orders, he will remain safe.
Do Not Interfere With Another Person’s Rights
One of the biggest mistakes protestors make is interfering with another person’s rights or freedoms. In other words, your teen cannot block another person’s entrance into a building or keep them from crossing the street. If they do something like that, they are interfering with another person’s rights. What’s more, they cannot protest in such a way that makes other people fearful. Remind your teen that his demonstration or protest needs to be peaceful and respectful to others.
Counter-Protestors Have Rights Too
While counter-protestors are not permitted to physically disrupt the event where your teen is protesting, they can attend the event and speak out. They have a right to free speech and free demonstration just as much as your teen does. Remind your teen that this may in fact happen and to just ignore them. Even if they make rude or inappropriate comments, it is best not to say anything in response. Tell your teen not engage with counter-protestors in any way even if they resort to bullying and intimidation.
Familiarize Your Teen With the School’s Guidelines
It is important for your teen to realize that if he is walking out of school in protest or missing school to attend a march, there may be consequences at school. For instance, he may be marked absent for missing school. He also may not be allowed to make up any missed work. Or, if he is on an athletic team, he may not be able to participate in a game if the protest causes him to miss practice. Help your teen weigh the pros and cons of protesting before making a decision. As long as you know in advance what could happen, you will minimize any surprises for your budding advocate after the fact.