Advertising aimed at children is so prevalent in our lives that many people think it’s okay. But child-development experts for years have said that ads on kids' TV shows, for example, constitute an unfair assault on impressionable minds that aren’t old enough to appraise the sales pitch.

"Yes, we have no advertising"  Excerpt from Raffi's article in
the Globe and Mail.


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The Loving Challenge: A Child Honouring Society

I’m delighted to be here with you at this important conference on children’s health. It’s been quite a day, certainly a lot of science for this folk singer, much to learn. I’m here because I care deeply about the right of every child to a healthy life, and so my thanks to Phil Landrigan for the invitation to speak to you.

Two weeks ago I spoke on the theme of child-honouring in Ottawa, at the first Parliamentary conference on Air Pollution and Human Health. I was invited by a Member of Parliament who understands that children need the respect of priority environmental protection—for children, it’s a human rights issue. And the unanimous feeling of the distinguished scientists gathered was that we have enough science—what we urgently need, is legislation.

And to the scientists here, I do want to say how deeply grateful I am for the work that you do, your ability to make sense the often frightening results of your research, and your tenacity in getting the environmental health message to the public. If I can play a small part in this process, I am happy to do so.

For those of you wondering, yes, I’m still making music—I have a Fathers’ Day concert coming up at Town Hall, Sunday June 20th.

It’s a little odd at times, being both a children’s troubadour and doing advocacy work. There are days at home, where in the morning I’m reading about toxic chemicals in our waterways, and a little later I’m playing my guitar and singing Six Little Ducks. Or I’m on the phone, talking about endangered beluga whales in the St. Lawrence, and later singing Baby Beluga.

The contrast between hearing about endocrine disrupters, and singing songs like This Little Light of Mine (I’m gonna let it shine), can be jarring. But the songs provide an uplifting balance, and a poignant reminder of what the advocacy’s all about.

I do want to share with you some good news that my company, Troubadour Records, has just received. Crown Publishers and Random House, here in New York, who print the numerous books based on my songs, have just agreed to print them on Chlorine Free paper.

By the way, that’s the reason we at Troubadour decided to self-publish my autobiography—to have a hardcover book that is Earth-friendly and entirely chlorine-free.

Last New Year’s eve, I was in a quiet house in Virginia, at the University that Thomas Jefferson built. And while reading again his Declaration of Independence, I wondered how a contemporary paper might likewise address children, and I came up with this:

A Covenant for Sustaining Children

We find these joys to be self evident:
That all children are created whole, endowed with innate
intelligence, with dignity and wonder, worthy of respect.
The embodiment of life, liberty and happiness,
children are original blessings,
here to learn their own song.
Every girl and boy is entitled
to love, to dream and belong to a loving “village.”
And to pursue a life of purpose.

We affirm our duty
to nourish and nurture the young,
to honour their caring ideals as the heart of being human.
To recognize the early years as the foundation of life,
and to cherish the contribution of young children
to human evolution.

We commit ourselves to peaceful ways
and vow to keep from harm or neglect
these, our most vulnerable citizens.
As guardians of their prosperity
we honour the bountiful Earth
whose diversity sustains us.
Thus we pledge our love
for generations to come.

Of all the tasks that define the human species everywhere on Earth, none is more central than supporting the integrity of our children. As their guides to Earthly life, we’re obligated not only to provide material comforts, but also to hold a mirror to each child’s innate brilliance and loving nature.

Yet how difficult we have made that task.

As revealed in the groundbreaking book, Our Stolen Future, within the last half-century—in just 50 years—industrial activity has seriously altered the Earth’s chemical make-up to a point, where all her children are now born “at risk.” The prevalence of persistent pollutants worldwide, even in mothers’ milk, poses an unprecedented challenge to the health of all children, wherever they live. A challenge to them and therefore, to humanity.

Consider now, the moral imperative invoked in 1992, by a 12-year-old Canadian girl, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, in a speech before world diplomats at the Earth Summit in Rio. She said she had come to tell the adults:

“…you must change your ways. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock exchange.

