How To Talk To Your Kids About Politics
It is Presidential Election season again, folks: When blatant lying, uncensored criticism, and backbiting abounds - and grown, educated, successful people act like spoiled, angry toddlers. It also makes relatively calm, everyday folks turn into raving maniacs who scream insults at other relatively calm, everyday folks, usually about candidates that no one has actually met or know on a personal level. Each election season seems to go to a new level of hatred and scheming. When I was a boy I remember watching people say how much they hated Reagan on the evening news, and it baffled me. But in my adult years, it was Clinton, then George W. Bush, and then I didn’t think people could hate the way they hated President Obama. But it seems things have gone to a whole new level this year during this election season.
Not long ago, a girl in middle school told me she didn’t like eating with her friends at the lunch table anymore. “Why not?” I asked.
“Because,” she said, “Everybody is fighting about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and which one would make a better president.”
I was stunned. Wow. Middle school. The week before some kids told me they went to see Jeff Dunham, the superb ventriloquist in Tampa. They said that he started to do some political jokes with one of his puppets and a fistfight broke out in the crowd down in the first row. Each week in my office, young people talk about what their parents have said about the candidates. It got me thinking: What is our role as parents in talking to our kids about politics? What is our duty to teach them about the process and what they see and hear on TV and from teachers and friends? Here are some guidelines to help you.
1) Reassure Your Child and Remove Fear
Fact: We live in the greatest country in the world. Nowhere else in the world does one have the ability to make something of themselves as we do here in the USA. From starting at the bottom of a company and moving up, to being an entrepreneur and starting your own business, being in the United States offers opportunity that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. Yes, you have to work very, very hard, and yes, there are many obstacles along the way, but it can be done. Is it a perfect place? Absolutely not. Racism is still here, as is sexism, poverty, and crime. But reassure your child that our land still has opportunity for progress and success.
2) Use Discussion of Politics to Teach How Our Government Works
Fact: Our government, while not perfect, is the best version of government for a nation of our size in the world. The three branches create a balance. One person cannot bring down our country despite what the lobby groups and 24 hour news networks tell us. George W. Bush didn’t have a hurricane machine that created hurricane Katrina and President Obama didn’t barge into all of our homes and take our ammo for our assault rifles (sorry, NRA). If you can’t remember how our government works, take a quick refresher course and do some research so that you can teach your kids that we are going to be okay. Also, being involved in our political system is important. The answer is not to avoid voting, in fact, we should be paying attention to our local government more than the national scene. Again, our democracy is not perfect and how can it be? It involves people. A quick scan of our history will show that what we are seeing in this political season is nothing new. Just review the political cartoons in Andrew Jackson’s day: Some were downright brutal.
3) Teach Discernment, Not Blind Criticism
Fact: You don’t really know what a candidate will do once he or she is in office. Most political discussions involve assumptions. We don’t really know what Hillary would do in office, or what her policies will be. We don’t know what kind of president Mr. Trump would make or what policies he will attempt to implement. We can only assume. When our children hear us make blanket statements against people that we don’t really know, especially when these statements are negative, it creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Even if I believe that the creators of South Park would make a better presidential duo than any of the candidates, I must be careful what I say when my children are around. Our job is to teach, and do so with the knowledge that our kids are the next generation. We must also teach our children that by being informed we create a faith in the system and a union of citizens, instead of putting all our faith in one person and demanding that he or she change everything and make it perfect.
4) Notice Some Things You Don’t Like? Find Ways to Get Involved!
Fact: It’s easier to criticize and do nothing than to get involved and try to make a difference. I like parents who teach their children that they can criticize any part of the parent’s way of doing things as long as they bring two solutions for each criticism and are willing to work towards those solutions. By teaching our kids that true patriots not only notice something that needs to change but get involved and work to make differences, we teach them an important lesson for life. We teach them something about what makes truly great people great: They weren’t afraid to speak up and they put their actions behind their words. Harriet Tubman, William Wilberforce, Dr. Lucy Cabrera…and on and on. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Finally, as you navigate this increasingly difficult landscape, remember to limit the information that pours into your home and cars when you are with your children. Much of the problems in our nation come from 24 hour news coverage which wants to shock and create divides among people, instead of providing information and unity. Teach your kids how to research the issues and see both sides so that an informed, balanced opinion can be created. Don’t simply rely on our education system to teach your kids about government or politics. As I’ve said many times before, you are the most important teacher your child will ever have.