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The politics of parenting

With the election dominating the nightly newscast (in between hurricane updates), it’s a great time to talk to your kids about politics and beliefs. And you can demonstrate that it’s fine to disagree with people, as long as you do it with respect.

Little Republican Boy
In between live shots of reporters standing in the rain in New Orleans, you might have heard a newscaster mention something about election season. And if you have a child capable of speech in your home, he or she probably has an opinion on the candidates.

Think your kid is too young to care? Think again — kids as young as 7 years old have expressed surprisingly cogent beliefs in the last few weeks. And with older kids? Well, you may have thought that only the candidates had to debate in front of an audience, but you’re wrong. You’ll need to be ready to defend your position to your teen, her friends, and possibly her teachers and her friend’s parents.

Crazy, isn’t it? We feed them, house them, buy them iPods, and they have the nerve to have opinions different from those we cherish? Well, yeah, and it’s not the end of the world.

Agree to disagree

You can disagree on anything in the world, as long as you do it respectfully. Make that your mantra: “I respectfully disagree.” And then live it. Encourage your child to share his views, and listen to what he has to say. Don’t let him get away with “Well, your candidate’s an idiot” statements. Press for details. “What has he done that makes you think that? How is your candidate different?”

And be prepared to take as much as you dish out. When your teenager wants to know how you as a [fill in the blank] can possibly vote for [whichever candidate you’ve chosen], you’ll need to respond intelligently. So you’ll need to get out and read up on the issues that matter.

Respect each other and the process

Is the electoral college flawed? Perhaps. But is our system better than, oh, say, Zimbabwe’s? Most likely. Let your child know that his opinion matters. If he wants to display a sign on your lawn for the candidate you wouldn’t vote for if he were running unopposed, it’s tempting to pull rank. But what’s the message you’re teaching?

Isn’t it something along the lines of, “All animals are equal, but the animals who are bigger and have more money are more equal”? Instead, have your child present, either in oral arguments or in writing, a compelling argument for displaying the sign. You may have a future political pundit on your hands.

Where did you come from?

If your child’s political views are the polar opposite of your own, why is that? Get him to explain why he feels the way he does. It’s most likely more than his fundamental desire to irritate you. Is he bowing to peer pressure? “Well, everyone at school says this guy stands for everything that’s wrong with America.”

The wrong argument at this point is that old, “If everyone jumped off a bridge” bit. Because at 15, yes, your kid would be taking the plunge right along with his buddies, and you know it. And to some extent, all of politics is about peer pressure. Haven’t you noticed at least some of your beliefs lining up with your friends and neighbors over time?

A better solution is to challenge your child to think independently, but challenge yourself to do the same. Take the time to have a respectful discussion about why you each believe what you do. That argument you asked your teen to make defending his candidate? Swap it with one of your own, and then each of you can come up with followup questions. You may need to get out and do research. You may even need to learn more about your candidate. Imagine — what if you learned something new because of your kid?

Enjoy the season

Election season is an exciting time. Let your teen’s excitement be the catalyst for your own. The more people who care about an election’s outcome, the better off the country will be.
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