Sunday, September 7, 2008

Politics in the Home

I have to admit, I’m trying to remain emotionally uninvolved in the Presidential race this year. I know who I like, but I’d prefer not to talk politics with my friends and acquaintances because I know from past election years that we don’t always agree. Political discussions hardly ever change anyone’s mind, but they often give me unwanted insight into worldviews that I find confounding and completely at odds with my own beliefs. So, this year I’m vowing to keep my mouth shut and not to get caught up in the debate.

As a 6th grade tutor at the local elementary school, I saw the passion of politics played out at a very young age. Last year, 11 and 12-year-old students would debate in class or even on the playground about candidates in the presidential primaries. I noticed that instead of explaining why they liked a candidate, many of the kids simply delivered negative sound bytes about each other’s candidates that were most likely parroted from their parents. “Everyone hates Hillary Clinton and she’ll divide this country even more.” Or, “Barak Obama has no experience and could never be president.” Or, “McCain is so old, he’s out of touch with the country.” The tone the kids used was reminiscent of the childhood arguments, “My (Dad, Dog, toy, etc) is better than yours.” I began to wonder, is this negative candidate bashing human nature, or is this a learned behavior?

After listening to the kids, it was easier to detect the same whiney, childish tone in my own defense of candidates. I started to noticed that adults while we weren’t parroting our parents anymore (in fact some of us had grown into our own political beliefs) we were mostly parroting whatever news source we happened to be partial to – whether FOX, NPR, the Boston Globe or Herald, etc. Yes, adults do think on a more complex level than children, but the negativity and the “my candidate’s better than yours” sentiments still seep into the debates. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

So, I decided to try to keep my mouth shut this year. And, as for the kids, Big J and I decided to record both Obama’s and McCain’s speeches. Tonight we’re going to watch both speeches as a family, and Big J and I are going to try not to editorialize. Our job as parents is not to indoctrinate, but to help our children get primary source information and come to their own conclusions. I may even let Big J answer most of their questions this year because he is much better at keeping an emotional distance from the quagmire of political negativity than I. The question for me is, can I keep my mouth shut?

How do you talk to your kids about politics? Here are some links to good articles about talking to your kids about politics.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I was stunned when talking to a 12 year old and he brought up politics, and then started quoting the major talking points of one of the parties.

He sounded just like the random people on the street CNN interviews, ie parroting back what they hear from various soundbytes and political ads.

Total trickle down; filtered by media, then parents. By the time it gets to the kids, it's a wonder they understand any of it, lol!