(Note to our dear readers: This is NOT a political statement position piece. We have created this space to escape from chaos, not t0 be a platform for promoting more. So, read on, dear ones, and grab a great cup of coffee while you're at it).
It's true. Our toxic political climate has made me a better parent. This current reality is saturated with media outbursts that cover everything from political ads to circus-like debates. You cannot ignore it, so why not parent through it? Ha. Easier said than done, right?!
When our kids were little, we were big fans of earmuffs. You know the fancy parenting move when you swiftly cup your child's ears anytime a cross or inappropriate word was spoken? Yup, that's the one. With time I developed super ninja-like reflexes in the earmuff department. Now that they are older, my ear-muffing prowess isn't that useful. In fact, the kids most often earmuff themselves after one of them shouts: "In-a-pro-pro!"
Ear-muffing my kids as a way of filtering out the world isn't the best parenting strategy anymore. While the most recent debates played on our TV, my kids were as riveted as we were. Responding to the TV with an exaggerated cluck of my tongue, I heard my daughter echo her disgust with a grunt. That was enough to snap me out of my laser-like focus on the debate circus.
Eyeing all three of our kids comfortably nestled between us, I realized that as parents, we had some work to do. Work that we were avoiding.
So, I have made the conscious decision that acting like this political strife doesn't exist would mean missing an incredibly valuable teachable moment. Like every good teacher, I cannot ever turn away from the teachable moment. That is how the current political climate is improving my parenting: I am taking it on.
Teaching my kids about politics must not include harsh words toward one candidate or the other, nor critical, extreme, generalized language. No, my mission is to help them THINK through the issues and become informed.
Perhaps my willingness to talk frankly with my kids about the issue of politics has to do with their ages. This is the time they need guidance because they are listening and rapidly making decisions and forming opinions based on advertisements and propaganda instead of the issues. They are eager for information and, naively, take what they hear as truth. The stage has been set, so here is my game plan:
Explain the difference between the political parties.
This might seem like a given but I was surprised with the interrogation I received when I started this conversation with my kids. They asked questions I could not answer. I am not embarrassed to admit I did some research based on their questions and went back to them the next night armed with the intel I needed. Then it came to me, why am I not teaching them to do the digging? They are more than capable! We owe it to our kids to teach them how to get the facts, study an issue and form their own opinion based on the information!
Share your thinking but encourage the importance of formulating their own opinion.
Inevitably, they want to know which "team" we are rooting for. Tell them and, more importantly, tell them WHY. Encourage them to study the candidates. TALK about the issues. Share your knowledge and admit when you don't know enough about an issue then search for more info together. Teach them to dig for answers from reliable sources. Goodness knows there is a lot of false information at their fingertips.
Provide background information about the issues.
This isn't always easy and may take some research on your part (I know it did for me). When statements are made, they need context. This is is vital to understanding. Provide it or teach them how to get it! It isn't ok to be persuaded without being informed.
Find the good.
Sadly, this is a hard election to teach the morals and values that we deem vital for our kids. The fierce emotional responses these candidates induce have put our democratic society at the forefront for our youth. They are engaged and it remains our duty to teach them how to push beyond the emotional response to study the issues. The stage is set for some great teaching: that is the good.
As much as I am anxious for November 8th to come and go, I will seize the teachable moment and sincerely hope you will too. Our political future hinges on teaching our youth to study the issues and make informed decisions no matter what side of the political fence they are on.