It’s no secret that the political atmosphere is about as thick as it can get at the moment. You can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, check your mail, answer the phone, or drive anywhere without having political ads in your way.
Even schools are getting involved with “Kids Choose the President” type events. This weekend Cordy and Mira told me all about their discussions of the elections at school. Cordy told me there is a website for kids to go to and choose who they would vote for if they had a say in picking the President.
I asked her what her teacher said about the candidates. Cordy rattled off some very basic information about how and why we vote, Obama being the current president and going for his second and last term, Romney being the challenger, two political parties with different ideas for ways to do things, etc. It was very non-partisan, and sounded like good information for the kids on how the political process works.
I asked Mira if she had similar discussions in her class. She then responded, “Mommy, I was told President Obama was a bad man.”
My eyes nearly popped out of my head. “What?? Your teacher told you that?”
“No, mommy, some of my friends said it. Their parents said he was a bad man who spent too much money and wants to hurt us. They said we have to vote for Romney, but I don’t think we want to do that, do we?” She then went on to say some friends have been saying these things for weeks now, with one child even making it clear that kids who like Obama aren’t good kids.
I’m really, really uncomfortable with this. Five year olds. Spewing political hate and propaganda to their five year old friends on the playground to take home and share with their parents. What parent thinks this is OK for their children to say?
My children have asked who we’re voting for, and we’ve told them we’re voting for Obama. They’ve asked several questions about why we prefer him, and we’ve always kept it high-level and age appropriate. We explain that each candidate has different ideas for how to be president, and we agree more with Obama’s ideas, so he’s our choice.
We’ve also told them it’s OK for others to have different ideas, and they’re not bad people because they think a different plan is better. Voting is how we all say which person and ideas we like the best, and the person who has the most votes gets to try out their ideas.
We’ve talked issues a little, too, but they’re too young to understand many of the issues at stake, so we keep it general and non-scary. We’ve also told them it isn’t polite to tell other kids they’re wrong about which candidate they prefer, even if someone tells my kids they’re wrong.
NEVER would I tell my child that a presidential candidate wants to hurt them or is a bad person. Who instills that kind of fear and hate into their children? It’s not OK to make children hate their president or fear the government of the country where they live.
What happens if Obama wins this election? Do these children spend the next four years having nightmares that their president will snatch them from their beds and hurt them? Do their five year old hearts harden towards the president and any who agree with him, turning them eventually into angry, prejudiced adults who can’t see any further than the rage and fear programmed into them?
I have no concerns with our school teaching proper government education to our kids (I respect those who have different views, but that’s not the topic at hand), but I do worry about what inappropriate opinions kids are bringing to school from home. A child telling friends that kids who like Obama aren’t good kids is the same to me as a child telling friends that kids who like Christians aren’t good kids. It’s hateful and divisive and shouldn’t be said at school.
In our home, we believe in the political process and want to make the idea of voting and choosing a new president (and other political offices) interesting and thoughtful for our kids, not scary and traumatic. Sure, I have much stronger political views online and in the presence of other adults, but around my kids that subject is reigned in. At their age, they need to learn about democracy and government structure, not about the negative ads, accusations, hate and gridlock that tries to tear down that system. They’ll be exposed to all of that too soon, sadly.
(Yes, they went with me to an Obama rally in 2008. Mira was just over a year old and Cordy was four and slept through nearly the entire thing. I would not take them to a political rally at their current ages, although I happily take them with me to vote.)
My daughters aren’t hearing attack ads – there are no political ads on Nick Jr, and I turn down the radio during commercials in the car. Our discussions are upbeat and positive so they will like the political process, not fear it. And even when teaching differences of opinion, we still point out that, even if we think differently from others, we’re all a part of the same country and still have to get along.
I don’t understand why any parent would knowingly teach fear and division with the topic of politics. Teach your kids about why voting is important to you and give them a general view of why you prefer one person’s ideas over another, but leave the hate out of your message and don’t scare kids. Instead, emphasize that there are many different ways to approach the same problem, and that in the end, we’re still all one people that need to work together for the greater good.
These are our future voters and lawmakers – let’s teach them to do a better job than we’ve done.