Chelsea Clinton: How kids can ‘make a difference’

Wondering how to encourage activism and awareness in your kids, but not sure where to start— or even what their brains and hearts can handle? (Turns out, it’s more than you think.)

Start Now! You Can Make a Difference, New York Times bestselling author Chelsea Clinton’s guide for tween readers, tackles issues kids might see and hear about on a daily basis (endangered species, bullying) as well as global ones (health, climate change). But instead of being a heavy read, each chapter is broken down into palatable facts and tips, and features profiles of kids doing incredible things in the world. Accompanied by photos and cartoons, each chapter ends with an actual checklist of things that the whole family can do. Starting right now.

I spoke with the former First Daughter — and current vice chair of the Clinton Foundation — about this timely tome and its origins, plus how she plans to ensure her own young children become good citizens of the world.

Keely Flynn: My children and I have been reading Start Now, and not only are these great ideas for kids, but wonderful starting-off points for parents who don’t know where to begin or how to navigate activism for their children. Have you had parents approach you about this?

Chelsea Clinton: Absolutely. When I was on my book tour for It’s Your World a few years ago— which targets older tweens and teenagers about big issues that I worried about as a teenager, and that I’d heard from tweens and teens that they were worried about now— I was really struck by how many parents, teachers and older siblings would say “Are you going to write a younger version of this book…because they’re asking questions, too.” [This is] partly in response to listening to kids but also, absolutely, partly in response to listening to parents about the questions they wanted to be talking to their kids about; whether how we take care of ourselves, how we help take care of our families, how we help take care of our planet, or any of the other issues that start now.

KF: For many kids reading this book, it’ll be the first time they’ve heard of the concept of a food desert at all. Most people know about recycling, but there are a lot of kids who’ll stop and say, ‘Oh wow, no. Not everyone has access to this.’

CC: I think that’s absolutely right. Opportunities are more correlated to where we live than almost anything else. And there are clearly also limitations that relate to socioeconomic status. I think it’s important to help children be aware of that early on; there are always options to engage, but sometimes kids have more options because of family privilege, and I would hope that that doesn’t weigh on kids whose families do have more privilege, except for it to be a real opportunity to think about how they can use that early on. To help their family make healthier choices, to help have a healthier and more positive impact on their communities and our world, or [to help with] the challenges that we face. I think sometimes children really do recognize those, because I think kids are far more perceptive than a lot of adults give them credit for, but they may not know how to name the challenges that they’re facing. So, I hope that this helps them name those and address them.

KF: How do you implement — or plan on implementing — these concepts at home with your own kids, young as they are?

CC: Well, you mentioned recycling, and I think that those of us who are lucky enough to live in places like New York City where we have citywide recycling programs, I think those are ways to start. So even though my kids are small — 4 and 2 — they help me take out the recycling, and my son, who’s 2, feels really proud that he can carry a little box to the recycling bin. And I know it’s a little box, but it’s helping teach him that civic engagement and being a positive citizen is something that can start young — and it’s something we can manifest in everyday choices we make. With my daughter we talk about some bigger concepts. But I do think recycling, turning off the water when we’re not using it, talking about energy-smart lightbulbs, choices that we’re fortunate enough to be able to make at home, hopefully just helps them become thoughtful, engaged citizens almost without them realizing it, because it’s just part of how our family lives our lives.

KF: You have a crazily impressive social media following that’s a breath of fresh air — I can’t help but make the connection that a campaign of kindness and grace in social media is a kind of activism, too, for adults and the kids who are watching everything.

CC: Well, thank you, I really do believe in kindness, and it might sound old-fashioned, but I believe kindness is hugely important — it’s one of the things we talk about in our family, the importance of being kind — being kind to ourselves, being kind to each other and to friends and strangers alike. I think it’s important that, if that’s what we believe, then that’s how we lead our lives and what we model in social media. And I think it is a form of resistance to the hate that seems to be too common — particularly on social media — but it’s also an acclamation of the core values of what I believe we really need to be centered on. …I have tremendous optimism when I look at kids today and how curious they are, how conscientious they are, whether that’s violence-prevention activists from Parkland to Chicago, or the healthy-eating activists around the country, or all the kids I know who are working to save whatever their favorite endangered species is — all of that gives me more optimism.

Book signing

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