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Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Parenting and Politics Conundrum

I consider myself a Conservative Liberal.  Is that even possible?  I'm a complete contradiction when it comes to political views.  When I take those online "what side of the aisle are you on?" quizzes online the whole think goes wonky and it can't figure me out.

I've struggled with this as a parent.  How do explain democratic duty to your children?  I've always tried to emphasize that our democracy (and specifically voting) was one of the ways (marching, writing to representatives, staying updated on the issues, etc being the other ways) that we make our voices and opinions heard.  I've explained to my children that people vote for 1 of 3 reasons:

1- They vote based on an issue(s) they are passionate about.  *This is what I tend do.  I follow a series of issues that I am passionate about and I pick the candidate that best aligns with my views whether they are Republican, Democrat, or Independent*
2- They vote based on a Party. *yes, believe it or not, some people vote for a specific Party every single election regardless of the issues*
3- They vote AGAINST something (or sometimes, like in the latest election, against someone)

But what happens when it's more complicated?  That's when it becomes a conundrum.  Parenting is often a conundrum.  It's confusing.  It's frustrating.  It's often very difficult to understand and navigate.  Politics are much the same.  I never REALLY know what's going on, no matter how hard I try to stay updated and follow "what's going on" I still feel somewhat lost navigating the bureaucracy of the entire system.  

How do we marry parenting and politics?  If both are such a confusing web of intricate complexities, how can be make those webs interweave and for a cohesive example for our children?  It's difficult.  A recent study (American Sociological Association) says that teenagers are no longer simply following their parents' political views, but instead over half are blatantly rejecting their parents' political views (if they even know what those beliefs are in the first place).  This means that transmission of political beliefs is not automatic!  We can no longer just assume that our children are going to absorb our political beliefs via osmosis.  

I think that conservatives and liberals alike can agree that we each want out children to "vote like we do".  We all want our children to believe the same things we believe, and act on those beliefs the same way we do.  But HOW do we accomplish this?! 

I think that even though the question itself is fairly complex, and heaven knows the topics are equally (if not more so) complex, the answer is relatively easy.  Here are 10 things you can teach your children about Politics that will help guide them to their own political beliefs (which will hopefully mimic your own):

1. Take them with you.  They need to see you participating in the process.  Children who have never seen nor been involved with the process are less likely to participate themselves.  THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.  They need to come with you.  They need to see that you are involved.  They need to feel comfortable with the process.  They need to be part of it too.
2. Show them that our system requires your continual interaction.  Not only do you need to take them with you to vote, march, petition, etc... but you need to show them the fruits of your labor!  They need to see the results of the vote.  They need to see you follow through after the march.  They need to see you send the petition.  Democracy isn't a one-step-process.  You can't just vote and then forget about it for 4 years. It's a continual interaction.  
3. Teach them about the Constitution.  Yes, our kids all have to learn about the Bill of Rights, Revolutionary War, and the history of our individual states at some point in grade school.  THAT IS NOT ENOUGH.  They need to see how those rights given to each of us in the Constitution relate to their actual life.  I mean, the document was written in 1788... It needs some current context to relate to or your kids are going to leave it in the 230-years-ago-past. 
4. Teach it once.  Teach it twice.  TEACH IT OVER AND OVER.  Ever learn something and then forget it a month later?  Yep, that's what will happen to that Government class they take in High School.  In one and out the other.  Let's face it, kids (especially teens) tend to tune things out after a while.  I'm not suggesting that you pound politics into them, but bringing issues up in conversation consistently is a good way to re-introduce topics in a way that will help your children remember significance. 
5.  Have them think it through themselves.  This is one of my favorite ways to bring my teenager into politics.  It's a really simple "hey, did you hear about the new immigration executive order? what did you think of that?" then you can follow up their thoughts with guiding ideas "well how do you think it impacts your friends?" or even a "so, there's this women's march this weekend... what do you think about going?"  Let them lead the discussion!  Let them draw their own conclusions. 
6.  Show them that other people's opinions are valid.  There is no one right way.  Half our country can't be "wrong" and the other half "right".  Misguided maybe, but not out-right "wrong".  We live in a very conservative area (and I tend to lean more liberal on many social issues), so this is an easy lesson to teach my children.  Only 1 out of 3 people voted the way I did here, so often the opposing opinion is what my teen sees in school.  Even my Kindergartener has seen the differences in what he hears at home and what he hears at school from his friends.  The most important thing I can do about this is teach them that while we disagree, it doesn't make their friends (and sometimes teachers) wrong.

7. Find out what they know and build off of it.  My Kindergartner learned about Presidents the entire week after Presidents Day.  I asked him what he learned and he told me very simply about the wigs that old presidents wore, but how they don't anymore, and he told me that President's have dogs. That was it.  That's what he walked away with after a week of learning about Presidents.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he learned much much more, but that's what he was interested in, so that's what he remembered.  So, I had to do some probing and I had to help him expand on those two things.  He found it troubling that our current president doesn't have a dog.  He said "maybe he doesn't like dogs, how could anyone not like dogs?!" So we got on Google and looked at various dogs that various presidents had owned.  It was fun for both of us and got him interested in his own way.  In this way, politics should stay age and developmentally appropriate.  My 5 year old will not understand (nor be interested in) the same issues as my 13 year old. 
8. Share YOUR opinions on issues.  Notice how I put this close to the end?  After most of the other methods of involving your children in politics?  That's because its important for them to hear you express yourself and your opinions, but it IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.  Share your opinions well, share them when it fits into discussion, but always make sure your child sees you accept their opinions if they differ from your own.
9. Find the Positive.  It's incredibly easy to focus on the negatives right now.  Find ways to highlight progress.  Find ways to illustrate the forward momentum.  Not every political issue goes "our way" and while it's important for your children to see you passionate about these issues it's equally as important for them to see you accept the outcome and continue forward in a positive manner.
10. Be LOCAL. It's often easy to focus on the big-ticket races and the major issues, but your local issues are often more personally impacting.  Go to local Town Council meetings.  Be part of your HOA Board of Directors.  Follow the School Board discussions.  Pay attention to local ordinances and policies.  Visit the local government offices and show your child that there is much more to the structure of our government than simply the elected officials.  We have an entire network of people who work for the government who often go unnoticed. 

The main thing: be involved, show your involvement, and get your kids involved.  Consider also making sure that you remain respectful (Political Correctness IS Respectful) in your voice, language, and actions.  Parenting and Politics might be a conundrum, but hopefully using these 10 methods of integrating politics into your parenting it can make navigating this web of issues easier to deal with and allow you to feel more capable in guiding your child's political beliefs.  

Have another suggestion?  Have a good example of when you've used one of these methods?  Please share you RESPECTFUL comments below. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. All kids aside we learned a lot about politics from this post.