As a parent, it can feel overwhelming to talk about politics with your kids. That is because when it comes to politics for kids it is hard to decide where to start. What do you say (or not say)? How do you approach sensitive topics? The fact of the matter is that kids see and hear what is going on. They hear you talking. They see the news and go on the internet. In the divisive political climate we are living in, it is important to give kids good information and address the issues going on in the world head on so that they learn how to engage in politics appropriately.
Politics for Kids: Foster Awareness
Politics for kids should start with an awareness of how important it is to be engaged in the political process. At some point in late elementary school to early middle school, kids learn about government and the political process in social studies class. Their understanding needs to go beyond just knowing the three branches of government and learning basic information about the Constitution.
A good place to start is to have some basic conversations about the importance of taking part in the political process. There are two important pieces to this conversation. The first piece of this conversation is explaining that voting and being civically aware and engaged is important. Politics for kids should absolutely start with that cliched-sounding conversation about how the ability to vote is a privilege. Being aware of the issues, the candidates – for any level of government from town council to state office to President of the United States – what is important to you, and how all of that comes together is something that everyone should think about and know.
The second piece of this conversation is explaining why it is so important to be aware and engaged. Kids, even young kids, need to understand that everyone has not always had the right to vote. There are still people in the world who do not have that right. An age-appropriate politics for kids explanation on this piece of political awareness can simply be the fact that certain people – women and people of color – in America were excluded from the right to vote for a long time so it is important to exercise our right to vote so that they/we/anyone is not excluded.
READ MORE: Women’s Rights VS The Global Pandemic
Show Kids How to be Politically Engaged
Politics for kids should be about more than just knowing about politics or telling them that knowing the issues or voting is important. It is also about acting on these things.
Knowing the candidates and the issues is great. But it cannot end there. Actually going to the polls and voting is a must. Bring kids with you when you vote. Have conversations with your kids over dinner about things going on in the world and what your elected officials are doing or not doing and how you feel about that. Talk about who you vote for and why. Explain how your reasons and what you value and find important affect your decisions. When kids grow up in a home where this type of talk is normal, then they will grow up being not only aware but also interested in these types of discussions.
Show kids ways that people can engage in politics and in the community other than voting. Everyone’s household is not the same. You may not be the type of person who goes to protests, marches, or rallies. If that is the case, that is ok. But you should still talk about these things with your kids. Explain why people protest.
Again, an age-appropriate politics for kids explanation for this is that when some people feel like something is unfair, whether it is a rule or the way someone is being treated, they want to show how they feel and what they support so they gather together with other people who feel the same way. The reason they gather together is to bring attention to the problem and because there is strength in numbers. Politicians may not listen to one or ten or 25 people, but they cannot ignore 200 or 2,000 people.
Politics for kids does not just have to gloss over the issues. For instance, with older kids, you can have a longer discussion about how one protest is unlikely to fix or change an injustice but it certainly raises awareness of the problem. People who had not thought about that problem or who did not fully realize the injustice that others are being subjected to become aware of it, often changing their own behavior and even becoming an advocate who encourages others to do the same. Getting politicians to listen and ultimately affecting political change is great, but changing even a few people’s minds and making them aware of something that is wrong is also a win.
Talk with your kids about being kind. Talk about being a part of the community. PBS for Parents has some good resources and questions you can ask your kids to help talk politics for kids.
READ MORE: How to Teach Social Justice to Our Children
Politics in the Media
It is also important when thinking about how to approach politics for kids that parents think about all the access to media that everyone has 24/7. Kids see things online and on tv. Kids hear things that people say they read or hear from this place or that. Have discussions about how to spot good information and bad information.
Kids need to understand that not all information is accurate. Politics for kids should include teaching them how you decide if a source is reliable. That may be explaining how you look up an article that someone posted online to see where it came from and if it comes from a legitimate news source or is something that someone posted online without having any real information to back up their claims. It may also be explaining that just because one of their friends or Aunt Judy says something is true or posts a lengthy commentary about a topic on Facebook does not mean that it is true.
When the political season rolls around and the constant political commercials start playing and the political flyers start filling your mailbox, it can be helpful to approach this part of politics for kids with a discussion about how the information being shared in these sorts of political ads are not always completely true. Teach them to think about where those messages are coming from and what they want to accomplish.
For example, a commercial or flyer from one candidate that attacks their opponent is trying to make people think the opponent is bad. If that is the case, is that commercial or flyer necessarily accurate or could it be taking something out of context or bending the truth? Then teach them how they can learn more so they have an informed opinion rather than the opinion that someone else wants them to have.
At the end of the day, approach politics for kids like everything else with kids. Be honest. Tell them the important stuff. Answer questions when they have them. Sometimes the conversations can be hard because you have to talk about sensitive or difficult topics. However, it is better to have those conversations and let kids understand, at least in an age-appropriate way, what is happening around them. Kids who learn that it is important to be a part of the community and stay engaged through awareness and voting will grow up to be responsible, involved citizens.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article about Political Fatigue – Why and How It’s Affecting Your Life.
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