Teach Teens How to Stay Safe While Protesting

The population of the United States is very divided along political lines, and the current political climate is volatile. In addition, there have been widespread protests as a result of inequality, climate change, and many other important issues. Many young people are feeling the call to express their opinion and protest injustices. We are very fortunate that we live in a free society where we can make our opinions known. While we should encourage our youth to take a stand for what they believe in, it’s also important to teach them how to stay safe while protesting.

If teens you know have expressed interest in advocacy and participating in demonstrations or walkouts, give them these tips:

Use the Buddy System

Your teen should never go to a protest or demonstration alone. Instead, they should go with a group of friends and agree to stick together throughout the protest. The group should also agree on a place to meet if for some reason anyone gets separated. Protests are crowded, chaotic, and occasionally violent – stress that your teen will be safer and enjoy their advocacy more if they stick with friends.

Prepare your Smartphone

In recent protests, police have been using location trackers on protesters’ cell phones to track their movements. If protesters are arrested, police have been using the phone’s face recognition to gain access to the phone. As a result, many protesters are leaving their phones at home. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with your teen having no way to contact you, consider having them put their phone on airplane mode and turning off fingerprint or face recognition. Then ask them to turn WiFi back on every hour or so to send you a text to let you know they are safe. 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 even when there is no WiFi or cell service. Be sure their phone is fully charged before they leave home.

Pack Smart

It takes more than passionate ideals to be successful at a protest – it takes some preparedness. Make sure your teen has these things:

  • A valid picture ID and a printed copy
  • Any medical bracelets they might need
  • Water bottle (avoid dehydration)
  • Snacks
  • Swimming goggles (to protect eyes from tear gas)
  • Face mask (to protect from COVID and from facial recognition software)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cash and some spare change
  • An emergency contact phone number written on their arm with permanent marker

Equally important is how your teen dresses for the event. Sneakers and layers are essential. Encourage your teen to wear comfortable clothes and close-toed shoes that they can move around in. If rain is possible, suggest they bring a poncho or umbrella. Advise them to not wear jewelry or bring anything expensive.

Know How to Interact With Police

As long as your teen obeys the law and is peaceful, they should not have any issues while protesting or demonstrating. But it is still very important that you talk with teens about being calm, polite, and respectful in any interactions with law enforcement. Make sure they know to never be rude or run away from a police officer. They should always keep their hands in plain view and follow an officer’s commands. If they are arrested, they should not argue or resist arrest. They should offer their name and address, but not offer any additional information or consent to a search.

If your teen has an interaction with police that seems unfair, the best thing they can do is document as much as possible. Take photos or video and try to get officers’ names, badge numbers and patrol car numbers. Write down contact info for any witnesses.

Do Not Interfere With Another Person’s Rights

One of the biggest mistakes protestors make is interfering with another person’s rights or freedoms. Your teen should know that they are not allowed to block someone from going somewhere, such as entering a building or crossing a street. Remind your teen that counter-protestors have a right to free speech as well, and it’s best just to ignore them.

Be Aware of Surroundings

Passion runs high at protests, and it’s important to pay attention to the climate of the event and the mood of the crowd. If there are rising tensions, destruction of property, physical violence, or signs that the protest is turning into a riot, tell your teen that they must calmly leave the event immediately.

Continue the Conversation

After the protest, talk with your teenagers about other ways they can wield influence. Remind them they can reach out to their legislators, register to vote, speak at town-hall meetings and start clubs to continue fighting for the things they care about. Protests are only one way they can make their voice heard. When we collectively use all of the democratic tools at our disposal, real change can happen.

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