Kids and Politics

I’ve heard a fair number of people wondering what to tell their kids about Trump and current events. As someone with kids ranging from 21 down to 6, I thought I’d share how we do thing in our house. I’m not saying that this is the “right” way to deal with the issue, just that this is what my husband and I are personally comfortable with.

First of all, turn off the news. We do not have the news on either the TV or the radio in our home. If you absolutely must listen or watch, do it when the kids are in bed or at school. Most of the news is garbage anyways. Local news is racist and consumeristic garbage. Cable news is distorting and evil. NPR isn’t so bad, but it can be pretty emotional which is hard for some kids to deal with. You can access all the news you need to know online without your kids being exposed to it.

To the extent that my kids are exposed to the news and politics, it’s through dinner conversations between my husband and I with the older kids joining in. We tend to avoid subject that would cause serious anxiety, unless we can talk about them at a high enough level that it will be hard for the younger kids to follow. For example, we might say that Trump’s behaving like a fascist, but we’re not going to go into what fascism actually entails. Mostly we stick to inside ball – there was an executive order signed, this person spoke out on this issue, Trump’s approval ratings. Things like that.

With younger kids, it is my opinion that they don’t need to know what’s going on unless it’s coming right to your door. Children need to be able to focus on their own lives and don’t benefit from the anxiety of watching the goings on of the grown folks. To the extent that you do talk about it with them, keep it vague. All my 7 year old knows is that Trump is president (she doesn’t like his face) and that I don’t think he’s a good man. We also had a discussion about the fact that we’ve had other presidents who weren’t good people before so she’d know that we’ve survived bad men before. (I used George Washington keeping slaves and his relationship with Oney Judge as an example.) Frankly, if your young child is asking a lot of questions about politics and the news, they may be being exposed to too much of it.

If you live in an urban area where there are protests going on, are going to one or will take them to one, telling them that people are upset with the direction the country is going and are making themselves heard should be sufficient. Maybe add in that you’re protesting in order to speak up for the people who get mistreated. Personally, I avoid using the social issues of the day as jumping off points for discussions about serious issues such as equality, empathy, free speech and the like. If you’re raising them right, those are ideas that you are already teaching them in word, action and deed already. (Again, these are my opinions, not me pontificating at you about the right way to handle these things.)

Tweens are still pretty self-absorbed (as they should be) but they are starting to be more aware of the wider goings on in the world. This is the age when they typically start paying some attention to dinner table conversations. So they are gaining some feel for how things work and the general tenor of what’s happening and are usually satisfied with that. With my tweens, I asked them every week or two what kids at school are talking about in regard to the news and/or the president. Obviously not everyone is refraining from discussing politics in front of their kids and kids do have a tendency to parrot what their parents are saying. So things do get said. I’ll ask them what the general opinion among their friends/classmates are (apparently all the 6th grade girls turned on Trump when the news about how he talked about women came out). Then I’ll ask what they think about things being said. Often that’s enough, but if there’s a problem or some misinformation, I’ll counter it. I also try to offer a bit of context to what they are hearing. Like when the pussy grabbing recording came out, I told my daughter that Trump has a bad history with women, so this is the sort of thing that we can expect from him.

Once the kids get into their teenaged years, they tend to be spending a fair amount of time online where politics is ubiquitous. Because they’re growing up in a home where the news and politics is dinnertime conversation, they typically start at least glancing at the news on their own. Both my 17 and 21 year olds keep up with the news fairly well, although not nearly as obsessively as I do. But this is usually the age at which they will start piping up during dinner time conversations or bring it up at other times with us, as they know it’s an area of interest. At that age, I generally try to give them room to tell me what they think, rather than just spouting off at them with my opinions. I’ll gently challenge points of disagreement or bring up ideas, information and perspectives that I can see that they are missing.

As they get older I will sometimes run my own ideas and opinions past them and ask for their opinion. When you’re old enough to have children who are young adults, you’re old enough to be in danger of getting stuck in your thinking and shutting yourself off from new ideas. Asking your kids what they think gives them a chance to think more deeply themselves while potentially exposing yourself to a different perspective. I also like to ask them about the opinions of their more politically aware friends for the same reasons. This is the age where I’ll start arguing more forcefully with them about things we disagree on. But I never let it get too serious. We can agree to disagree, even majorly. But since we’ve been training them in morality, empathy, care of the least and the like as core values, their politics tends to wind up not too far from my own. Although they’re not nearly as radical as their dad and I tend to be. At first anyways.

In writing this, I am aware that although we are a mixed race family and we’ve had more than our fair share of problems, I’m writing this from a very privileged position of being middle class, well educated and largely protected from the wider goings on in the world. Like I said, I’m not saying that our approach is the right approach, but it’s what works for us. I don’t want my kids to be ignoramuses, of course. But I also don’t want politics to become a dominant feature of their lives unless they develop their own fascination with it independent of me. What I really don’t want, however, is to wind up with a young child who is anxious, angry or scared about the state of the world. Nor do I want my arrogant cocksure adolescent who has little to no real life experience spouting off ideology and opinions on the internet like they know every damn thing.

So there you have it. Some thoughts for those of you wonder what to tell the kids. Do with it what you will

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