We are a nation that prides itself on free speech, but that means we don’t control the conversation.
A second grader came home from school last week and asked her mother what will happen if the (expletive) gets to be President? Her mother was completely taken aback. “Where did you hear that?” she asked. On the playground, of course.
Politics has always been a dirty business with the mud slinging and the glad-handing. However, this election has seen some really disturbing practices that have astonished even the veteran journalists and pundits who have covered politics for decades. The lack of a handshake at the last debate is one example, or one candidate referring to a former candidate and POW veteran from his own party as a “dummy.”
For our children, this type of low-blow rhetoric is especially problematic. We don’t want them thinking this level of discourse is normal, not on TV or on the playground. By the same token, we want to shield them from the larger problems.
There is regular talk about bullying, sexual assault, corruption, and police brutality. How do we educate our kids about these heavy-duty topics and put these charged phrases into context?
- Talk about it and listen to them. We need to be clear about what is taking place in an age-appropriate way. Children need to understand how important the election is, the history of the vote, and the struggle for everyone’s voice to be heard.
- Be honest about tough subjects. The world is not fair. It’s not just and it’s not kind. This is a rough lesson, but we are better off having age appropriate conversations about real world problems like social injustice. Keep it simple and answer their questions as best you can.
- Respect all sides of the political arena. Don’t talk smack about the party you don’t belong to. We all try to avoid name-calling and teach our children that they should never hurl insults, but when it comes to politics, we often get so worked up that we give ourselves a pass. We need to avoid knee jerk reactions to opposition and instead, try to elaborate on the need for diversity in the public conversation.
- Present your views as your own. We all have different perspectives that are shaped by our backgrounds and social group.
- Facts vs. opinions. Kids should know that we are expressing our opinions and learn the difference between opinions and facts. Facts contribute to opinions and facts are indisputable where opinions are not.
- Agree to disagree. This election brought many different causes, priorities, and data out into the light, but these things can sometimes muddy the waters further. If you can model respectfully disagreeing with someone else’s opinion for your child, you show them that we are all entitled to our vantage point. That is what voting is all about.
- Play by the rules, even if others don’t. The big teachable moment here is why some of us follow the law and some don’t. Some of us are honest, and some of us aren’t, and when it comes to politics, most aren’t. However, if we let unlawful or immoral behavior be the measuring stick, we all quickly sink to the lowest level. Our kids should know that we play fair because we have an internal moral compass that demands it.
Our kids will encounter hateful language in their lifetimes, and election season is fighting season. They will hear hurtful words and not understand. That’s just life. We can show them how to stick up for themselves against abusive and disrespectful language by modeling self-control, emphasizing the positive, and demonstrating the importance of everyone having a right to expression in a democracy.