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Kids and Politics

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 9/13/12 at 6:00 AM

 

On Tuesday, we drove past the community center where the local primary was being held.  My daughter heaved a sigh.  "Well," she said, "I guess I'll stop and vote for Romney on the way home."  Only she pronounced it "Womney," because she is three years old (and, like most three-year-olds, assumes that the adult world is desperate for her vote).

We didn't deliberately teach her anything about the election or politics (and she was pretty disgusted to hear that we won't have a chance to heave a sigh and vote for Womney until November anyway).  But I guess it's just in the air at our house; and, in general, we do believe it's a very good thing for kids to consider voting to be a part of the routine of American life.  They have different levels of understanding, of course, according to their age:

The little kids know that Obama is a crumb-bum who should lose, and that we should pray for him to repent.

The elementary school-age kids know that Obama is a bad president, and that it's okay to vote for someone you're not crazy about, just to get rid of the bad guy.  They also know that some people don't think Obama is bad.  These people aren't necessarily evil or stupid; they're just wrong, and you should be polite to them.  But it's okay to talk about the bad things that Obama does and says, because maybe the other people just don't know about these things.

The middle school-aged kids know the most important issues, and have some idea of the history that led up the situation our country is in now.  They are developing a realistic view of what we can possibly expect even in the best case scenario, come November.

And the older kids -- well, our oldest is fourteen, which is an age where you kind of have to bring things back to basics again for a while.  So, Obama is a crumb-bum.  Let's pray for him.

But!  you will protest.  You're just teaching disenfranchised, powerless children to parrot your presumably jingoistic point of view!  That's indoctrination!  That's brainwashing!

To which I reply, Duh.  That's my job.  It's perfectly fine for parents to present their image of the world, painted in broad brush strokes, to their children.   I know it's all the rage to empower children to advocate for themselves and to make their own choices and form their own opinions, but please.  What are they supposed to form those opinions from?  Yo Gabba Gabba?  You tell 'em what you think is true, in ways that they can understand.  When they're older, you can fill in more details, and they can figure out whether they believe you or not. You try to have the kind of house where it's okay for kids to have different opinions from parents; but you don't let anyone get away with lies, fishy information, or brainlessness.

I also think it's healthy to admit it if you and your spouse don't quite agree on political matters.  Having ugly screaming matches over politics in front of your kids is no good (but never is any kind of ugly screaming match, in a family).  But disagreeing with your spouse can, in fact, be an excellent opportunity to illustrate the idea that we don't hate the people we disagree with -- and that we can talk about things we feel strongly about, and still be friends at the end of the day.

When I was little, our family always went to political rallies.  It was just good fun to get stickers and balloons, and our phone would ring constantly around election time -- not because of pollsters, but because all my mother's friends were calling my father to ask him how they should vote.   (What?  There's another good lesson there:  when you're ill-informed and you know it, it makes perfect sense to seek the advice of someone you respect and trust.)  My sister and I made homemade Jack Kemp signs and stood on a busy corner in the November snow and slush, looking like the big weirdos we were, until a shiny black car pulled up and someone who LOOKED ALMOST LIKE JACK KEMP (I THINK IT WAS HIS BROTHER!!!!!!) rolled down the window and said that we were doing a good job.  Swoon!

This election year, especially, I think it's swell to talk about politics with your kids, because there are so many principles of Catholic teaching on the chopping block.  When you talk to your kids about candidates, it's very easy to turn the discussion to things you should be discussing anyway:  just war, religious liberty, preferential treatment of the poor, the roles of and relationship between church and state; abortion and other "life issues;" the uses and abuses of propaganda, and so on.  We get most of our news from the radio, so the drive to and from school are great opportunities to inflict little lectures on the kids.

And, from time to time, we change the station, and just listen to music.  That, in itself, can be a great lesson about politics:  sometimes, you just gotta turn it off.

What do you think?  Are your kids interested in politics?  Do you wish they were less interested?  How does the way you handle this issue compare to the way your parents handled it?