11/01/2012 05:09 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Why Your Child Should Complain

Is your child a complainer? Do you hear "that's not fair!" everyday? If so, it's time to celebrate. Your child could be the next advocate who stands up to bullies; the one who works toward a solution for climate change, or who fights for access to justice or against inequality.

We often tell children to stop complaining when what we really want them to do is to stop whining. Complaining in a well-organized, lawful, and directed fashion is a skill. And it is a skill that people living in democracies have been known to honour, respect and reward, and something that parents and educators should nurture

When we reflect back on the rights that have been hard-won over the past few generations, we must acknowledge that the battles for these rights began with a complaint. Someone had to draw attention to the problem before it could be resolved, or even approached. And not everyone liked hearing these complaints.

Women can't vote? What are you worried about? You have a husband who looks after your interests. Only a few Jews are permitted entry to law or medical school each year? What are you complaining about? The best candidates will get the places allotted to them. You can't get a job because of the colour of your skin? What are you complaining about? Business people should be able to hire whomever they choose. You can't marry your long-time partner? What are you complaining about? Marriage is only for a man and a woman.

What would our lives be like now without the complainers? Each time someone stood up and said "that's not fair!" in these and other circumstances, they were not the most popular people in the room. So why would we encourage our children to start complaining early when few enjoy listening to complainers? Could it be that we actually rely upon the complainers among us to keep our democracy on track?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Trust sees in complainers great potential for strengthening democracy, so we've created a new website for the young complainers in your life. That's Not Fair! uses an engaging and entertaining animated video series, video games, and lesson plans for teachers who want to turn those young complainers into the kind of critical thinkers who make a difference in the world around them.

Follow the exploits of Mayor Moe and the city councillors who try to solve problems by passing or enacting new measures. Sometimes the new rules work but sometimes they are anything but fair. How can you tell what is fair? By asking lots of questions. While it may be difficult at times to respond to complaints and questions about fairness, we can help children learn to develop their democratic habits and skills by listening to them while they explore their perceptions of injustice. And, in no time, you and your young complainer may find yourselves joining the That's Not Fair! bug who lets us know just when to complain.

Remember, some of our greatest heroes were consummate complainers. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela were all children once. I wonder how often their families heard them say "that's not fair!"?