Launching of the Speaking of Kids Podcast

Bruce Lesley
Voices4Kids
Published in
6 min readOct 12, 2023

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by Bruce Lesley, Messellech “Selley” Looby, and Leila Nematallah

It is well past time to have a national conversation about the now and future of our young people. We are failing our children and they cannot wait for our nation’s leaders to do something about it.

Bruce’s mother, a lifelong educator and advocate for women and children, used to cite the following quote by the poet Gabriel Mistral:

Many things we need can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time his or her bones are being formed, his or her mind developed. To them, we cannot say tomorrow, their name is today.

We are aiming to engage people who share that concern with the launch of our new podcast, Speaking of Kids, on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.

Please follow, subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on your favorite podcast apps and provide us any feedback, suggestions, or thoughts you have with us on Twitter/X at @SpeakingOfKids or via email at SpeakingOfKids@firstfocus.org.

Right now, child mortality is rising. Child poverty more than doubled between 2021 and 2022. The uninsured rate rose for children between 2021 and 2022 (in contrast, the uninsured rate dropped for every other age group). Our nation’s youth are facing a mental health crisis with no plan to address it. There is a movement to deny life-saving public health protections and services to children. And, some groups and politicians have decided they wish to wage a culture war on our nation’s public schools and students.

As for children’s future, climate change is going to impact young people in ways we may not even be able to imagine, and we are leaving them a future of unaffordable education, child care, and housing costs that are making it increasingly difficult for them to be successful or even consider raising a family of their own.

Sadly, despite the adage that “elections are about our future,” children and youth are often an afterthought in policy discussions and budget decisions. Kids are invisible to lawmakers because they do not vote, they do not have Political Action Committees (PACs), and they do not have a stream of lobbyists pushing their best interests and well-being.

Political psychology and social construction also tell us that, because the public is favorable to children but they are perceived to have little power, politicians often pay lip service to children but ignore their best interests and fail to provide them the support and attention they need when it comes to public policy and budget decisions.

Moreover, just as other groups experience racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping, children often experience a form of “childism” that exploits their vulnerability and perceived weakness and dismisses their voices and fundamental rights. Rather than protecting children from abuse and harm, the invisibility of children causes lawmakers to cater to the gun lobby rather than protect children, to address the desires of technology companies rather than demand that they protect kids from exploitation and abuse, to subject children to corporal punishment while doing more to protect prisoners and pets from harm, to give voice to everybody except children in court cases that involve their lives and future, and to disproportionately target children for budget cuts.

Their voices in our democracy are limited by their inability to vote until the age of 18, the systematic efforts to disenfranchise the votes of young adults (including the call of at least one presidential candidate to effectively raise the voting age to 25), the disproportionate time and money that senior citizens can contribute to political campaigns, and what filmmaker and author Astra Taylor refers to as the “wasted” votes of young voters and their families. As Taylor writes:

Clustered in sparsely populated states and counties, voters who are older, whiter and wealthier get a boost: Older Americans wield disproportionate sway over the Electoral College, the Senate and a gerrymandered Congress.

Taylor warns about “the coming gerontocracy,” in which the rapidly aging U.S. population will shift even more power and attention to older generations. But one could argue that the moment has already arrived.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that young people are not or cannot be a powerful political force. First, young people have played prominent roles in many political movements and are increasingly prominent in standing up to demand that lawmakers address climate change, gun violence, immigration, human rights, economic inequality, and the funding of their public schools.

Students have mobilized across the country to put a stop to the insertion of culture wars into their lives in the name of so-called “parental rights.” Youth are organizing to oppose book bans, the whitewashing of history, attacks on their LGBTQ classmates, the imposition of curriculum and speech codes, and efforts to silence the voices and deny youth any semblance of autonomy over their own lives and well-being. Our children and youth cannot do this alone and need adults who care deeply about their future to step up and take a more active role in putting “children and youth first.”

In Episode #2 of our podcast, Speaking of Kids, we will be talking to pollster Celinda Lake, who has decades of experience analyzing data about how the public views children’s issues. As president of Lake Research Partners, she is the nation’s top pollster on child and family policy and her research has clearly demonstrated that voters strongly support increasing spending and support for children and are upset that policymakers are shortchanging our children and their future.

The disconnect can be explained by the fact that lawmakers, the public, and the media face a number of barriers in thinking about children and public policy. With the purpose of overcoming these barriers and spreading greater awareness and understanding about the needs of children and youth, we are launching the Speaking of Kids Podcast.

First, we wish to have a dialogue with people across this great country (e.g., parents, teachers, pediatricians, pediatric nurses, public health officials, caregivers, grandparents, and young people themselves) who are interested in creating a “children-first mindset” in this country, as professor and author Adam Benforado, our guest in Episode #3, has urged in his outstanding book A Minor Revolution: How Prioritizing Kids Benefits Us All — a must read for parents, child advocates, and policymakers.

When it comes to making decisions and creating policies that impact the lives of children, we need those in charge to put the best interests and well-being of children first and foremost in their minds. We need a campaign to identify more “Champions for Children” and to hold accountable those who vote against kids. Failing the next generation should be disqualifying for those running for president, Congress, governor, state legislators, county commissioners, or school board.

Children and youth need to have their rights respected and to be heard in the decisions that are being made about their lives and the future of this country. Far too often, child policy is decided by adults who are only thinking about their interests and rights rather than that of children themselves. That must end.

In Speaking of Kids episode #4, we will be talking to our friend, colleague, and forever child advocate, Arnie Fege. Arnie is the president of Public Advocacy for Kids and we look forward to talking to him about the need to get parents and communities engaged in supporting not just their kids but all children. (Disclosure: we are co-authors of chapters in the book, Children Can’t Wait, which highlights the urgency of improving practice and policy for our children and youth.)

Another barrier is that people are often unaware of the major issues that are of importance to children. For senior citizens, Medicare and Social Security quickly come to mind. But kids need support from both parents and government to address their health, education, care, nutrition, housing, safety, and developmental needs. With possibly the exception of education, no one issue comes to mind because children have more holistic needs and they differ across the life course of childhood. For example, babies need policies that promote their rapidly developing minds and bodies, such as infant medical care, family medical leave, and high-quality early childhood, while our youth need support for their education, adolescent health, and transition to adulthood.

In the Speaking of Kids podcast, we will promote voices, champions, and ambassadors for children and strive to create a movement in support of children and develop what Prof. Benforado calls a “children-first mindset.”

Now is the time for action. Our children cannot wait any longer.

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Bruce Lesley
Voices4Kids

@BruceLesley — President of @First_Focus & @Campaign4Kids. Child advocate, husband & father of 4. Basketball fanatic. Follow on Twitter: @BruceLesley.