Talking politics to kids

In the run up to the national election, there will be lots of political talk around us – whether we want it or not. There are people all around us who are on both sides of the political spectrum and we must be careful not to overstep lines – and often fuzzy ones at that. As with so many things, it’s a balance that must be found.

Girl with Vote SignIt turns out our political views are different from most of the people in this town. When Alfs came home from school last week and told me the reaction of most of his classmates when they learned about which candidate we were supporting, I was surprised. I knew we were different, but I didn’t think we were that different. Alfs handled it well, from all accounts, and was able to respond to his classmates with some hard facts (some facts much to their surprise), and did not feel personally insulted by the comments. I was proud of him. At any rate, I decided it was the right time to talk about respectful political discourse.

Much has been said about the tone of politics recently. If the lunchroom at schools are any indication (don’t even start on the blogosphere), we need to do a whole lot better as a society at showing our kids what it means to be respectul about political opinions – and most other opinions for that matter.

A privilege and a responsibility

My husband and I were both brought up the notion that voting and taking part in an election is not just a privilege, but a civic responsibility. We would never dream of missing a chance to vote. We were taught to inform ourselves about each election and be prepared to participate. As such, my husband and I are both fairly political people, there is talk in our home about the election and the candidates.

The kids, of course, hear us talk. They ask us questions about why we believe what we do, who we think is the best candidate, what issues are important to us, and so on. We answer their questions as best we can, for each of their levels. We are extremely careful not to belittle the other side and the other candidates. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do. It’s been an intense campaign already, and we’re not done yet. We feel emotion about it, as do so many other people, and it can be hard to keep it in check.

Teaching respect starts young

Our kids, for the most part, mimic our views. I certainly was a mimic of my parent’s views when I was that age. As I got older, my views changed, and I have ended up on the other side of the political spectrum from my parents. My parents and family were more than a little dismayed at my political evolution and that was when I learned another important part of talking politics: if you can’t engage in respectful political discourse, don’t engage at all. My family and I do not talk politics anymore because we love each other too much to want to (potentially) get that upset with one another.

When talking with kids about politics, or talking to kids about how to talk politics, think about how you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of the discussion. It’s the Golden Rule all over again. While we may not agree with many of his friends and his friend’s parents, I don’t want them to say nasty, belittling things about my choices, so I don’t say it about theirs. The same goes for families that have disagreements in politics. Or even, as I have witnessed on several occasions, spouses.

With a little awareness and care, we can all make it through this election season with our dignity and friendships intact.
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