Help, my son is quoting Donald Trump!
"Build the wall" is a phrase that regularly rings out from my son - often in response to handling conflict with his siblings! "Son, please try and get on with your sisters", "No, I'm going to build a wall between us, just like Trump!" is typical of his flippant responses.
For me, this highlights the great parenting struggle of encouraging our kids to be politically engaged and aware, but not wanting them to copy the immature behaviour that so often characterises public life - especially in the age of Trump! After all, why engage reasonably with opponents when you can just lash out?
In our age of oversimplified generalisations, sweeping half truths and tweetable soundbites, how do we help our children engage in the political process? We need politically savvy children and young people more than ever. I was speaking to a member of the London Assembly recently who described politics as a "nasty game". We are unlikely to change that anytime soon, but please let's not join them in their folly!
Here are my tips on helping our children engage politically.
Teach them to listen to the real stories
Those with political platforms can take the average person's genuine concerns about life and twist them to target particular groups. Trump's talk of a wall and rhetoric about Mexicans would be a classic example. Behind these twisted soundbites are the real concerns people have about their lives and the future. Help your children hear the real concerns, not the divisive rubbish that grabs the headlines.
No instant sharing!
I confess I've hit 'share' too quickly, allowing an emotively written Facebook post to cloud-out reason and failed to research the facts. Facts are more boring than an emotive stand for a cause you believe in, but without them we make some shocking mistakes. 'All Muslims are terrorists' or 'all Trump voters are deplorables' are sentiments that it is far too easy to repeat without thinking. Fact checking is not that hard... Google really does help, or sit with your child and go old school with an encyclopaedia. Fact check together!
Teach respect for democracy
Honestly, our system and the US system have clear rules and processes (and apart from some smallish hacking issues!) they run well. Not all people enjoy this. Threatening to ignore, or worse trash, our political system is a very dangerous sentiment to instil in our children, so we must be careful how we speak of our governments and institutions in front of them.
Teach how to refine our democracy
One of the wonderful things about our systems is the freedom to take positive action to refine and change the democracy we enjoy. So attend a protest about something your kids care about - we did recently, and I am so glad we taught our children to use their voice. If not a protest, maybe ask your children to write to their political leaders. Work out how to participate in constructive acts of rebellion.
Share great political stories
There are so many great children's books about being agents of political change showing how political leaders can transform their countries and societies. Tell Nelson Mandela's story, Gandhi's and Martin Luther King's. Inspire your children to emulate the achievements of those who stood for justice and the vulnerable in their society. The children's version of Malala Yousafzai's book is excellent and there are some great political fiction books for all ages. (Duck for President is particularly fun and Opal Plumstead is an inspiring read).
Ok, so this is a surprising one - but it is essential! Having the whole family gather around a meal eaten slowly means that children will listen to the political arguments and debates which happen around the table. Very rarely will a family all agree and it is invaluable for them to hear different opinions from adults they (hopefully!) respect.
The modern view of debating as modelled on phone in radio stations has more to do with point scoring, name calling and being right, rather than making the country a better place - whether left or right, most shows preach to the converted. So model healthy debate around the table - don't worry, it can still be heated and passionate, but always done with love and respect, without the name calling. And if it spills over into that kind of debate you can model forgiveness!
My son is joking about when he quotes Trump, but sadly too many people are not joking when they defend some of the soundbite and divisive politics of the age. We parents are not going to perfectly handle the challenge of the political age, but let's do our best at helping our children have a wiser, more mature political debate and engagement.
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