“At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world… to respect others; to clean up our mess; not to hurt other creatures; to share, not be greedy… You grown-ups say you love us. I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”

GIVEN what we know, THAT

  • the alarming increase in childhood diseases has made “children’s environmental health” a serious societal issue,
  • the latest science in brain research shows the critical importance of the first three years of life in shaping lifelong health and cognition,
  • among all peoples, young children are the most impressionable human beings and the most environmentally vulnerable,
  • and that in 1993, the “Warning to Humanity” by the Union of Concerned Scientists-over 1600 of them, including more than 100 Nobel laureates-called for “a great change” in our ways if we are to preserve a viable life on Earth,

I would invite you to consider a novel idea, without concern for whether or not it’s possible. Eleanor Roosevelt said that “if a thing must be done, it can be.” So for now, I am asking you to simply imagine, the benefits of a “child-honouring society”—one whose love for its children is manifest in every aspect of its design and organization.

It’s curious that, in all the social revolutions recorded in human history, not one has had as its central idea, serving the needs of the growing child; not one has recognized the proactive, logical and emotional appeal of “doing right by the child” to thus benefit all life; not one has had as its guiding light, the essential reality of the universal human experience—the growing child.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Biblical proverb (29:18).

Behold the newborn baby, the magical child! A newborn’s brain is the most dazzling intelligence on Earth. Acknowledge it fully, reflect its beauty, and it will blossom. But this inborn potential needs love, to catch fire.

LOVE is the prime nutrient for healthy growth and development-not smothering, possessive, immature love, but respectful love and nurturing, appropriate and mature love.

And children need the kind of love that sees them as legitimate beings, persons in their own right. They need this not only from parents and caregivers, but from the community as a whole. And to me, this suggests that we as a society, conduct our business in a manner consistent with that love, and fundamentally redesign the“village” it takes to raise a child.

Because life is a seamless web, societal problems won’t be solved in isolation, but in the relational wisdom that echoes Nature as she is. We live in a number of environments: social, economic, emotional, as well as natural. And from a unified perspective, the GDP as a measure of wealth, is as much a contributor to children’s health issues, as are the psychological stresses of our money-driven culture.

And so, I am proposing child-honouring as a holistic idea, as a lens by which we link all our intentions. To me, child-honouring means attending to the ecology of the child—by this I mean, all the relations that make up a child’s world, which of course, is also our world.

I want to make it clear, that I am certainly not talking about a society where children rule. Not at all. I am proposing, however, that we shift the adult-centered view of the world towards a renewed look at young children, a reverent look at those who most depend on us, but are all too often left out of sustainability strategies.

We don’t grow into responsible, caring people suddenly, at age 21 or 30. Whoever we are as adults owes a huge debt to our childhoods, either in rebellion or inspiration. To a great extent, the harvest depends on seed and soil. That’s why I would say, that our hopes for a sustainable “better world”—if they are to take root—are best sown in our relations with children.

In our work towards a civil and restorative society, lasting rewards will come from the quality of our relations with the young. Because it’s in our everyday acts that we weave the world. And how we regard ourselves and each other is not only what drives our own behavior, it’s what colors our children’s dreams.

When we respect the thoughts and feelings of our young, we give them a precious gift, the gift of finding their own voice, a gift they’ll carry to adulthood and pass on to their own offspring. So, our legacy to future generations is, in effect, written as it is lived today: in our closest relationships.

If we’re serious, about healing our wounds, restoring ecosystems and creating a truly sustainable world, why not have the sacred bond between adult and child (with all its joys and obligations) become society’s core agenda! If, as we say, “children are our future,” then why not show them—in thought, word, and deed—that we mean it, by choosing wisely in every sector of society the actions and policies that impact their lives.

Against a backdrop of the still growing gap between haves and have-nots, and 25% of American children living in poverty (within a robust economy!), we must realize that the cost of neglecting any member of our community is very high.

Children who are unloved, ungrounded, and malnourished not only live their own misery, but also carry an inestimable cost to the rest of us, in the social and economic burdens their lives incur. From this it should be abundantly clear, that in the transcendent state of being each other’s keeper we also serve ourselves.

In my view, the true wealth of a free society lies in the healthy development of every one of its children, blessed to be in good physical health and growing in emotional intelligence. When we attend the newborn with loving care, with attunement and empathy, we build the physiological bonds that allow the child to prosper.

Secure in the bond of belonging, that child is truly free: to breathe the mystery of life’s grandeur and to sense the Universe as kin; to respect diversity and celebrate difference, secure in the largesse of being.

