You may be wondering, “Should I talk to my children about politics?”
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but…
In today’s media landscape, it is nearly impossible for children to be sheltered from the political climate of our country. Political discussions flood traditional and social media spaces. Facebook even has an algorithm for curating political content based on one’s friends and the pages they follow.
Our society will likely become more polarized politically. It is vital that children have the tools to navigate this new world as they move into adolescence and adulthood. To accomplish this, parents need to introduce political dialogue to their children in an age-appropriate fashion. It is not something to shy away from, but rather a learning opportunity for your children. These talks will help children develop their reasoning, critical thinking and social skills.
Younger school-age children will benefit from a basic discussion of political terminology. When teaching them about various occupations in society, such as doctor, nurse or firefighter, be sure to mention professions such as mayor, judge and sheriff. Explain to your children that these professions are elected. Discuss the process of voting for an official and what an election is.
Most importantly, take your children with you to vote. Drum up excitement in the weeks before by talking about the voting process and what children will see on that day. Your children will love being a part of the process, and may even get a sticker out of it.
Older school-age children are able to understand more about specific political issues and candidates. Encourage your child to run for school elections for student government. At the very least, discuss the various candidates with them. You may want to mention the qualities that you find important in a candidate, such as trustworthiness, honesty, integrity and determination.
Compare and contrast the candidates with our current local and national elected officials. Talk about the school-related issues that are important to them, and which candidate will address them most effectively.
It is not necessary to have children identify with specific political parties at this age, as they cannot fully grasp the differences between the various parties. They may overhear you speaking about such issues; this is OK. Be respectful when discussing opposing viewpoints, and they will model this behavior.
Adolescents will want to discuss specific political issues, political parties and political candidates. They may begin to identify with a political party based on their current worldview and ideology. Help them to dig deep and understand the basis for their beliefs. Encourage them to craft respectful language when debating issues they are passionate about. If you are politically active, take your teen with you to town hall meetings, rallies and fundraising events.
Your adolescent may also reveal political anxieties based on what they read in the news. It is important to listen to them and their fears, and to reassure them without giving them false hope. For instance, if your teen is concerned that an elected official does not care about the environment, point out all of the other officials who are working on environmental protection issues. Explain the system of checks and balances.
Also, encourage your teen to get involved in school-based and community organizations that care about working toward that goal. This may help your teen feel less helpless, and will sow the seeds of activism for years to come.
On the other hand, your adolescent may say that they do not care about politics at all. After all, if their friends are not into politics, it may be less important to them. Not only is this OK, it is developmentally appropriate. Continue to discuss the importance of political involvement in your home. Your teen may not seem to care, but you are still laying a good foundation for them.
Politics is not a dirty word unless we, as parents, make it one. There are many ways that we can engage young, older and teenage children in political discourse. It’s our job as parent to make sure that dialogue is thoughtful, respectful and will set them up for future success.
Kimberly Reynolds, M.D., is a pediatrician at the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.