Every four years in our country, political dialogue reaches a fever pitch. Thanks to social media and 24-hour news sources, we’re more informed and better able to discuss the American political system than ever before.
As grownups, we have our political opinions. Hopefully they’re formed by careful study, deep introspection and practicality. As a general rule, my husband and I don’t discuss politics in public, and that includes Facebook. To us, it’s just one of those things (like religion or income) that we prefer to keep to ourselves and close family and friends.
Part of that close family is our kids. My husband and I both grew up in homes where politics were part of the family discussion. I was the only child in my elementary school who voted the Libertarian ticket in the school’s 1988 mock election. I can still remember them reading the results over the school intercom: “George H.W. Bush, 298 votes. Michael Dukakis, 413 votes. Ron Paul, one vote.”
My husband remembers singing campaign songs, going to poll-watchers meetings and gathering with other families in the neighborhood to watch election returns.
As parents, it’s important to us to teach our kids about the political system. We want them to be engaged in their world.
Our oldest, a seventh grader, hears a lot at school and comes home with questions. Peers exert a strong influence, and there have been arguments at school about presidential candidates.
She understands that in an election year the fact that people don’t always agree with one another becomes more pronounced, and we’re careful to explain our own opinions as just that: Our opinions. “We think this, and this is why” is a phrase we use a lot. We want to have an honest, inclusive talk with her about politics without pushing our own agendas. If she disagrees with us, we don’t tell her she’s wrong. We ask her to provide reasons supporting her opinion.
It's a mixed blessing, but she just happens to be part of an extended family with varied political leanings that simply adores a good debate. She needs to be ready to defend herself.
With our littlest one, however, we’re dealing with a more concrete thinker. He’s not interested in much more than simple, concrete questions requiring simple, concrete answers. Here’s hoping he’ll be ready to talk politics by 2016.
I scouted around for some tips regarding talking to kids about politics, and I found these (that I really like) on kidshealth.org:
- Keep it positive. In the heat of an election season, strong feelings about tough issues can spark disagreements. Use the opportunity to show kids how to voice differences of opinion with respect, strength, and conviction. Say what you don't like about a candidate or his or her position and explain what you do like about your candidate of choice. Encourage your kids to do the same. Focus on the positive attributes of your candidate — talk about what you're for and your kids will too.
- Be reassuring. Perhaps kids are worried by what the candidates and others are saying about the economy or the job market. They might fear the family losing the house or a parent losing a job. Listen to their concerns and provide reassurance and perspective. If you're facing financial troubles, be honest and then tell your kids (in an age-appropriate way) what you're doing to handle the problem.
- Suggest they get involved. Many kids are quite interested in — and concerned about — the issues facing the country right now. Taking action helps them feel empowered and effective and builds problem-solving skills. Help kids think of what they can do. Talk about how small things can add up to make a big difference. Perhaps to save money, they'll want to make lunches instead of buying them at school. Or, if the environment is of particular concern, maybe they'd like to find ways to help the family "go green" at home. Let your kids know that just like voting for a candidate can make a difference, so can working toward an issue that you'd like to change.
Do you talk politics with your kids? Why is it important to you? How do political discussions happen in your family?