This week Americans decided not just on a president, but on other important issues that will affect them personally. If you’re like most households, you’ve likely piped up a time or two about your favored candidate or stated your opinion about a particular ballot measure. And chances are, if you have kids, they’ve been watching and listening more than you think.
A poll on kidshealth.org before the 2008 presidential election revealed that a whopping 75 percent of kids and 79 percent of teens felt that the election would affect or change their lives in some way. Half of the 2,000 teens surveyed believed that they’d had some sort of influence on their parents’ decisions at the poll. They also called issues like gas and food prices, education, health care and war “very important” to their everyday lives and their future. So is it important to include children in our political discussions, even though they’re too young to vote?
Absolutely, says Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and author. Her recent Huffington Post article supports bringing children into the political arena with us, but in a fun and healthy manner.
According to Drexler, it is important to not just toss out our random comments about political issues, but to explain our stance on them to the kids. This can be done in a simple, toned-down manner that will make sense to them. She also encourages kids to get involved with local political events, even school elections for class president and other roles. She also urges parents to stay away from disparaging comments, as they aren’t helpful and can be repeated out of context. And finally, she suggests keeping the political discussion light and fun, even using it as a source of table talk over dinner. Even the youngest children will have something to say.
I’ve heard many stories of kids’ comments regarding the presidential nominees over the past few weeks. One little boy in class burst out, “Obama ain’t gonna help nothin’ around here if he gets voted back in!” Hmm, I wonder where he heard that? I wondered to myself, amused. A few days later, another little girl on the soccer field insisted that “Romney is too dumb to run our country.” Again, I wondered where this elementary school aged child got her information. Most likely, her parents weren’t big Romney fans.
On issues that I felt strongly about, like education and school reform, I discussed the ballot measures with my kids. I felt it was important for them to know why I was voting a certain way and that I cared about the quality of education they were receiving in the public school setting. They asked some great questions, like what would happen if things did not change in ten years. This caused me to realize that they are truly thinking about their future and how these things will affect them.
As for my teenage son, I asked him if kids at his school discussed politics much. “Nah,” he replied. “They say they don’t really care one way or another.” He disagreed with their apathy, though, and added that he wished he was old enough to vote, because he realized that the issues on the table today will in fact directly affect his future. I am confident that when the next election rolls around, he will be one of the first in line to vote.
No matter the outcome this week, one thing seems certain: Our kids are listening, and they are aware more than we think. This is a great opportunity to share with them about the great freedoms of our country and encourage them to make a difference, not just when they are older, but today.
Parents, what do you think? Do you discuss politics with your children? And if so, what do you say? We want to hear from you!