Are kids interested in elections? Well, yes and no. Your four-year-old probably couldn’t care less. Your ten-year-old, though, may very well be paying attention to things the adults are excited about, including election proceedings. Your thirteen-year-old is probably studying the election process in school. Your sixteen-year-old? She’ll be voting soon herself.
When to start talking to your kids about politics and elections is going to vary, depending on maturity level of the kid in question. But if you have a child who’s around the age where they can understand, a major election year is an excellent opportunity to open up a discussion.
Why should you talk to your child about what’s happening in the political realm? Some people do shy away from talking to their children about politics, believing it to be adult business, but it really isn’t. Kids may not be able to vote, but they are certainly affected, sometimes profoundly, by decisions made by our political leaders. They deserve to know, to the best of their ability to understand, what those decisions are and why and how they’ll be affected by them. This means discussing the issues that are on everybody’s mind in an election year.
This is a chance for you, as a parent, to share and reinforce the values that your family holds, by explaining what your opinion is and why you’re voting the way that you are. You also have the excellent teachable moment inherent in explaining why the other sides vote the way they do, and the importance of respecting the viewpoints of others, even when you disagree. As someone who is admittedly passionate about my politics, I have to admit that explaining this to my tween teaches me too. It’s an exercise in trying to patiently and calmly see things from another side, in order to explain the point fairly, without demonizing anyone. That’s an exercise I often need as much as my child does.
Probably the most important reason to discuss the elections with your child is so that they learn the importance of being involved and engaged in the political process. A child who is interested in what is going on in local, state, and national politics is more likely to become an adult who is informed and involved in the political process. And this is what we want, right? In order to make a better world, we need people of all political stripes to run for office, to study and talk about politics, and of course, to vote. The country needs us, as parents, to do these things, and some day it will need our children as well. It’s our job to make sure that our children know that thinking about, talking about, and voting on the issues at hand is an important civic duty that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Remember, too, that children learn by example, and that actions speak louder than words. So be mindful of your actions this election season. Let your kids see you support your candidate. Show them how you’re getting involved. Don’t forget to vote, and if you can, take them with you. Show them that this is the way that US citizens shape our futures, not just for ourselves, but for them as well.