Thursday, October 30, 2008

To Parents on Politics

I've been reflecting on family challenges and stresses during an election year. As I have discovered in conversations with the youth at our church, different families all have different ways of dealing with political conversations. Some families avoid the conversation all together creating an atmosphere of confidentiality, some families are allowed to disagree but continually throw slurs and remarks at one another. In some families, mom and/or dad has THE opinion and everyone else just keeps theirs on the down-low. In some families everyone agrees and so it becomes a miniature RNC or DNC, while others could care less about politics in general. In some families, everyone agrees except for the one "black-sheep" in the group in which case that person is forced into silence, is asked not to express their views at all until they have a house of their own, becomes a divisive figure in the household, or simply gets teamed up on by everyone else.

None of the situations I have listed are ideal. If you hear your family being described then I am either sorry for you or am sorry that I have insulted you. Either way I, from my limited perspective (I know I am not a parent), have a few suggestions for parents.

First of all, (and most importantly) please talk to your kids about politics. Start by asking questions and end by asking questions. Maybe not when they're little but certainly by the time they are in high school. And when you talk to them about politics don't just tell them how to think but create a space for them to ask real questions and come to THEIR OWN conclusions (they are a different generation, they're bound to disagree with you). By talking with them an creating this space you have showed them that:
A. you care about and are interested in what is important to them.
B. politics are important to you.
C. you will accept them even if they disagree with you.
D. you believe that they are competent and capable of thinking through tough issues.

These sort of conversations are especially important if your kids have already formed differing opinions or are now adults. When you disagree with your kids on politics it is simply not helpful to ignore their views. When you talk to them about it, not to argue but to explore how they came to their conclusions, you show them that you can take them seriously. Often times they will be quite passionate in their opinions in which case this is even more important because you must show them that you at least take some interest in their heart, the things that are important to them.

Secondly, out of respect for your kids and from a remembrance that your house is also their house don't campaign to your kids, especially if they already disagree with you. If you have one kid, let's say that the are in high school or older, who is alone in disagreeing with the rest of the family, turning your house into a campaign or a convention for your party will only alienate them more. What's more important to you, making sure your neighbors see a sign in your yard or showing your kids that you value their opinions? Create space, especially in your home, for real conversation and open dialogue. If your kids see that you are extreme in your opinion and are campaigning in a particular direction they will probably tuck away any disagreements they have and be less likely to talk about things. They will, at least, feel segregated. If you don't have anyone in the family who disagrees, campaigning can still be an issue because it shows kids that issues are black and white and it will train them to see things that way rather than equipping them to think through issues in all their complexity. If you are going to campaign, be clear to your kids on how you came to your conclusion and remind them that the people on the other side are to be taken seriously.

Thirdly, educate yourself! Even if politics are not important to you, you have responsibility as a parent to know what's going on for your kid's sake. You must be able to understand, at least on some level, how the people who disagree with you came to their conclusions. You have to be able to recognize complexity and gray areas in all the issues. You have to be capable of understanding the other side because you might find family on the other side. Don't simplify issues and candidates into categories of "good guy/bad guy" just to make it easier on yourself. This will not help your family.

Your kids, whether you know it or not, listen to how you talk about politics and how you don't. Create an atmosphere of understanding and please ask your kids what they think if they're old enough to have an opinion. Even if you are not interested in politics, they might be and it's important to show that what is important to them is also important to you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post! I agree it is important to discuss politics with our children- this article helped me plan some activities with my daughter- enjoy!