Politics and kids would not seem to be a thing. For one thing, kids aren’t old enough to vote, which would tend to make politics less compelling as a topic of interest. For another thing, the idea of learning about current issues and party platforms smacks of (gulp) HOMEWORK. And what kid would choose to take on added school work that isn’t even part of SCHOOL?
But in actual fact, politics and kids IS a thing. Because kids generally have a keen interest in social issues, even from a very young age. For instance, you might be out shopping with your child when you see a person with a disability, a veteran handing out poppies, or a homeless person hoping for donations. A child’s eye and curiosity will be drawn to these out-of-the-ordinary sights, offering you, as a parent, a teachable moment that can awaken a child’s political consciousness.
Your son might ask you why that man is sleeping on the street. Here is a chance for you to introduce your child to class consciousness and socioeconomics. Until this point, your child likely never thought much about money and the lack of it because you provide for his needs. It doesn’t occur to a child that others don’t have their needs provided for—that some people go without necessities.
You might explain to your child the rudiments of a slow economy and the job market in very simple words, to which the logical follow-up question will likely be, “Well, Daddy, why can’t we just give the man some money? Then he’ll be able to sleep in a house instead of on the street, right?”
Here too is an opportunity to talk about different government systems: socialism, communism, and of course, democracy. And you keep it at a level your child can understand. Your child is learning about the issues and the various ways societies have attempted to address societal ills.
It’s a good thing. You’re raising a child with a conscience. Now bring it to the next level: civic duty, activism. Explain to your child that it’s a privilege to vote. People fought and died for that privilege. Let your child see you in action, voting, and volunteering in the community.
Take him with you to dole out food at a soup kitchen. Talk to the people you serve and let your child see that these people in their scraggly clothes or with their disabilities are every bit as human and important as anyone else. Spend time with senior citizens, bringing them out of their solitude to talk about the past, the lives they led, their humanity and their ideals. They made a difference and they paved the way for the liberties we have today.
These are ideas that will be new and fascinating to your child. The idea that a single individual has an impact on society is heady stuff. The idea that YOU can have an impact is even headier stuff, the stuff of dreams and goals for the future.
You’re stirring your child’s imagination and excitement in a big way, bit by small bit.
You’re A Role Model
So you’re serving as a role model for your child, teaching him to be knowledgeable about the issues and active in society, but are you also shaping the form your child’s political identity takes? Like: you’re a Democrat, so your kid will be a Democrat?
A 2005 study which appeared in the American Political Science Review, found that children are indeed socialized to adopt their parents’ political views and to share their opinions. But what happens in a bipartisan household? Will the child adopt the party politics of one parent over another, a Joseph following in a Jacob’s footsteps?
Well, ideally you want to be a nonpartisan household and allow your child to form his own opinions. But a bipartisan household is also a good thing: your child gets to see both sides of an issue and has an opportunity to see the logic on either side of the divide. Let your child know that he doesn’t ever have to tell anyone which candidate he will ultimately choose, because thankfully, we live in a free society. And even if he DOES tell you who he votes for, his choice will not affect the strength of the parent-child bond one way or the other.
In short: voting is a private and personal matter. Teach your child to vote his convictions, not his PARENTS’ convictions (or those of anyone else). Note also, that your child’s issues will be different than your own. For your child it may be about government student loans, while for you, the issue might be government pension plans. You want your child to think about the future, but you also want to teach him about lobbies and you’ll want to raise his conscious to the issues that are particular to him at a given point in time.
Most of all, you will want to teach your child that the tenor of political debate is every bit as important as the issues you debate, perhaps even more important. Here you may want to repeat the famous quote, misattributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
You will also want to tell your child that your media preferences do not represent the world at large and that media outlets will plug specific, favored viewpoints. Even so, growing a political consciousness is largely about critical thinking, which is something that requires a depth of knowledge and information on a particular given subject. Talk to your child the importance of reading many articles and listening to varied views—even those opposite their own.
Politics and Kids: Some Tips
Looking for a way to start your child’s political education? Here are some tips:
- Forget politics, discuss the issues. The details and the muckraking of political campaigns can be boring. But the issues and why they make a difference can generate a lot of fascinating discussion. Ask open-ended questions of your child, for instance, “How would you solve this problem?” Having the conversation will teach you much about each other on a much deeper level and bring you closer together, as a result.
- Just vote. Even if you’re voting for the lesser of the two evils in a given election, let your child see that voting is an important privilege. Demonstrate for your child the ins and outs of voting from voter registration to casting a ballot. You want this to become a familiar process for your child.
- Make the law come alive. That pothole the two of you encounter on the commute to school each day affects your child’s life. When the city decides to take tax dollars and repair the road, this also affects your child’s life, but the repair may come at the expense of something your child deems more important, such as building a new playground. Talk about it—this is a discussion that can have a lasting impact on your child’s political outlook.
- Let your child choose the time, the place, and the subject. Don’t lecture your child on your beliefs lest you bore him to tears, but rather let your child be the one to show the way. Wait for his questions and use them as jumping off points for discussion.
- Don’t pretend to know everything. Has your child asked you a question you can’t answer? Go look it up together, either by googling the topic or by going to your local library for some in depth research. Your child will be impressed by the process and learn that it’s okay not to know, but that it is essential to seek answers.
- Show them how to stay current. Many of us begin the day by surfing specific news sites or by watching television news programs. Help your child find and use a method for keeping abreast of the topics that are important to him.
- Lend support to efforts at activism. Is your child running for student council? Let him know you think that’s GREAT. Offer your help and support.
- Make politics an exciting subject. The minutiae of legislature and the procedures for getting laws passed can be boring and your child will tune you out. Instead, talk about the fun, lesser known facts about politics.
Politics and Kids: 5 Fun Facts
Here are five fun facts about politics:
- The first president to be born in the United States was Martin Van Buren whose birthday was December 5, 1782. That makes him the first president born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence!
- Some presidents have had famous presidential pets, but perhaps none as unusual as the pet alligator that John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. president, kept in a White House bathtub.
- Only two U.S. presidents were signatories to the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Now here’s where it gets spooky: both of them died on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of that document.
- Neither Washington nor Lincoln had the benefit of a college education, along with seven other American presidents.
- The tallest U.S. president was Abraham Lincoln at 6 foot 4. The shortest president, James Maddison was a full foot shorter than that, coming in at 5 foot 4 inches.