Younger Children, Ages 2-6
Children between ages 2 and 6 are probably not ready for explicit conversations about human trafficking. But educators and parents can begin helping children develop an understanding of their own inherent worth and the value of every human life.
Respect and care for our bodies
Children at this stage begin learning to care for themselves. They start brushing their own teeth, dressing themselves, and using the bathroom on their own. Use this time as an opportunity to help children understand that we should care for our bodies and treat them with respect. Other people’s bodies deserve our respect, too.
Explain that our bodies should never be used to get something we want—even if someone offers a prize, candy, or a toy.
Our right to personal space
Make sure children know they always have the right to ask for personal space. They should respect other people’s personal space as well. If another child or adult makes them feel uncomfortable, then they should tell an adult they trust as soon as possible.
Fairness and equity
When a child witnesses something unfair happening at school, talk about what happened and address their feelings. Reiterate that fairness is one of our core values and should never be compromised.
You might say, “It’s not fair that John took Miguel’s toy truck without asking. And it’s okay for you to feel mad or sad about it.”
Gently help children understand that sometimes life is unfair, but this does not make cruelty and unkindness okay.
Gender roles and stereotype threat
As children begin to socialize outside their families, they will start to pick up on the different expectations of girls and boys and of women and men. Help children learn to recognize stereotypes and understand how they affect our relationships and social behaviors. Opening this conversation can help prepare young children to consider more serious questions about gender identity later on.
“Mommy likes to cook, but that doesn’t mean she has to cook.”
“Daddy works hard to make sure our family is comfortable and safe. But even if he loses his job, he is still a good dad.”
“If Susan doesn’t want to give James a hug, she does not have to just because she’s a girl.”
Older Children, Ages 7-12
Children between ages 7 and 12 have more world experience, abstract thinking skills, and abilities to better express themselves than younger children. They are also more likely to be exposed to upsetting news and online content that is violent or inappropriate. Provide a safe place for kids in this age group to discuss these things and affirm them for coming to you with questions.
Notions of work
Between ages 7 and 12, children begin to understand work as something adults do during the week in exchange for money, which helps them pay for things their families need: food, school supplies, clothes, and their homes.
When children come to visit you at work, or when they ask about your job, consider introducing the concept of forced labor. Explain that many people in the world don’t get to choose their jobs. Many times they are forced to work without being paid fairly, and they may even work in unsafe conditions.
Military and branch services
Older children may begin noticing members of the armed services in their communities. At school, they will start learning about the military in history classes. As these topics come up in conversation, introduce the practice of child soldiering.
Explain that some nations have unfair leaders who force children to serve in the military. These children don’t get to go to school, play, read books, or rest.
If the children you parent or teach receive an allowance, start teaching them about fair compensation. You could open the conversation with, “You’re a kid, and you get 5 dollars each week. But do you think it’s fair for an adult to earn 5 dollars per week?”
Explain that some people work for very little money. Highlight the importance of being diligent and doing research about the clothes and food we consume in order to make sure the people behind them are being treated fairly.
Adolescents, Ages 13-18
Adolescents are better prepared to discuss complex issues but may be less willing to open up to an educator or parent, especially about sensitive topics. Broach the subject anyway, knowing that the information you share may keep your children safe and make them advocates for fair labor practices and healthy relationships.
As they begin dating, adolescents need to know that their bodies are not commodities for others to use for pleasure or money. Emphasize that sexual relationships should always be explicitly consensual, and we should never have to exchange sexual acts for safety.
Labor and demand
Adolescents may not comprehend the economic side of trafficking, particularly if their only understanding of human trafficking is sex trafficking. As they learn about economics and international trade, educators and parents can open discussions about bonded labor and involuntary domestic servitude.
Financial literacy and practices
Adolescents may begin working or have friends who hold jobs while going to school. As they start managing money, teach them how to manage their finances, including reading a paycheck, creating a weekly budget, and saving and giving money. Good habits with money can help adolescents avoid desperate and potentially dangerous financial situations in the future.
Remember: Be Honest About What You Don’t Know
When your children ask questions that you don’t know how to address, offer to research the answer online with them or find an organization that can provide accurate information.
Information provided by Baylor University's Doctorate in Education Program