There’s a popular rule when it comes to polite society: never talk about religion or politics at the dinner table. I, for one, would like to challenge that particular notion. If we don’t talk about religion or politics at the dinner table, then how can we ever learn how to deal with differences in a way that’s respectful and educational? As a kid, I don’t really remember my family discussing difficult topics at the dinner table. Most extended family dinners consisted mostly of gossiping and sports, neither of which I was particularly educated or interested in. In some ways, this lack of discussion allowed me to develop my own views on religion, politics, and other controversial and heated topics. However, to form these opinions, I had to take the bulk of the initiative.
Some kids will be interested and engaged with touchy subjects from a young age, while others may take a while to mature. However, one of the things that makes me most nervous about American politics today is lack of voter education. Part of being a member of a democracy is having an understanding of the party system and the issues at hand, and it seems as though many of my peers (young voters) are not necessarily engaged. In fact, many voters don’t even take advantage of their right to vote.
So what is a parent’s role in the political education of children? I think the ideal role is that of educator. Of course you should share your own opinion with your children, but you should also present other viewpoints. Expose your children to both MSNBC and Fox News. Have discussions with people from the opposite political party in front of your child, and make sure that you demonstrate the importance of respectfully disagreeing. Modeling these kinds of good behaviors will make your child a better citizen, and a better person. It’s also important to be supportive of your child as he or she becomes more politically engaged. You may disagree with your child’s beliefs, but rather than saying “You’re wrong” or “That’s stupid,” engage in an open dialogue.
What are your tips for exposing children to politics?