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As the primaries march forward toward the national political conventions and then the presidential election in November, politics become more and more present on our screens and in our lives. Whether you love or hate the ads, talk shows and constant commentary, most parents wonder what, if anything, our kids are learning from this saturation.
Are they gathering the information and ideas they need to be involved citizens? Or are they just seeing bad behavior? Parents ask me, even in the office at well child visits, if they should be shielding kids from the arguments and partisan positioning. It can feel impossible to explain to our children what we often can't explain to ourselves.
These are some of the questions I'm asked most commonly about politics and politicians, and how they impact our kids:
SHOULD we talk to our kids about politics?
Absolutely. From preschool on up, our kids are ready to learn about what matters to us and why we think the things we do about our society. This is your chance to explain your values! Whomever you support, help your kids understand why you do — it will lead to great discussions and get them thinking about the bigger world.
How can we get our kids to understand?
Talk more about issues than politicians. Focus on the topics that matter to you and your family and explain in one sentence what you want to see happen. Kids will follow up with questions at their own developmental level when they're ready for more information.
What about bad politician behavior?
There's a lot of that, which is actually great news for parents. It gives us the opportunity to talk to our kids about behavior when that child isn't in trouble for anything! We can talk about bullying, fighting fair, honesty and being a good role model — all important ideas for kids no matter what their age.
Our kids and teens will all see plenty of adults in the spotlight who behave badly, from favored athletes to celebrities. It's worth talking about these choices so that our children can use those examples to guide their own good choices. But even when a singer or football player does something truly dishonorable, it's still possible to admire their talent. In the case of politicians, however, their behavior on the campaign trail is an audition for their behavior in office. So we need to watch and believe their actions as much or more than their words.
I'm talking more about this thorny topic on TODAY Wednesday. Let me know in the comments what you think!
When our teens disagree, then what?
Teens often have tons of passion for a particular issue and can fall in love with one candidate because of an Instagram post or one line from a speech. Don't tell your kid why she's wrong, instead challenge her to learn more about "her" candidate's views on other issues so she can see if she really agrees with this person or just likes one thing they said one time.
Is it OK to watch the political reports in front of our kids?
Yes. Unless you think it's likely to make you go off on a cursing rant that will scare your child, this is just another conversation starter as we try to raise involved citizens.
Even if the political craze drives you crazy, take heart: It's a great opportunity to teach your kids what you believe about and want for our country.