It has become one of the most evocative images of Sydney’s violent protests in Hyde Park – a young child holds up a banner with the words ‘‘behead all those who insult the prophet’’ as he stands beside a baby in a pram as a woman snaps a photo of them.
But what is the impact on a child of carrying such a message, and of being in a protest environment that then turned violent?
Child and adolescent psychologist Clare Rowe said it was “alarming and inappropriate” to see children involved in demonstrations with violent messages behind them, and that they could grow up believing that reacting “impulsively with violence and intolerance’’ was the way to respond to people who disagreed with them.
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“These protests and many others like them revolve around issues such as religion and union workplace action – concepts that are vastly above that of the developmental understanding of a young child,” Dr Rowe said.
‘‘Without understanding the deeper issues at the core of the matter, the child simply witnesses the anger and hatred in which the adult role figures around him react. By placing a child in the centre of such a movement we are effectively telling him or her that it is OK to react in such an unacceptable manner.
‘‘Surely this is an attitude which will only disservice them throughout their lives both in school and the workplace.”
Kirsty O’Callaghan, a parenting and relationship expert at Unity-Qld, said older children brought along to protests could also be mirroring their parents’ beliefs rather than expressing their own.
‘‘They are going through the role modelling stage [between the ages of seven and 14] so they are watching the adults around them … they are looking for the approval of their parents and those other adults in their lives they look up to. Is that reason enough to have them at a protest?’’
Azza Brown, an educational and developmental psychologist and a member of the Australian Psychological Society, said while some parents wanted to involve their children in issues that they felt strongly about, children were more likely to absorb the feelings of the protest, rather than the issue about which their parents were trying to teach them.
Ms O’Callaghan said it was important for parents to sit down with their children and explain to them why they were going to demonstrations. Physical safety also needed to be a key consideration as protests could turn violent, despite the peaceful intentions of parents.
A boy protesting in Sydney on Saturday.
‘‘We get a lot of the rent-a-crowd people that go with the pack. And if there is an element of anger, you find the pack mentality does tend to come into it. Is that something that you are willing to expose your child to?’’ she asked.Ms O’Callaghan said images of children at such protests could also place a further burden on them.
‘‘If they are seen later in pictures, the parent then also has to consider what their peers might think, what their friends might think, and how that affects them in their school environment,’’ she said.
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