A lot of us were raised in what some might call the school of hard knocks. When we complained that a situation wasn’t fair, parents, teachers, or other adults would all-too-often shrug their shoulders and tell us that life wasn’t fair. That we should just accept things the way they were, even when we had an inkling there was potential for change.
What’s the problem with that? Well, for starters, everything.
While it’s true that lots of things in life aren’t fair, we can—and actually have a responsibility to—work toward making things better, more equitable, and just. Telling kids they’re powerless in the face of injustice isn’t just disempowering, it’s ultimately not true. Every person, regardless of their age, has the ability to stand up for what’s right and help the world become a more equal and fair place.
So what should you do when a girl in your life complains that something isn’t fair? And how can you support her as she learns how to stand up to injustices in the world? This guide can help you raise up girls who fight for what’s right and make the world a more fair and equal place.
1. Is it really unfair?
Some things, like rain on your birthday or an elderly relative’s death are hard to deal with, but they’re not actually unfair as they’re simply part of nature and beyond our control. Other situations—like another student outperforming her at the school spelling bee—can be frustrating, but if that other student studied as hard as your daughter and no one cheated, then the outcome is absolutely fair, even though things didn’t go her way.
Additionally, sometimes people or groups who might already be at a disadvantage of sorts (perhaps people with disabilities or from underrepresented groups) are given extra resources to put them on equal footing with everyone else. For example, a student with dyslexia might be given extra time to complete an exam. Situations like these aren’t unfair, they’re equitable—meaning that they give everyone the same chance of success.
That said, if the outcome she’s complaining about was affected by favoritism or bias—then it is unfair, and there’s no need for her to shrug it off and accept that as “the way things are.” Whether she’s upset that boys get called on more in class than girls, or that a park in a higher-income area is kept up nicely while parks in lower-income areas are left in poor condition—there are steps she can take to create positive change.
2. What would you do differently?
Complaining that something isn’t right without also having a suggestion for how it could be made better isn’t actually very helpful. So when your girl has identified something that’s unfair, ask her what a more fair solution would look like and how it would work. There may be several different ways to solve the problem, so help her think through as many as the two of you can come up with, think through the pros and cons of each, and decide on the one she thinks is best for all involved.
3. Who’s in charge?
Next, you can help her identify the person or people who have control over changing the situation. Who gets to make the decisions? Depending on the issue at hand, that person could be her teacher, her sports coach, a local government official, or—yes—even you if the situation is happening at home or involves family rules!
4. How did the situation get to be unfair in the first place?
Once she’s figured out who has the power, suggest she calmly let that person know how she feels and then ask why things are this way. If it’s someone she sees in her day-to-day life, she might find a quiet moment to approach them in person; if it’s a local official, she might want to attend a city council meeting, send an introductory email to request a phone call or meeting, or even reach out via social media.
Once she’s planned the best way to contact this person, remind her it’s important to keep her cool—just because something’s unfair doesn’t mean the person who created the situation did it on purpose. Perhaps it’s an issue that hadn’t been noticed before, and the people in charge will thankful that she brought it to their attention. Alternatively, your daughter might learn more about decision-making process and discover factors that help her see the situation differently.
Still, many people get defensive when their ideas, decisions, or actions are questioned—especially by someone younger than them—so there’s a chance she won’t get the answers she’s looking for when she tries to discover the “why” behind the situation. If that’s the case, she’s still got some work ahead of her!
5. Who else wants to get involved?
There’s strength in numbers, and it’s time for your girl to gather the troops, and to educate and inspire others. Does she already know other people who care about the same issue? Suggest that she ask them to raise their voices by contacting the people in power. The more people she gets to join her in speaking out through petitions, letter writing, social media campaigns, or community events, the more attention she can bring to the injustice at hand. And the more attention it gets? The more pressure there will be for those in charge to do something about it!
6. How can you harness your own power?
It’s important to push the people in power to make important changes, but sometimes it’s helpful to take matters into your own hands. If the city council isn’t willing to spend the money to fix up a rundown park, talk to local shops to see if they’ll donate supplies and then gather volunteers to clean up the place and plant new gardens! If tickets to your formal dance are too expensive, leaving kids who can’t afford it out, think about planning an alternate event that everyone could attend instead. Or if kids at your school are being treated badly based on stereotypes in the news, invite them to sit with you and stick up for them when you hear people saying unfair things.
Beyond all of these things? If your girl doesn’t think the decisions being made by the people in charge are fair or effective, she can work toward becoming one of the people in charge herself! Getting involved in student government, either by running for office yourself or by supporting another candidate, is a solid first step in that process. Encourage her to explore those opportunities and more.
The bottom line is that whenever any of us see something that’s unfair or unjust, it simply means we have work to do to make things right. Help your daughter understand her agency. Saying “life’s not fair” won’t fix a thing.