Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Political Dialogue

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Nov 3, 2012 2:27 PM
"Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half." (Gore Vidal)

What are you telling your kids about the election? At fifteen, my daughter is rapidly approaching the age at which her vote, too, will count,and she's also old enough to engage in intelligent conversation about the issues and how our values and priorities inform our vote. She has been - and continues to be - educated about how our government is supposed to work, and can put some of what she is hearing into a larger context.

I'm especially grateful for that since I can't remember an election that was this contentious. Campaign ads are everywhere, and althought that's hardly a new part of the election process, the tone of many of them exposes kids of all ages to messages that we take great pains to teach our children not to engage in. Central Penn Parent posted a clip on their Facebook page yesterday of a little girl crying because she was "sick of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney." Adults, too, have expressed their readiness for this whole process to be over because they're so sick of radio, television and social media being infiltrated with everything ranging from factual reports to skewed opinions to bitter tirades that sink to a personal level. And, at the same time, we fear what lies ahead.

How do we discuss this with our children? As with everything else, age and stage of development is key. While toddlers and preschoolers are among the few whose television viewing isn't interrupted by campaign vitriol, they still reside in homes with adults who want to remain well-informed. Family rules about what is on television when the kids are up and about will help to govern what the littlest among us see and hear. Making that decision is the first step toward determining which conversations we will need to have now and which can wait until our kids are older.

Elementary school-aged kids have less of a natural barrier between them and the world they live in. While their younger brothers and sisters still exist in a somewhat protected microcosm, school-aged kids have more exposure to the world-at-large. While family rules about media (social and otherwise) will also help to limit their exposure, conversations at school and with older kids may lead to questions that we find challenging to answer.

How do we answer those questions? Do we use them as an opportunity to solidify our family's values and perhaps even bring an issue to the forefront? Do we ask our kids what they think, and use the questions as a springboard for discussion? The main focus of the first option is dovetailing our kids' beliefs with our own and can serve to help younger kids feel secure. The second option focuses on teaching our kids to think for themselves and showing them that their opinion is valued, something that becomes more important as they progress through elementary school and toward middle school. By having any sort of discussion at all, we open the door to a frank conversation about our family's beliefs as well as teaching our children to respect others' opinions, even when they differ from our own.

These conversations become more challenging as our children grow and develop opinions of their own, particularly when those opinions begin to diverge from ours. That's when it's most important to converse with respect, and not devolve into the same level of animosity that can emanate from the campaign trail. It's hard to hear our kids espouse views that seem so different from ours, and important to keep in mind that this kind of deviation from what they've been taught is often an important step on the road to independent thinking - one that sometimes leads right back where it started, particularly if we don't pave the alternate route with too many protestations.

Perhaps you're fortunate, and your family has managed to maintain a zone of neutrality in spite of the politicking going on around them. But if your kids are raising questions and showing interest in the political process, now is a great time to engage them in conversation. Be prepared to bite your tongue, but also be prepared to be proud that you're raising a child who can think for him or herself.


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