Maddie was about to turn one-year-old on Election Day back in 2008, and Heather and I had fun including her in the history making events.
We took her with us to vote (where she got a bunch of cool stickers), and kept her up past her bedtime so we could watch President Obama’s acceptance speech together. It was great to involve our little Mooseroni in the political process, but it was also easy to do so because she was only a baby. Figuring out how to expose kids to politics gets a heck of a lot harder (and more complex) as they age. Despite this it is incredibly important that we do it the right way, especially as our country’s politics grow more contentious by the day.
I remember one time at school back in the day when my class debated who should be our next president – George Bush or Bill Clinton. The discussion got very heated with my classmates yelling at each other, and even though I was just a kid myself it was clear to me that A) none of us had a clue what we were talking about, and what little we did know we were just parroting from what our parents had told us.
In hindsight, I realize my classmates weren’t just parroting what their parents had said about the election; they were also parroting how their parents treated the other party and its candidate. Why else would these kids get so upset and yell at their classmates when they didn’t understand (and frankly couldn’t understand at their age) what each politician stood for? Their parents, whether they realized it or not, were teaching their kids that the way you deal with people with different political opinions is by yelling at them without a shred of respect. Pretty scary stuff.
So what should parents do differently? Ideally they should model respectful behavior toward other political parties and politicians so their kids learn to respect different opinions, and also encourage their kids to develop their own opinions. I’m going to try my best to do both of those things with Annie.
But you know what? I’m no saint. I have been known to yell at the TV from time to time when a politician is spouting some nonsense on it. Making it through the next seventeen years with a grin fixed on my face during the evening news is going to be very, very hard. It’s also going to be very hard not to let my opinions influence Annie as she tries to make up her own mind about things.
It’s going to be tough. I want to raise a daughter who is able to form her own opinions while respecting the opinions of others, but I worry that – because of my own foibles – she may end up more like one of my old classmates than I would ever want.
This reminds me of last week’s episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” Kris totally wants Kourtney to get married, but Kourtney isn’t ready. Kris said that she raised Kourtney to make the decisions SHE agreed with. Kourtney said, “no, you raised me to make my OWN decisions.”
They seriously are so wise.
This made me laugh out loud. I was reading it, without realizing who wrote it, and thought “What are they talking about, Seriously??!”……”Oh, hahaha”
For real. Best comment ever.
I think shouting at the television is a bit different to shouting at a person face-to-face. The home is a place for comfortable self-expression and is a safe and nurturing environment full of those we trust the most. None of us are perfect and I think there comes a time when it’s healthy that children realise their parents are fallible, just as they will undoubtedly feel they are on a daily basis.
I am not very politically educated, I’ll be the first to admit that. It wasn’t something that my parents were vocal on and not something I came into much contact with growing up so it still baffles me but I do think children can be taught that it’s okay to vent; it’s how you vent that matters. Not only that, it’s recognising that you ARE venting. A process whereby you express your strongest emotions so that you can move past them and construct a more reasoned response. The last part is what is missing from a lot of people’s repertoires, I think. Venting is a healthy release sometimes but there is a time and place for it. The sidelines at a sporting match or customer service desk at a supermarket don’t qualify.
You make some great points. My Grandmother was the epitome of reason. “Everyone must vote in America. Not only is it a right, but consider it a privilege. You may not get what you vote for and in that case, you must still respect the office of the President, whether you like it or not.”
In her day, you didn’t tell people whom you voted for. So when people would ask, that is what she would say.
Rachel C. says:
I always knew how my parents felt about politics, but they also never forced their opinion down my throat. I appreciated that.
The most important thing to tell Annie is the importance of voting. I always ask people I hear bashing a politician if they voted. When they say no, I tell them that when they gave up their right to vote, they gave up their right to complain
You are so right with young people parroting what their parents taught them. My parents are very stalwartly Republican, and for as long as I can remember, have been vocally disapproving of the Deomcratic party as a whole. I remember being in middle and high school and being really confused by my own political beliefs becase while my personal values and morals fell more in line with the Democratic platform, my parents’ beliefs – and everything they were trying to tell me was right in the world – went in a totally different direction. When I voted for the first time, it was in the 2002 gubenatorial primaries in Illinois. In order to recieve a ballot, I had to pick a party, and since the candidate I prefered was a democrat, I registered Democrat. My mother berated me the whole ride home that I’d wasted my vote (they live in a very conservative county) and needed to re-register at the next primary. It took me going to college, where I didn’t have my parents breathing down my neck, to realize how far from Republican I really was.
I think the problem is not ranting at the TV as much as being disrespectful, an argument I still get into with my mother on a monthly basis. (For example, we recently had a disagreement about the budget and bailout and I had to, essentially, hang up on her to stop her from calling the president several names not appropriate for mixed company.) Children need to see that you’re passionate about things and have beliefs – but also that you can have those beliefs in a mature, thoughtful, respectful way. I lost a lot of respect for my mother when, after spending the whole of the Bush adminstration berating me for disagreeing with his policies because “He’s the president, we should respect and follow him no matter what,” she started just lambasting President Obama before he even took office. There is a way to participate in discourse without shouting down the other side, and I think that’s the most important element to being a good parent: having your beliefs, sharing them, but leaving room for your children to disagree.
respect seems like a really good goal. I’m not sure any type of neutrality is a goal I’ll aspire to though. Politics are really important and very informed by values. I think my politics are right, obviously, thats why I vote that way! I’d be disappointed if my kids grew up to be the opposite party because I’d feel like they were dismissing not just my candidate but also the values they were raised with. So I will probably rock the future dem onesie on my kid(s) unapologetically.
