It’s that time of year again. Well, at least every four years.
And, it is during this time when I am usually thankful that I do not have a television. Yes, not having a television means that I miss all sorts of great shows. I never know who won American Idol. I am constantly on the receiving end of “spoiler alerts” about Downton Abbey. And, I almost never get what was so funny about Saturday Night Live …. I have to wait until Monday to watch it on YouTube.
But, during election cycles, I am thankful I do not have television.
Let me explain.
My parents immigrated to this country in 1974, mostly to achieve a better life for their growing family. They knew it was the land of opportunity. It was the land of freedom. And, as we discovered, it was the land of free speech and democratic politics. Yes, I watched the Presidential debates growing up — back when you had to get up and change the channel on a dial knob and tilt the wire antenna until the fuzzy, grey lines disappeared. I remember, fondly, watching these debates with my family.
But, these days, I am much more guarded when it comes to my own children watching the news or debates. In the 30 years since I first started, everything has changed (yes, I realize this is the equivalent of when parents say, “When I was your age, …..”). Frankly, watching the debates used to be a highlight of what makes this country great; now, it just feels like an extension of a reality show that has been overly produced.
While it is very important that we engage our young(est) ones in dialogue about our world, our society and our communities, we also need to be aware that there is a great deal of negativity and fear that is put out there. Now, if you know me, you know that there is very little I have shielded my own children from. My husband and I have open conversations about our world and society with our 6, 9, and 12 year olds. We also do it in the context of who they are and what they can understand.
As the season of election ads is heating up, I wanted to share a few quick suggestions for parents who are interested in engaging their children in dialogue about our country in an age appropriate perspective. These are, by no means, what will work for you; however, these are some suggestions for what might work for you.
- Be mindful about unsupervised television time. Television ads are popping up everywhere and during every time slot. These ads are meant to be quick, succinct, and get your attention. And, yes, they have gotten the attention of your child. Be there. Be present. Be there to ask your child questions about what they just saw or heard.
- Assume they are paying attention. Some parents like to “wait and see” if their child caught the message on television. Don’t wait. Likely, if they were watching or listening, they caught it. I’ve used phrases like, “Well, that was something interesting I just heard. I don’t agree with what I just heard because ….” Or, “Well, that was something interesting I just heard. I really liked that idea because …..”
- Come up with solutions together. If you and your child hear something you disagree with, find ways to make connections to their own lives. If you hear “we need to exclude this group of people”, ask your child what it feels like to be left out. When they feel left out, what do they like that their friends do to help them feel included? If you hear something hateful or hurtful, what are some ways we might spread love or show kindness to each other?
- Check the facts. For our older children (and, yes, even for our younger ones), work together to discover if statements are true or not true. You can go to different fact checking websites together and have a conversation about “why do you think that person chose to tell that story differently?” or “What are examples of when that is not true or is true?” Encourage them to become critical thinkers.
- Be affirming. Children are often looking for reassurance. While I, as a parent, have too often said to my children, “It’s that way… just because. It’s … just because,” this is a great teachable moment to find facts and explore facts together. What are people allowed to do? Is there a disconnect between “what people say they are going to do” and “what people can legally do?”
As we enter into a vibrant time of American politics, it is important that we remember that we, as parents, are our child’s greatest teachers. Together, in a home and school connection, we can continue to encourage our children to approach difficult topics in appropriate, developmental, curious and affirming ways.
Peace and Park,