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Moms Talk: Discussing Politics With Kids

One of the closest presidential races in history is in the books. Should we discuss politics with our kids, or are they too young to understand what's going on? We want to hear from you!

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!

Charles November 08, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I ask my kids to question everything. I ask them how much of an effect their one vote would have in a presidential election. I explain that I don't vote because it is a waste of my time. I do tell them I plan and prepare (taxes, employment, zoning, laws, real estate, investments, etc) for all realistic outcomes of the election and react as necessary. Plan and react but don't participate. Figure out ways to leverage to your benefit the outcome of any election.
Morgan November 08, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I don't see a problem in discussing politics with children, but it is horrible that parents push their beliefs on their children. A young cousin of mine started tk disrespect my political stance after listening to his parents, and I was spalled because he had no knowledge of the other side. I feel parents should encourage their children to explore every angle of a debate, even if they don't like it. My parents did that; in fact, my parents voted for Romney this year whereas I voted for Obama. They respected my opinion an what I felt was important, and I respected them. This is how I was raised as a child, and I feel more parents should practice open mindedness with their kids.
InformedParent November 08, 2012 at 04:27 PM
You think it is horrible that parents push their beliefs on their children? Do you feel the same way about taking a child to church. Isn't that pushing your (religious) beliefs on your children?
Charles November 08, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Ask a parent if what religion little Johnny is and the parent will say Catholic (or Protestant, or Jewish, or whatever...) Ask the parent what political party little Johnny is and the parent will reply "How is he supposed to know? He's only five!"
LeAna Bui November 08, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Like all other subjects, the political spectrum was an open discussion in our house. My husband and I tried hard to explain all sides of any issue to our kids and then would try to help them understand why our view was our view. It was always important to us that our kids understand that there are different viewpoints out there and that it helps to try to understand what drives those other viewpoints so listening is as important as talking. Giving our kids an awareness of the world around them, helps to inform and empower them.
MFriedrich November 09, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I think what Morgan said is that "we should encourage children to explore every angle....even if they don't like it" I think this attitude should be applauded when it comes to politics and religion. And children are smart. When things don't make sense, they ask questions. Sometimes a ton of questions. We tend to lose our inquiry level before adulthood, and then it's all go with the motions because that's what our parents believed/thought/felt/did. I don't think "laissez faire" parenting is good for every situation though. For issues like sex, health and drug abuse, I think parents must take a more direct, involved and instructional tone.
Morgan December 14, 2012 at 09:27 AM
InformedParent: I feel that it is fine to take your child to church, but be open to letting them explore their options. My parents took me to church most Sundays, but it wasn't my thing, nor was it to my brother's liking either. My parents have accepted that we feel we are more spiritual in a universal sense than religious in a Christian sense. mFriedrich - exactly, thank you. Overall, I feel that parents have a responsibility to set their child onto SOME sort of path in terms of politics and religion. However, I feel that parents should encourage their child to research what it is they're interested in, and look at things from every angle and explore all options. I feel that parents should educate their children as well as encourage them to educate themselves. I may be young, be these are things that my parents practiced while raising my brothers and myself, and I feel that it has made me much more of an open minded person. They have always been open to answering questions and providing the best advice they can, and I feel that their parenting style has been very helpful to me through my teen years. I feel that it has made my relationship with my parents more open and honest than most 21 year olds have with their parents.

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