The world surrounding the election is supercharged right now with a variety of opinions. So many of the news stories and media posts going out are focused on division and fighting. This can be a very confusing world for kids and teens to grow up in. However, how we as parents handle this time can shape the future and prepare them for what is to come. I want to share how to talk about politics with kids.
How to talk about Politics with Kids
** Important disclaimer – I will not share who I vote for, how I vote, or who you should vote for in this post. This is an unbiased answer to a question and will not be slanted to any party or candidate.
** This post is written with the understanding that you are talking to older children or teens. This is not meant to be focused on early elementary or younger children.
Let them see you vote!
One of the best ways to introduce children to our political system is to let them come with you when you go to vote. While they don’t have to look at who you vote for, they can learn more about the process. It can help to have a conversation about the voting process, where ballots go, and the importance of a single vote. Children who see parents vote will have a better understanding of how simple the process can be. (For more information on voting to share, visit Scholastic.)
3 things to teach about voting
- Who can vote? – Talk about how old a person should be to vote and what it takes to register.
- When can you vote? – Spend some time talking about the age of voting and when different elections are held.
- What should you know before voting? – Talk to them about researching candidates and knowing who or what you are voting for before voting.
Give them opportunities to learn.
Many parents tell their children who they vote for, why, and will push them towards a specific candidate or party. While this may be the way you believe is best, sometimes giving children the opportunity to learn can be a game-changer. There are simple ways to let children and teens learn more about politics without telling them what to think. Here are a few ideas on how to approach politics with kids.
3 ways to help kids learn about politics
- Pick up an unbiased unit study. – Unit studies can be found on pinterest or teachers pay teachers. These unit studies can teach children some of the basics about our political system.
- Share unbiased articles/videos with them. – Articles and videos that are not biased can be a great way for children to learn more about politics.
- Let them hold a mock election at home. – This could mean voting on dinner or on whether or not they should be able to change the color of their walls in their room. Teach them the process of a vote from start to finish.
Let them hear multiple viewpoints
Conferences like the RNC and DNC can give children the opportunity to come to some of their own conclusions. This might mean putting on the same person i.e. the president or first lady for each party and letting children compare the difference in approaches.
3 questions to ask when looking at other viewpoints
- What is different in their tone? – Each party or candidate will approach these speeches with a different overall tone and approach. Look at the differences.
- How do they plan to make changes? – One thing many politicians discuss are the changes they plan to make. Which changes are being offered by each party? Are there differences?
- What kinds of promises do they make? – Promises will be made about these changes. Take some time to look at the different promises and how they compare.
Teach them to research
When discussing politics it can be easy to make statements about opinions they hear coming from the adults in their lives. If you have a child that likes to parrot things back it can help them to do a bit of research. Teach them to find out why they believe a certain thing. Make sure they are searching safely while finding answers from unbiased sources.
3 tips for safe research
- Give them safe search engines. – When equipping children to fact check things, teach them where it is safe to search.
- Help them to tell the difference between biased and unbiased sources. – When researching politics, it is important to understand that some sites will have a bias towards a certain party or candidate.
- Help them find safe videos. – Videos can be a great way to learn about things. This might mean watching YouTube with them to help as they research.
Show them the difference in coverage
Instead of talking about how news media is biased, it can help to show children the same story on different media outlets. Let them see the difference. (This may work better with teens and older children.) Many times when showing your children the different coverage, they will be able to draw many of their own conclusions.
3 questions to ask when looking at coverage
- What is their main goal? – When watching the coverage, ask children what they think the reporter’s main goal is.
- Is there more to the story? – Take some time to look at the same story from a different perspective. Is there more to the story than what is being shared?
- Do certain networks or channels lean in one direction. – Some news agencies are accused of bias. As your children watch some of this, ask them whether they believe these biases exist.
Answer questions honestly.
Children are bound to ask a lot of questions about politics during an election season. These questions can be a great opportunity to teach children some big things about politics. It can also be a time when bias might try to influence how you teach. When possible, remove personal party or candidate bias. Answer their questions in the most honest way possible to help them form their own conclusions.
3 tips for answering questions honestly
- Don’t give a biased answer. – Where possible be honest without coloring your response with bias. This gives your child a chance to start to form their views on things.
- Keep it age-appropriate. – While you may want to overshare certain things, it is important to keep things age-appropriate where possible.
Talk about the different elections
When talking about politics and voting, many will vote in the presidential election and then they won’t see a polling location for four years. However, voting in smaller elections is incredibly important! Take some time to show kids how voting in smaller elections can impact a variety of situations. Teach children about educational votes, mayoral votes, and ballots on budgets as they also matter.
Discuss voting on issues
Issues can be characterized as items such as black lives matter, gay rights, religious freedoms, and many more. These issues matter and it is important that we don’t turn a blind eye to them. When your children grow up and vote, they will need to know that how politicians view these issues will impact the types of choices they will make in office. Take some time to talk about how voting can impact issues.
Control the negativity
It can be very easy to get passionate about your beliefs or about what is going on in the world. When it comes to politics, this can be exceptionally true. As much as possible, avoid the negativity about a candidate or party when teaching your children about politics or in your day-to-day life. While you may not like a certain party or candidate, it’s important to lead with what will avoid stress on your children. Sometimes protecting them from some of the heavier parts of politics can help them to form quality opinions about their future political beliefs.
Have an honest conversation about political ads
During election cycles, ads can get quite aggressive. They will outright attack and belittle the opponent. This can be very confusing for some children. Take time to have an honest conversation about these ads and what their overall goal really is. It can be very helpful to explain the way these ads are structured and what they are trying to achieve. This will help children to understand that not everything found there is meant to be seen as a solid fact.
Teach them how to disagree
If you’re sending your kids out into the world, they are going to encounter people who see the world in a different way. It’s just a fact of life and even more so with politics. It’s very important to have conversations about how to disagree respectfully. While they may not always agree with the political views of someone else, it is important to teach them how to have a respectful conversation or how to walk away from an unproductive conversation.
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