It is this early attention to the human potential of every child that so urgently calls on us to embrace, if we are to stem the noticeable “soul erosion” among our youth.

In Canada, there’s welcome talk of a national children’s agenda, and the urging of Dr. Fraser Mustard—one of our top medical researchers—to invest in early childhood development, and we seem to have a window of opportunity to move children from the periphery of public policy and towards the focal point of our attention. And certainly, the appointment of a federal children’s commissioner, as has been recently proposed in Canada, would be a step in that direction.

Here in the U.S., an unprecedented public awareness campaign by actor-director Rob Reiner has shed new light on early childhood, with a clear message that “the first years last forever.”

As well, many outstanding individuals, from architects to CEOs, by way of personal epiphanies, are now “thinking like a rainforest” (Tachi Kiuchi, of Mitsubishi Electric), and engaging the inevitable ecological revolution with the design question that Bill Mcdonough asks, “How do we love all the children?”

Children’s environmental health combines two powerful motivators by which to consider fundamental societal changes: children and health. If we examine quality of life issues from a design standpoint—how do our societal constructs support or harm, those we most dearly love?—we gain perspective, on the collective message our societal values send to our young.

Given what we know about the foundational early years—about the developmental impacts of both cultural and natural environments—we could birth a widespread movement with the power to unify people in a noble cause—creating an honourable society that actually earns the allegiance of its young.

I believe we need a new level of honesty with our young, as well as a policy of inclusion—a transparency of means and intentions by which to restore trust. We’ll need to listen to their concerns, benefit from their insights, and by our actions show that we love them.

I sometimes think that, we may need to get uncommonly creative: maybe grandparents joining with their grandchildren, in a national awakening of priorities that just might surprise us in its populist power. In upcoming elections, someone might well say: “It’s the children, stupid!”

A child-honouring society requires a new alchemy: a design revolution of unparalleled scale, by which the materials, processes, and products of industry and commerce are thoroughly detoxified. Because the developing fetus is vulnerable to even the minutest doses of some toxic chemicals, we’ll need “a child-honouring protocol” with a clear goal: zero emissions.

Such a protocol would remodel the abstract capitalist economy, disconnected from living systems (as it is now), into a full-cost Earth-based economy that would serve the human family, by protecting the sanctity of the biosphere and thus, safeguarding children’s health.

The physicians’ prime directive, “Do No Harm,” would be fully engaged, and we would warmly embrace the precautionary principle, as a vital part of preventative medicine.

In place of society having private sectors and public sectors with often conflicting rights (as we do now), imagine the well-being of all citizens entrenched in an integrated covenant: a hierarchy of human needs, rights and responsibilities that puts children first, and by which human endeavor honours one central tenet-respecting the integrity of a child’s being.

The rippling rewards of doing so—to psychological health, freed creativity and true prosperity—are almost unimaginable. I’m envisioning a vibrant, highly relational world that supports people in joyful living, and in meeting life’s many challenges, without creating additional unnecessary suffering.

Before I close, I’ll leave you with these thoughts.

There is no belief system or enterprise as vital as a child’s need to believe in the love of her caregivers and of her community.

As long as ecology remains a remote, abstract idea, I doubt that it will become central to our lives. But the faces of our children and the power of their voices can move us now, as never before.

Recently, a young Canadian living in Ottawa, wrote an impassioned letter to our Prime Minister, and sent me a copy. She closed her letter with this:

"I may be a just a kid, but I’m the future, and I know what I want, and I have a pretty good idea of what I need. I don’t want to have to clean up after my ancestors who poisoned the Earth… but I know I’ll have to, just to make a future for the children of tomorrow’s tomorrow… So, please, help me clean up the Earth, because the children of tomorrow’s tomorrow need you. Sincerely, Johanna Geuer, age 12.”

For Johanna and all of tomorrow’s children, my dream is for society to embrace child-honouring as a “central organizing principle,” a process by which the entire fabric of our lives could be transformed, to everyone’s benefit.

Child-honouring, as the next ecological paradigm, could be a unique revolution in human history: A peaceful, integrated revolution from the inside out; inviting us to seek a new partnership with our children, with each other, and with our planet; redesigning society for the greatest good, by meeting the priority needs of its youngest citizens.

Thank you

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