Have you ever wanted to talk with your kids about politics, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone! Read on for ways you can have constructive discussions to talk about the election and politics with your children.
A Political Education
I was excited to let my 11-year-old daughter stay up extra late for her very first political debate, which she would discuss with her classmates at school the next day. But pretty much after the introduction of the two candidates, that excitement turned into shock and embarrassment for the country. Instead of talking about some of the really important issues in our nation, our comments were more along the lines of, “These men would have failed kindergarten!”
It’s a little disheartening when, as a parent, you see that the presidential candidates seem to have completely abandoned all the basic courtesies you try to instill in your kids. I’m constantly telling my kids not to interrupt each other, to listen to what other people have to say, to think before you speak, only to find that none of that seems to matter when you’re running for office.
So I’m often tempted to retreat from politics altogether. Or at least, to try to protect my kids from the chaos surrounding the election. And I’m not alone. A 2019 NBC/WSJ poll indicated that 70% of the nation feels very angry about the state of the government today. And this was taken a year BEFORE COVID-19!
But the tactic of a political retreat only serves to compound the problem. Because even though it seems like the loudest voices in the room drown out the rest of us, I don’t want my kids to think that it’s okay to let them have the last word.
If anything, the sad state of our political climate should actually serve as a way to inspire us towards more meaningful debate and political discussions. Not quench it! And much of the time, by not saying anything to my kids about politics, I’m part of the problem. Because our democratic republic is a beautiful thing!
If my school-aged children can have healthy political disagreements and debates at a young age, they’ll learn basic values of respecting and still being friends with other people who disagree with them. In contrast, if they have to bottle up these feelings and even feel ashamed by others who disagree, how will they be able to cope with adversity when they get older?
Yes– it’s both possible and probable for two intelligent adults or children to hear information, and draw separate conclusions from the materials presented to them. It’s also possible to have meaningful conversations with your kids about politics, the government, and election day. Here are 6 tips to start the process.
1. Let Your Kids Hear You Talk With Other Adults About Politics
They might not understand everything they hear at the dinner table, and their eyes might glaze over with boredom. That’s okay! The details aren’t important. What is important is that they know you care about the world around you and the political process.
Gold star for you and your family if you can have another family over for dinner who doesn’t agree with your politics at all so your kids can learn about multiple viewpoints in the discussion. That way your children can learn from their parents how to discuss politics or the government in a polite way.
2. Take Your Children to the Voting Booth or Show Them Your Write-In Ballot
During a normal year, should school schedules permit, taking your child to the voting booth can be a fantastic way to see how the political process works. Due to COVID- this might not be your year to bring more people into a big public place. But parents always serve as role models, if they want to or not. So show your kids how to a write-in ballot, and how important it is to take part in the democratic process. People have died for your right to vote, so don’t overlook this crucial part of democracy!
3. Remind Your Kids That We Can Disagree and Still Be Friends
I’ve been shocked and disheartened by the number of people I know who simply don’t have or want friends who disagree with their politics. They can no longer stand to be around people who think differently because it makes them too mad.
But just because this concept is difficult for many adults, doesn’t mean it should be the norm. Often, the people who disagree with us challenge us to be more open-minded, and compassionate. They also help us fine-tune our own opinions, so we know why we believe what we believe.
4. Talk With Your Kids About Politics and the Press
As much as we all like to think we’re unbiased, it’s just not possible to be completely objective. And journalists are only human. For an interesting learning exercise, let your child hear about something from both Trump and Biden. Then let them hear news reports from a moderate, liberal, and conservative news outlet. Chances are, some of these accounts will make you absolutely irate, and that’s okay. But you and your kids will see that there are many ways to consider one event.
This approach is also a great way to check facts and talk about the importance of truth.
5. If You’re Disappointed With the Candidates, Find an Issue You Can Support
While millions of Americans are big fans of Donald Trump or Joe Biden, millions more are fed up with politics, elections, and Washington in general. But that doesn’t mean that we need to give up on the whole system altogether. Or that your child can’t benefit from political activism. Look at general or even really specific issues at stake in this election– education, the economy, military, healthcare, or the environment. Choose one cause that’s near and dear to your hearts, and get involved.
6. Don’t Lose Sight of Local Elections
It’s really easy to let the events on the national stage overshadow state and local elections. But on a practical day-to-day level, your local government, including the school board or city council might have a bigger impact on your life than politicians in Washington. So talk with your kids about these elections, and how they can make a meaningful difference.
7. Remind Your Children that Free Elections Are a Beautiful Thing
Yes, our election cycle is messy. Special interests have a pretty strong grip on many of our politicians, and I wouldn’t be disappointed to never hear another political ad. But imagine the alternative!
About 12 years ago, I met up with a group of Chinese university students who were touring Capitol Hill. They were absolutely shocked to see so many peaceful protestors not just demonstrating in the streets, but having access to go into congressional buildings. There is absolutely no way that anything like this would ever happen in Beijing! But that’s one of the wonderful things about the American political process. Even if we don’t love the options of the people running for office, democracy is something to celebrate. It’s worth fighting for. So talk with your kids about the great privilege we have to take part in this political system.
Kids, Politics, and the Future
We’re at a pivotal time in our democracy. In many ways, the internal threat of extremism from both sides of the aisle serves as a far greater threat than any external terrorists. If we can’t have informative discussions about politics with our kids around election time, we’re missing a massive opportunity.
We’re in the midst of a great moral and political division as a nation. And a lot of these deep issues won’t be resolved after November 3, 2020. Remind yourself, and your family, that no matter how things turn out, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the political front. And they’re not going to see the world they want if they’re sitting on the sidelines.
This year, the 2020 election might be greater than both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. No matter which way things turn out, as parents we’ve got to start talking with our kids about these issues, in age-appropriate ways. Because very soon, they’ll be the ones in the voting booth.