"Children have the right to express a view, and have that view given due weight, in matters that affect them"
Article 12, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Engaging with children and young people is a core part of our work. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has engaged with thousands of children and young people over the years. Our topics have ranged from what makes a good childhood to experiences of education, from what it’s like to be in a youth justice residence to aspirations for a rebuilt Christchurch, and from bullying to connections to culture.
If you want to learn about children’s views in your community, look at our Listening2Kids page on the website.
Children and young people are all different and have different views and experiences of life. However, throughout our engagements, we hear a consistent set of messages that relate not just to the topic at hand (e.g. bullying or poverty) but to the overarching concept of wellbeing. These conceptualisations of wellbeing are often extremely sophisticated. Our children and young people are able to integrate the subjective and objective aspects of wellbeing with ease. They demonstrate insight into both their own and others’ lives. They understand that wellbeing is important both now and in the future.
A particularly striking feature of the views we hear is their strong focus on values. This way of thinking about wellbeing has informed our definition and our thinking about wellbeing and will continue to do so.
Giving and receiving love, friendship, understanding and respect is extremely important to many of the children and young people that we speak to.
Every time we talk to them, from the youngest pre-schoolers to young adults, and whatever the topic, we are told that good relationships are very important in all aspects of their lives. We have heard relationships with parents and the wider whānau are highly valued, and that relationships with peers are often of crucial importance. Bullying is a negative peer relationship that has major impacts on children and young people. Relationships with teachers are commonly identified as essential for success in learning, with both good and bad teachers capable of having major effects on learning.
Fairness and equality are themes that occur time and time again. Children and young people have told us they see unfairness in their communities, or in New Zealand as a whole, as incompatible with wellbeing. Some children and young people we have spoken to do not like being stereotyped or treated unfairly and they also don’t like to see this happening to others. We have heard calls for the elimination of racism, poverty, and inequality.
Children and young people have told us about the barriers to good wellbeing their families face. They identify aspects such as insecure housing, inadequate income, low-quality employment and poor physical and mental health, family dysfunction and violence. Some children and young people are conscious of the way that economic stress, insecure or poor-quality jobs, and poor housing puts their parents into positions where family relationships can be affected.
Most of the children and young people we have spoken to are proud of New Zealand. Many value our physical environment, both in terms of nature and the country overall, and in terms of their communities and schools. They are proud of their heritage and many, from all ethnicities, consider te reo Māori to be a taonga that everybody should have the opportunity to have. They value safety in their personal environments, such as freedom from bullying at school and being able to live in warm, dry, spacious homes.
We hear consistently that children and young people want to be asked their views about things that matter to them, and they want their views to be listened to.