The other day my 14-year-old daughter reported that the girls at her lunch table were debating the merits of the presidential candidates. Yes, middle-schoolers talking about politics. On their own time. Even though it wasn't going to be on a test.
If you look around at the younger ones in your life, there's a good chance that they're pretty engaged with the election this year. Part of it is has to do with social media as a political gateway drug. A funny GIF, Instagram meme or Twitter-shared bit from late night TV (especially if it's semi-racy business about hand size) is way more apt to engage a kid than ye olde evening news or a lengthy newspaper analysis.
This method of newsgathering is (perhaps unfortunately) pretty common among my peers as well, but it's especially so among millennials. In a 2015 Pew Research study, 61 percent of millenials reported getting their news from Facebook vs. 37 percent from local TV. In an informal research study of my household, conducted by turning and asking them, the two family members of Generation Z (those younger than millenials) get about 95 percent of their news from Instagram and 0 percent from Facebook because it's "lame" and "for old people." Since I meet that criteria, I cede the point.
But there's a dark side to their involvement. Sometimes our dinnertime "political discussions" look a lot like "ranting." But more troublingly, my kids have expressed worries about some of the things that candidates have said. In this election, no matter what your beliefs, there's someone shouting the opposite viewpoint. Some on the right warn of dystopian futures with religious liberty and gun rights being taken away. On the left are horror stories about women losing reproductive rights and rampant racism.
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A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that "the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported."
So how can you foster this budding political engagement in your kids while making sure they're not ruining friendships and generally wigging out?
ENCOURAGE THEIR INTEREST
"Praise your kids for being involved in politics at such a controversial time. Not only will being informed about politics help them learn about American government, it will also help build their social skills, as they learn to choose values, form opinions and verbally debate with one another," recommended Misa Butsuhara, a marriage and family therapist and director of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California in Newport Beach (cbtiofsocal.com).
SHARE YOUR VIEWS, AND ASK WHAT THEY THINK
"When discussing politics, it's helpful to share what you believe and why _ and ask your kids what they think and feel about the issues. By encouraging them to share, you are showing them that you value their opinion and want to hear what they have to say," advised Joshua Soto, who specializes in working with teens, preteens, and young adults in Irvine, Calif., in private practice and Journey PTSD Centers of Orange County (journeyccs.com). "Stay positive and share what you don't like about a candidate or their position and explain what you may like about another candidate. Encourage your kids to do the same. If they have different views from yours, then that's OK. Kids may often feel differently, and encouraging them to share their views can teach them that it's OK to have a different opinion and respect others you disagree with."
"Kids may be hearing some charged words about the economy or terrorism," Soto said. "Parents should ask and listen to any concerns that their kids have. Parents can assure them that things will be OK no matter who is elected. It's also a good opportunity to explain about the different branches of government that help the president pass laws."
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