By Loraine Balita-Centeno
If you think all your kids care about are the latest gadgets and games, think again. According to a study by Christopher Ojeda and Peter Hatemi published by the American Sociological Review, not only do children care about politics they are capable of forming political opinions independent from those of their parents, too. This challenges the notion that children are (1) apathetic to the current political climate or (2) are just passive recipients of information.
So instead of avoiding the political (or religious) talk over the dinner table (in our conscious effort to avoid discussions and debates) parents should understand that if our kids are not getting information about these things from their family, they are bound to get it elsewhere. In fact, kids get information from a variety of sources with social media leading this list. According to a study titled New Media and Youth Political Action, children get most of their information from friends on Facebook and Twitter.
And it’s the parents’ job to make sure our children formulate intelligent opinions based on credible sources and to learn to distinguish the difference between fact and rumor. It’s also the parents role to explain bias, misinformation, prejudice without sounding too critical.
Here are a few tips to engaging your kids about politics without sounding too damning, but instead fostering respect about everyone’s point of view.
1. Encourage them to get information from many official and reliable sources
Explain to your child the importance of reading, and reading a lot. It’s essential for them to understand that to be able to properly formulate an opinion on something, you must first equip yourself with enough credible information. Train them to be discerning when in comes to the information they will absorb. Start with kid-friendly reading materials meant to introduce them to issues like Time for Kids or HTE News for Kids.
2. Explain how issues relate to things that affect them directly
Policies for example won’t really make sense unless they see how it would affect them. Explain things in terms of how it would affect school systems, the building of new playgrounds in the city, tuition fees, or the transport system (which they use every day) for instance. Laws would only make sense if the parents can connect them to the child’s everyday life.
3. Teach them to agree to disagree
This should be a top priority for parents who are planning to encourage talks about politics at home. Children might not be mature enough to handle someone else’s opinion that is different from his or her own. But they have to learn that although people differ in opinion, that doesn’t automatically make them enemies. Parents need to help their children process this and encourage them to have a more open mind that’s accepting of different points of view considering others’ cultural or economic background. Listening is a skill that kids need to learn and can be practiced with the parents’ guidance.
4. Learn with them
Gone are the days when the parents are the only source of information about everything, when kids’ are barred from joining parents’ conversation about issues, and when the parents’ way is the only way. Children have become a lot smarter over the years; they have become voracious collectors of information from various sources. You’ll be surprised at what you will learn from them, and with them. Recognize the fact that a lot could be learned from the way children see the world. If he or she asks questions about important issues that you do not know the answer to, don’t pretend to know it and start a lecture because he will tune you out. Instead do research and find the answers together.
5. Present your views as your own only and encourage them to have their own
Kids are not required to believe what their parents believe. Be mindful of your views and be sure to emphasize such phrases as “I believe.” “to me this is important.” Avoid promoting horde mentality and encourage them to formulate their own opinion. Avoid forcing your point of view down your children’s throat, instead guide them into the proper path and let them decide.
Is what the world needs more of. And it starts at home. You’ll have to teach your children to respect him or herself enough to be able to formulate his or her own opinion and not be swayed, the child needs to learn to respect his parents opinions, which they may or may not agree with, they need to accept and respect their friends’ and peers’ opinion enough to understand that people from different familial, cultural, or economic background could have various opinions of issues. They have to respect others’ opinion, which might not necessarily resonate with them- but they have to respect nonetheless.