It’s all about the kids: a column by Dr. Janet McPeek Ph.D., President of Crossroads for Youth
Elections. We teach our children from the time they are young about how fortunate we are to live in a country that allows every citizen to vote. From elementary school on, there are opportunities to participate in varieties of mock elections in which students can campaign and practice the skills they see exhibited by candidates in the “real” election. We teach government and knowing about the importance of all aspects of the political process so that by the time a student is 18 and able to vote, a solid foundation has been laid for an educated, thinking voter.
Research repeatedly tells us the same thing. Parents have a tremendous influence in initially shaping children’s views and beliefs. But now data says that most kids get up to 75 percent of their information from some sort of social media. This means that they may hear the latest about what was said at a debate or in a Twitter insult before a parent ever had a chance to talk about it with their son or daughter.
Parents are faced with a challenge in this election cycle as the debates, the ads and exchanges between candidates have often been much more than just the negative rhetoric that goes with a tense presidential campaign. There have been sexual references, insults and things said that in a school setting would be considered bullying and cause for discipline, possibly even suspension.
This year, more than ever, is when the natural influence of reasonable parental involvement and conversation is key. Talk with young children, who don’t understand all the words but feel the emotion, about how sometimes adults choose to cross the line and what your views may be about the topic. With tweens and teens, watch debates with them as they will hear about these things regardless. Using the time between to process what they hear and think can help them see the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate words and concepts.
Sometimes showing children and especially tweens and teens the full ballot and all the people who are running for so many offices refocuses them on the bigger picture of government. The concept that this is more than just a President that they have learned about at home or in school. Most of all, help them keep it in perspective and know that their vote will always make a difference. Perhaps one will want to run for office, learn from what they are seeing, and how they choose to handle themselves in front of the microphone.