When it comes to talking to your kids about political matters, you may think that your 8-year-old would rather be playing video games or that your 14-year-old would prefer texting friends — but you might be wrong.
Prior to the 2008 presidential election, KidsHealth.org asked more than 2,000 kids and teens throughout the U.S. what they thought about the election and how it might affect them, if at all.
A whopping 75% of kids and 79% of teens answered "yes" when asked whether they thought that the outcome of the election would change their lives. Nearly half of teens surveyed said that they believed they'd had at least some influence on their parents' choice of candidate.
So, if you think your children are only interested in talking about kids' stuff, think again.
What's On Their Minds?
As presidential election time approaches again in 2012, we’ll be seeing signs, bumper stickers, or ads for political candidates everywhere. Turn on the TV or radio or surf the Web and you're sure to face an onslaught of messages on everything from health care, the economy, jobs, and housing, to war abroad and the energy crisis.
As parents, we can't expect our kids not to be influenced by this media blitz. In fact, most teens who took our election poll in 2008 ranked talked-about issues — like gas and food prices, education, health care, war, and the environment — as "very important" to them.
Knowing what kids think about these issues and how they might affect your family is important. Talking about it not only helps to promote learning and develop critical thinking skills, but also lets you clarify any misconceptions your kids may have or calm any fears about the future.
When discussing an election, talk about what you believe and why — and ask your kids what they think and feel. This shows that you value their opinions and want to hear what's on their minds.
If their opinions differ from yours, that's OK. Use it as a teaching opportunity: Why do they feel that way? Can they come up with examples to support their view? Engaging kids in this way helps them to develop their own opinions and express their ideas.
More tips to keep in mind:
Keep it positive. In the heat of an election season, strong feelings about tough issues can spark disagreements. Use the opportunity to show kids how to voice differences of opinion with respect, strength, and conviction. Say what you don't like about a candidate or his or her position and explain what you do like about your candidate of choice. Encourage your kids to do the same. Focus on the positive attributes of your candidate — talk about what you're for and your kids will too.
Be reassuring. Perhaps kids are worried by what the candidates and others are saying about the economy or the job market. They might fear the family losing the house or a parent losing a job. Listen to their concerns and provide reassurance and perspective. If you're facing financial troubles, be honest and then tell your kids (in an age-appropriate way) what you're doing to handle the problem.
Suggest they get involved. Many kids are quite interested in — and concerned about — the issues facing the country right now. Taking action helps them feel empowered and effective, and builds problem-solving skills. Help kids think of what they can do. Talk about how small things can add up to make a big difference. Perhaps to save money, they'll want to make lunches instead of buying them at school. Or, if the environment is of particular concern, maybe they'd like to find ways to help the family "go green" at home. Let your kids know that just like voting for a candidate can make a difference, so can working toward an issue that you'd like to change.
Casting Your Vote
Talking with your kids about important issues, the electoral process, and why voting is important not only provides them with a mini lesson on how government affects the world, but also shows that every person's opinion counts. Even though they can't vote yet, they'll be able to someday — perhaps very soon — so it's important that they start becoming informed.
If possible, take your kids with you into the voting booth on Election Day to show them firsthand how the process works. Be a role model by setting a positive example that lets them know you value the right to vote. Show your kids the importance of voting — and they'll grow up knowing that every vote counts.