International Children’s Day – Caring for Our Future

Children are lucky: Every year, there are several occasions around the world when they are honored with their own day. Traditionally, International Children’s Day is celebrated in the states of the former Soviet Union on 1 June.

Kinder haben Glück: Weltweit gibt es jedes Jahr gleich mehrere Anlässe, an denen sie mit einem eigenen Tag geehrt werden. Traditionell wird der Internationale Kindertag in den Staaten der ehemaligen Sowjetunion am 1. Juni gefeiert.

“I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

DOI: 10.34879/gesisblog.2021.41

The Magic of Childhood

In the world-renowned stories by James Matthew Barrie, there is an island called Neverland. In Neverland, no one ever grows old, and everything comes true if you only wish for it. Peter Pan and the other lost boys live the dream of a never-ending childhood. But what makes this thought so enticing? Is it the fear of losing our thriving imagination and creativity as we grow up? Or is it the grateful memory of light-hearted childhood days when our greatest worries were our dirty feet after playing outside all day – rather than the tax return or a loan that needs to be paid off? Then again, not every childhood is happy, and some certainly cannot wait to grow up and take responsibility for their lives and be allowed to make their own decisions.

The first aspect we would like to consider in this blog post is children’s future and our ways of ensuring that future generations will still experience childhoods on this planet that they can enjoy. In this context, we would also like to have a look at children’s rights. The second aspect we are interested in is the generational relationship between children and parents. It is quite fitting that the United Nations has declared 1 June Global Day of Parents – after all, the two are inseparably connected.

Using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) 2010 1 and the European Values Study (EVS) 2008 2, we would like to shed light on two things: (a) respondents’ attitudes towards scientific solutions to environmental threats and (b) respondents’ opinions on rights and duties towards their parents and children.

We Only Borrowed the Earth

In April 2021, young climate activists and environmental organizations appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court and achieved a landmark victory: They forced the German government to sharpen the climate protection goals it had previously set. The court argued that the original statute had been in parts unconstitutional as it did not sufficiently guarantee younger citizens’ liberties and their safe future 3. German climate activist Luisa Neubauer expressed her satisfaction with the court’s decision which finally ensured generational equity 4.

Probably everyone agrees that children can hardly be held accountable for current environmental problems. Nevertheless, they will be the ones who will have to bear the burden of the consequences in the future. Climate change is a threat to children’s physical integrity: There are more and more extreme weather events, air pollution, and diseases. The global food system is being affected, and UNICEF claims that “[b]y 2040, almost 600 million children are projected to be living in areas of extremely high water stress” 5. To add insult to injury, children who are already disadvantaged are even more at risk.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child implemented by the United Nations in 1990, state parties are obliged to ensure that all children may enjoy the highest attainable health and a living standard that allows them to develop their mental and physical abilities to the fullest 6. However – as UNICEF puts it – “climate crisis is a child rights crisis” 7. Unless we act now, climate change will shortly cause irreversible damage, threatening not only the free development of future generations but also their very existence. There are only several years left to avert this scenario.

But what can we do? Should we take drastic measures, like introducing flight bans or severe CO2-taxation? Or should we trust that science will come up with innovative solutions in time to fix our problems? In Figure 1, we want to look at the attitudes of the ISSP respondents to this question. Respondents from Sweden – the home of climate change activist Greta Thunberg – serve as a basis for comparison.

Generally, in Germany and Sweden, respondents are skeptical that modern science will solve our problems without us having to fundamentally change our way of life: Nearly 45% of German and about 68% of Swedish respondents would disagree or disagree strongly with this pleasant vision of the future. It seems inevitable that we must cut back to ensure a future worth living for the following generations. Of course, we cannot deduce from this Figure whether the respondents would also be willing to accept more than “a little change” to their way of life – that is another question altogether. 

Like Father Like Son – Like Mother Like Daughter

The issue of generational inequity leads us straight to our second topic: The relationships between parents and children. We can safely assume that parents affect their children: Through their parenting, they influence their offspring’s behavior, such as school success or alcohol use, and slightly (in combination with socioeconomic factors) general personality traits like agreeableness or shyness 8.

Most people assume that this effect is a one-way street. However, as Ambert claims, it can very much also be the other way round – e.g., when teenagers in adolescence drive their parents crazy. Of course, having children is not only associated with (emotional) costs for parents, but also with numerous rewards such as the pride they feel when their children perform successfully 9.

For some time now, the German demographic pyramid has not been a pyramid but an urn: Fewer and fewer children are born while the population is constantly aging. This phenomenon also raises the question of which duties adult children have towards their parents. In the EVS from 2008, respondents were both asked which responsibilities children have towards their parents and what they can expect in turn and vice versa. In Figure 2, the results are visualized.

The figure reflects the traditional view of things: Parents primarily affect their children and consequently have more duties to fulfill towards them. In the sample, including all EVS countries, 75% of the respondents believe that parents have the duty to do their best for their children, even if it is at the expense of their own well-being. German respondents seem to value parents’ self-determination more, as only 64% would put duty above their own good. When it comes to children’s responsibilities towards their parents in need of care, 31% of the EVS sample believes that children should not be asked to sacrifice their own well-being for their parents. German respondents – again – treasure their “own life”: 45% see it as unjustified to give that up.

Rebond Families and Empower Children

Let us conclude this blog post with some positive thoughts. During the corona crisis, many families have struggled to balance their lives, with parents working from home and children studying from home. But maybe this was also a chance to bond again and share more time as a family. There is also encouraging news regarding environmental issues and children’s rights: The United Nations Human Rights Council has recognized the need to “do more to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children in relation to environmental harm” 10. Among other things, states have an obligation to consider children and their best interests in all their decision-making or even facilitate children’s participation in environmental decision-making processes – after all, it is about their future.

Happy International Children’s Day!


  1. ISSP Research Group (2019): International Social Survey Programme: Environment III – ISSP 2010. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA5500 Data file Version 3.0.0,
  2. EVS (2016): European Values Study 2008: Integrated Dataset (EVS 2008). GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA4800 Data file Version 4.0.0,
  3. Deutsches Klimaschutzgesetz ist in Teilen verfassungswidrig. (2021, April 29). Retrieved 19 May 2021 from
  4. “Für den Klimaschutz ist das ein Ausrufezeichen.“ (2021, April 29). Retrieved 19 May 2021 from
  5. UNICEF (2019). An Environment Fit for Children: UNICEF’s Approach to Climate Change. Retrieved 10 May 2021 from
  6. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR (1990, 2 September). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved 19 May 2021 from
  7. UNICEF (2019). An Environment Fit for Children: UNICEF’s Approach to Climate Change. Retrieved 10 May 2021 from
  8. Ambert, A. M. (2001). The Effect of Children on Parents. Psychology Press.
  9. Ambert, A. M. (2001). The Effect of Children on Parents. Psychology Press.
  10. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR (n. d.). Children’s Rights and the Environment: Report to the Human Rights Council on the Rights of Children and the Environment (2018). Retrieved 19 May 2021 from

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