Talking To The Kids About This Crazy Election

Conventional wisdom says we should avoid talking about politics in polite company.  Good news! Our kids aren’t company and, as any parent of a tween whose body seems to defy soap and water knows, being impolite can be a kindness. 

Even if you’re not quasi news junkies like our family, it’s difficult to avoid news about the election, its ups and downs, each candidate’s best and worst, notable gaffes and face palm moments, or the banality of the balloon drops. In the midst of it all, I can’t help but notice how much this election and my family have in common.  Like us on our best days, this election has shaped up to be bumpy, messy, and loud. And even if it seems like your kids don’t listen to you (really, they do), they are (for better or for worse) listening to and watching our politicians. 

According to KidsHealth.org, seventy-five percent of younger kids and seventy-nine percent of teens answered yes when asked whether they thought that the outcome of an election would change their lives. And, as further support for your teen that thinks she’s running things, nearly half of teens surveyed said that they believe they have some influence over what their parents do in the voting booth.

I can’t pretend. My kids do influence what I do in the voting booth because I’m voting for their future. I also feel like I’m setting a positive example of being engaged in my community and in the process. In fact, voting has always been a family event for us. The best polling places anticipate weary moms like me dragging in after work and after picking up the kids from after school programs—snacks and stickers at the ready. 

I also can’t pretend to be impartial in this election cycle when they watch the news and ask with wide, disbelieving eyes, “What in the world is going on, Mom?!” Then too, I’ve had to answer questions like, “Is this for real?” And, “So, what’s the plan if he gets elected?” (The PhD, an avid fan of anime, favors relocating to Japan while I prefer someplace warm and beachy.) Then, there’s the question I can’t confidently answer: “Are we going to be okay?”

It’s tough not to sound off when I see a candidate from a major party engaging in behavior that would get you sent to the principal’s office at any middle school. (Who wants to be the parent getting that call, right?) And, while Thirteen and The PhD know my opinions, I encourage them to ask questions, pay attention to the news, think about what’s important to them and why, and then to make up their own minds. I do all of this even though I’m the mama and I’m usually right. 

Nevertheless, while we enjoy a good convention as much as the next guy and gal, we’ve had to rely on a few strategies to keep the drama from the campaign trail from turning into drama and anxiety at home.

We talk about the issues. While getting ready for our day and watching the morning news, preferably not before I’ve had my coffee, at dinner, hovering over the Sunday paper, in the car—we talk about all of it. I try not to dodge the issues, and I try to give more facts than opinion. I explain why an issue is, well, an issue. And, I do my best to explain where all sides are coming from. Ultimately, though, my favorite reply to any question is, “Hmm, what do you think?” And a good follow up is always “Oh. Why do you say that?”

We get empowered. Feeling helpless, The PhD said, “What can I do? I’m just a kid.”  

“Yes, you are a kid,” I said. “But, you’re not just a kid.”

We can encourage the kids to find something at school, maybe student council, or in the community—it doesn’t have to be related to this election—to contribute their time, energy, and talents to. I reminded The PhD of the good work he did in delivering meals to the elderly on Thanksgiving. Thirteen volunteers by giving homework help to elementary school kids who live at a local shelter. Me? I’m going to step way out of my comfort zone to volunteer for my preferred candidate’s campaign. Honestly, it’s the only way I’ll be able to look my kids in the eye come November, come rain or shine, come win or lose. 

We unplug. When the news gets crazy, which seems to be every other day, we turn off the television and go to Baskin Robbins, out to the driving range, or gather in the living room around a pile of Uno cards. This can be some heavy, anxiety producing stuff even for the most steady adults. For our tweens and teens, who are trying to figure out the world and their place in it, it can be downright scary. I love that my kids are engaged, but it’s on me to manage the level of intensity. After all, we can stay woke and balanced at the same time.      

No doubt the election is bound to get even louder and messier before it’s all over. And no doubt we’ll survive this election season just like we have the last two-- the only elections that my kids have known—that is, with a bit of fortitude, by taking a little respite from time to time, and with the knowledge that families all over are doing the same. In the meantime, I’ll talk about politics with my kids. But, not before I’ve had my coffee.