Despite the title, I’m not going to talk about politics.
That said, we really can’t avoid presidential politics this time of year. Like you, I’m already sick of the bickering, the partisanship, the hatred. It’s hard to feel inspired sometimes, especially when the divide between our political parties is greater than it’s ever been in our lifetime.
Promise: I’m not going to talk about either of the presidential candidates.
I’m not going to talk about how I feel about their policies or their parties. You know exactly who you are voting for and why. I have no interest in congratulating you if we happen to be like-minded or trying to dissuade you from your point of view if we disagree.
A political junkie by nature, by education, by rearing, I normally love this time of year. I love a good debate and a good exchange of ideas. Looking to the future with hope of better things to come is exciting. I love thinking about how we elevate the ideals of a democratic society.
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about how we combat the apathy that happens in election years that fail to excite the electorate. And what does that mean for my kids? This is really the first presidential election they are actually processing and can think critically about—they were seven and eight last time around and only caught the highlights. I suspect it will be the first presidential election they will be able to recall in any detail as they grow older.
So what do I want my kids to learn about politics?
I want my kids to . . .
. . . grow up understanding the political process,
. . . understand the importance that their vote will make when they reach age 18,
. . . be able to evaluate fact from fiction,
. . . know their responsibility for taking care of others,
. . . be able to translate their values into public policy, and
. . . know that their voice matters.
If your pre-teens are anything like mine, they aren’t naturally drawn to presidential politics. It’s tedious and the 24-hour news cycle makes it fairly monotonous. So what are the practical things we can do to raise civic-minded kids?
I keep going back to the basics. Democracy works best when people understand the issues, think critically about the options, make a decision that marries their values and priorities to a political position, and then take action. How do I teach my kids to have a point of view and to care about the political process?
10 Practical Ways to Encourage Civic Engagement
- Discuss Current Events. Ensure your kids know what’s happening in the world. Watch the news together. Share and read articles. Discuss journalistic integrity and impartiality.
- Back Up Your Own Ideas With Facts and Data. Explain your core beliefs. Talk about data accuracy. Critically evaluate data sources. Put facts in context: historical, cultural, ethical.
- Play Devil’s Advocate. Debate for the sake of debating. Require that your kids form an opinion and support it. Teach them how to listen and then bridge the gap between two opposing views.
- Let Your Kids to Disagree with You. Encourage it. As they grow up, make it clear that you trust their decision making. Respect their well-reasoned, well-supported positions.
- Take Them To The Poll. Show your kids that you value voting. Talk with them about what choices you are making and why. Explain the voting process, including voter registration.
- Build Empathy. Help your kids understand how other people feel. Teach them how to put themselves in another person’s shoes. Develop your kid’s emotional self-regulation skills.
- Teach Them They Are In Control. Teach your kids that they are responsible for their own success. Show them how to enact change. Let their actions have consequences—good and bad. Highlight the relationship between cause and effect.
- Nurture Their Passions. Latch on to your child’s exuberance for life. Find the spark that motivates them. Help them find a role model who makes a difference in the world.
- Expand Their Worldview. Expose your kids to other cultures and belief systems. Travel. Worship someplace new sometimes. Try new types of ethnic foods; if the restaurant owner is from another culture, get to know them.
- Build Frustration Tolerance. Help kids stick with it, even when its hard or the outcome is unsure.
Family “Drinking” Games, Politics & Debates
Yes. In the interest of raising politically active and civically engaged kids, I have introduced a typical college drinking game to my kids.
We started during the primary season with the debates. I downloaded one of those online, Presidential Debate Bingo Cards, and then we bribed our kids with brownies. Every time one of our kids heard a phrase on the bingo card, they got a (small) bite of brownie. All I wanted from them was to listen to what the candidates were saying. As we listened, we talked about language choice, fact-checking, the art of deflecting and re-directing, talking points and key messages. We even did a little research using the U. S. Constitution, Snopes, and FactCheck.org.
For the Presidential debates, we’ve upped our game. Both kids have to choose the catch phrases he thinks will be repeated often. Every time they hear one of their phrases, they get a bite of brownie (or cookie or cake or ice cream—whichever we negotiate for that particular evening).
Choosing the terms is important.
It is a way to distill some of the lessons we’ve been teaching. They have to think about what they’ve been hearing in the news and try to distill down the major points that are likely to surface. It also forces them to think about positioning and language choice. The better they are at predicting what’s going to be said, the more desert they get that night.
Being intentional about parenting is hard work. I’ve found that when teaching important lessons, sometimes they are best learned with a hearty dose of fun and lightheartedness.