I clearly remember my first taste of politics. I was in the fourth grade, and President Nixon resigned. It wasn’t his resignation so much that was embedded in my memory. Rather, it was the image of my mother crying. My sisters, brother and I walked to school that morning, and leaving her in that sad state pained my heart.
We never much talked about that day in the months or years that followed. I don’t know whether my mother’s tears came from sadness for President Nixon, or sadness for our nation. Perhaps it was both.
Years later, I began college as a Political Science major. I can only liken my choice of major to that of a prospective culinary student who doesn’t know the difference between whipping eggs and beating cream. That is how little I knew about politics. I had no idea of what I was getting into, but thought it was the best course of study for my law school intentions.
Class lectures centered on the current events of that time: Lech Walesa, the Sandinistas and Contras, Reaganomics and the Falklands. I was so out of my league, and even worse, so uninterested.
In my single semester as a Poli Sci major, the enduring “takeaway” was a professor’s comment, “There’s no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street.”
His comment was said in the context of a discussion about the inarguable needs of every community that simply cannot be up for debate, regardless of one’s political views. So, if a road is riddled with pot holes and buckling at its seams, we need to pave the road. End of discussion.
When I left Poli Sci, I became an International Economics major. While I didn’t quite make it to a career with the Federal Trade Commission as I planned, I loved how we explored the inter-relationship of economics, culture, religion, history and yes, even politics.
These areas influence everything from trade agreements to wars to diplomatic relations. I realized that decisions – political and otherwise - can’t be made in a vacuum, that what you do to X affects Y, and that sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils that prevails.
When I’m asked now about whether I’m a Republican or Democrat, I like to respond with, “There’s no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street.” That comment generates a look of puzzlement, because it’s not quite the response they’re expecting.
Social etiquette teaches that politics is one of those topics you shouldn’t discuss – it’s a contentious subject which generally lends itself to a heated discussion and can sour the most amicable of relationships.
Yet, I think otherwise. Discussions are necessary so that we may learn from each other, and when the time comes to pull the lever, we should have the self-assurance to know that we did our best to consider all platforms and viewpoints.
The current, never-ending political coverage has presented a golden opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the political process and to plant the seed of knowledge as a future voter.
Many parents are confused about how to talk with their children about politics. Maybe they think their children are too young. Or that the subject matter is too boring. Let’s face it, sometimes, it is too boring. Yet, even if politics and the upcoming election are not discussed at home, children are framing their opinions (just as they do with sex, drugs and smoking) based on what they hear at school, read on billboards, eavesdrop on from adult conversations, or see when it flies across the laptop screen.
Adult opinions are often different than children, because ours are built out of an additional 30 or 40 years of life experience and opinions. We’ve begrudgingly written checks to the IRS and watched in horror as our nation was hit with terrorist attacks. These incidents shape our thoughts as we listen to candidates discuss hotly debated topics like tax reform and defense spending. "Part of parenting is sharing your values and I think it's okay to say I believe in this candidate and this is why," according to Dr. Libby Haight O'Connell, of A & E Television Networks.
Still, what is important is that parents stimulate their children’s curiosity in politics. Children are limited developmentally by how much attention they can spend on a single topic or how much information they can process in a single sitting. That’s OK.
Parents can involve their children simply by engaging them in conversation about topics that are most relevant. Subjects like education, help for hungry people or keeping Lake Michigan safe for swimming and fishing may “hit home” with your child and help him or her feel a sense of ownership of the issue.
It’s never too early to attend rallies and town hall meetings with your children, watch debates together and read aloud about the candidates in a variety of publications (so as to obtain information from different perspectives). And, take your child to vote with you on Nov. 8.
The presidential race is center stage this year. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about other roles in government – from congress to the state legislature to mayors and township trustees. Beyond politics, political discussions help children to: be respectful of opposing viewpoints, compassionate toward the needs of others, avoid sweeping generalizations about others who are different from them, and considerate of new ideas and solutions.
Whenever we talk politics, our bias shows, and that’s OK according to Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. She says, “The important thing for parents to keep in mind is to give their kids permission to have their own opinions and ideas about politics and the political system. Stay curious and open minded, enjoy the way your kids process this sophisticated information and keep the lines of communication open.” She adds, “What’s great is people can vote for whichever candidate they want.”
Although I disagree with him, I think it’s quite fitting – with Halloween just around the corner — to share advise from Linus van Pelt, Charlie Brown’s thumb-sucking, blanket-wielding best friend, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people...religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.