We have 2 teens and we do discuss politics. My husband and I usually agree on most things but the last presidential election, not so much. I voted Obama, he voted McCain. Our kids watched as we debated back and forth without yelling or screaming. By election day, we had kids who were split as well.
At the end of the day, just respect the person who won and be thankful we have the freedom to vote.
I’m right there with you. Hopefully we both figure out a good balance before our kiddos get old enough to understand what we’re shouting at the tv.
Kids will naturally take on their parents opinions until they are old enough to really understand it is all about and form their own opinion based on that new understanding. I think the key is to teach our children to listen to, learn from and be accepting of others who have differing opinions from their own.
Here, in Alberta, grade 6 social studies is all about local and provincial government. This year my daughter, Jordyn, was in grade 6 and it was an election year.
My daughter had a better grasp on the candidates than I did. We had many very interesting discussions on who I should vote for.
My parents raised me to make my own decisions about politics. Which led to me instating a ban on George H.W. Bush not being allowed on the TV in our house because he didn’t allow broccoli in the White House. I was 5. But at least I knew what was important I guess??
cindy w says:
My mom is a Democrat and my dad is more of a right-leaning Independent, so I grew up hearing both sides. And I grew up in the Bible Belt, so I distinctly remember in 2nd grade, another kid telling me that my parents were stupid because they voted for Mondale instead of Reagan. We were 8 years old! Completely ridiculous.
I want my daughter to be aware of what we consider important, politically. But I also want her to make her own decisions. Of course, at 4 years old, her current assessment of the President is this: “Obama has short hair just like Baby Sister!” (Her sister is 7 weeks old.) So, yeah. I guess we have a while before we really start discussing issues.
I’m just glad Maddie voted no on prop 8. You guys have smart kids!
Here’s the real trick – regardless of your political beliefs, YOU have to be able to explain the other side as though you truly are unbaised and could understand holding that belief or position even if you wouldn’t, to offer both sides of the picture in a way that’s relatable to kids so that they can ask questions and draw their own conclusions. We are pretty slanted in our house and it’s obvious what our political beliefs are, so we try to have some balanced conversations. When our daughter says things that clearly parrots our beliefs, I’ll ask her to explain what she thinks it means and talk it through with her.
We also watch McLaughlin group (yes, I know, judge) but it’s actually a good show for showing political discourse – and they yell at each other, but everyone gets a chance to talk and you hear both sides of an issue – opinion based of course. From a political debate perspective, this show is great. Our 9 year old thinks it sucks because she’d rather watch cartoons.
Also, kids understand more than you think. We always go out of our way to discuss things at her level in terms she can relate to. It takes effort on our part and it helps, I think, when both parents are informed and involved because even if your beliefs are the same, everyone has a different way of explaining things so the more people there are to give input, the better picture they get.
My grandmother came of age when women couldn’t vote, so she made sure to tell all of us girls that it was our duty to continue to vote to honor those women who came before us. She said that it didn’t matter who we voted for, just that we were informed and vote because anything less was an insult to the memory of her and all of her young friends. I’m 45 now and I have never missed an election.
YES to all the people above who said that you don’t have to keep your mouth shut about your political opinions in order to teach your daughter respect. We want our kids to be respectful, yes. We also want them to be stimulated—surrounded by all kinds of ideas and thoughts and facts and opinions. Growing brain wrinkles. Learning to think. We don’t want to just hush our faces and raise them in a void. And we definitely want to model Speaking Up For Our Beliefs, so that our children grow up learning that they can speak up for theirs. And we want to listen to our children, so that they learn that their voices are powerful. So. Discourse. Talk about things, talk about what you think, ask Annie what she thinks, debate and pro and con and analyze. All respectfully, really listening to her. You can do it! And it will be a lot more fun than hushing up.
If you’re politically active you owe it to yourself (not just your kid!) to be able to articulate why you support or oppose a candidate, legislative initiative, or political party. It doesn’t have to be something that would make a political science professor proud. Just finish the sentence “I agree/disagree because…” in a manner that wouldn’t result in a first grader getting sent to the principal’s office.
In our family the kids hear and see a lot – we are likely to be involved in local races, which makes it much easier. You can see respectful disagreement when candidates greet each other at a debate. You can look at a mailing from a candidate and explain that it is persuasive writing, intended to convince you, and it doesn’t present both sides of the argument. And so on.
Another good thing about being active in local politics is that it is only a matter of time before your kid sees how you respond to a person with whom you disagree. Not a candidate or an issue – from your kid’s perspective, some random person shook your hand or said hello or asked you a question. You can choose to be polite, move on, model respectful behavior in public…then go home and yell at the TV in private.