How do you approach political conversations with kids?

October 14, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

BOCES Communications Specialist Matt Leon weighs in on sharing the political process with children.

Too often, the political debate in our country is negative, rigid, shallow, and even mean-spirited.

We have radio hosts making crude remarks about young women; presidents and vice presidents using swear words near open microphones; and congressional representatives melting down on the House and Senate floor.

In short, our political dialogue can be the exact opposite of what we want for our kids. We hope they grow up to be positive, flexible and open to new things, and able to look past the surface and explore the substance – of people and ideas.

At ages 3 and 8 months, my children are too young now, but this presidential election season has me thinking about this disconnect.

I see some of the television ads that candidates and interest groups are airing, and I’m glad that they aren’t old enough to see the kind of mud that flies over public airwaves in the name of self-governance.

Yet, I also look forward to a time when we can watch the conventions and debates together and talk about the leaders and issues shaping the future of their country. They are fortunate to live in a place where the people get to choose their leaders and thus, set the course for their nation. That is no small thing, and I want them to appreciate it.

I think it’s good for kids to see people they look up to engaging on issues that matter to all of us, and articulating those things that they are most passionate about. At the same time, I want my kids to learn how to make up their own minds on important issues – I don’t want to do anything that precludes that. Rather than adopting the political beliefs of their parents, I think it’s more important that today’s kids grow up with the ability to have an open, mature, and expansive debate.

How do we show them the best parts of our system while limiting their exposure to the narrowness and nastiness that can overtake our political culture? It’s been said that politics is the art of the possible. As parents, how do you approach this issue at a time in your children’s lives when you want them to believe that everything is possible?

Matt Leon has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since March 2006, serving both urban and suburban school districts in that time. Prior to joining BOCES, he worked as a newspaper reporter; Matt has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is a full-time husband and dad and a part-time political junkie. Matt’s daughter is three years old and his son is almost one. He has no free time.

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