Conducting research, or creating content, or engaging in marketing with youth can be tricky business. Many of us who have made our careers in the youth and family space know that attending to the legalities of youth marketing and research – online and offline – is just the beginning of considering the ethics of these endeavors. Many of us who spend significant time working on kid, tween or teen brands, products, and at youth oriented companies and organizations reflect upon the way our work affects the lives of children. Most of us question and worry about our work. We treat the job of communicating with and to children as a sacred one – not business as usual, but rather business that can make a difference – positive or negative – in the lives of children. But linking our work to children’s rights? Is that going too far?
Not surprisingly, LEGO doesn’t think so. Recently, LEGO announced that they were going to start taking steps in their online and offline marketing to protect the rights of children, specifically those outlined in UNICEF's Children's Rights and Business Principles, a guide to help business encourage and protect children's rights. UNICEF contends that companies not only have a responsibility to ensure that communication and marketing does not have an adverse affect on children's rights, but that marketing should be encouraging children's rights.
These principles might be geared towards businesses, but they call to mind a more comprehensive document, United Nation’s Conventions of the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC), that serves as the first legally binding international instrument created to protect the human—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social—rights of children.
Established in 1989, the UN-CRC outlines the basic rights and protections that all children should be given. While the UN-CRC is a political instrument meant to help governments, it also gives us insight into a global idea of what rights children have. Certainly all the articles of the UN-CRC are interesting, but three stood out to us and being particularly important for youth marketers and content creators:
Article 13: Freedom of Expression. Children have the right to give and receive information as long as that information is not damaging to them or others. Children’s voices are important, and Article 13 acknowledges that not only do children have voices, but what they have to say is valuable. This article not only encourages creative expression and children’s rights to express their feelings and become active producers, it also encourages adults to remember that the voices of children should be heard.
Article 17: Right to Media. Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being. Rather than discourage media, the UN-CRC encourages media specifically designed for children, media that considers the needs and interests of children. More than just produce media for children, Article 17 also reminds us that this media should be available in multiple languages and be made available to all children. Children have the right to access media that represents the diversity of the world.
Article 31: Right to Play. Children have the right to relax and play and join in cultural and artistic activities. Article 31 is our favorite and one we completely agree with. Play can promote health and foster relationships. More importantly, play is a human right, something all children need to experience. The UN-CRC doesn’t limit itself on what play and leisure mean. Sports, games, toys, and relaxation should all be made available to children.
The UN-CRC reminds us that children are active agents in the world, and that our work has the power to support them. It’s likely the work that you’re doing considers children’s voices, or children’s right to media or children’s need for play. But considering these “strategies” or brand equities or positioning as rights might raise the stakes in your own organizations and on your youth teams.