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Heather Spohr is a writer and philanthropist who writes at the blog The Spohrs Are Multiplying. She is a top fundraiser for the March of Dimes and the President and Co-Founder of Friends Of Maddie, a charitable organization that supports the families of critically ill babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. She has spoken at numerous conferences, on CNN, and before members of Congress.

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Childish Politics

By Heather Spohr |

Things have already gotten pretty ugly in the 2012 presidential campaign, and with two-and-a-half months to go before Election Day they’re only going to get uglier. With so much negativity coming from both sides, parents would be forgiven for wishing their kids could be blissfully unaware of the election. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible in this day and age.

So what do you tell your kids about all of this madness? Yesterday I had a chat with two friends about this, and their opinions were so different that I was left without a clue what to do in 2016 when Annie is old enough to know what’s going on.

Our conversation started when I casually mentioned that I was annoyed whenever I heard a little kid say they liked one candidate over the other.

“Really?” I snarked. “Lil’ Timmy prefers Romney’s position on capital gains taxes to Obama’s?”

This lead one of my friends to say that she actually liked it when a child expressed a preference for a candidate. The kid may not know specifics about the candidate’s policies, she said, but they are taking part in the process and coming to understand how our political process works. Even more, she felt it was important that, as a parent, she made it clear to her child which party/political ideology their family subscribed to. She wanted her kids to know, for example, that their family supported the Democrats because they were in support of gay equality.

My other friend couldn’t have disagreed more. She was of the opinion that parents should do their best to be impartial politically in front of their kids, and try to present both parties as equally viable alternatives. This way, she said, their kid would be able to make their own mind up and not simply be a mouthpiece for mommy’s and daddy’s political beliefs. Also, they would grow up to be respectful of different political beliefs.

Personally, I see value in both of their opinions. I like the idea of making a family’s values clear to your children, but at the same time I think it is so important to raise kids who are respectful of others’ beliefs. As our country grows more contentious every year, we need more kids who grow into adults who act like adults.

What do you think? Should parents include their children in their political beliefs? Or should they be impartial? Personally, whichever one will make Twitter less annoying around an election is a-okay with me.


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Heather Spohr

Heather Spohr is a writer and philanthropist who writes at the blog The Spohrs Are Multiplying. She is a top fundraiser for the March of Dimes and the President and Co-Founder of Friends Of Maddie, a charitable organization that supports families of critically ill babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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10 thoughts on “Childish Politics

  1. Laura says:

    Politics has been actively and respectfully discussed and debated here under the Big Top since my 2nd born was 6 years old and declared her presidential aspirations for 2032. We strive to be respectful because my darling husband and I are members of different political parties and while we tend to agree on most issues, we do respectfully differ on a few others…we also differ on music tastes and the whole Coke versus Pepsi debate. We have never tried to shield our children from the election process or even the politics that lead up to it and if they asked questions we strived to answer honestly and simply…much like we have with discussions of sex. It works for us.
    Having said that, we have done our best to impart upon our children our values, our beliefs, our morals. The result is with 3 out of 5 of our children now grown adults who do vote…not always aligned with mom…not always aligned with dad. At the same time they are, for the most part, respectful of others’ opinions, no matter how shrill they might be. Of course in this day and age that makes them part of an ever shrinking minority of people who can respectfully agree to disagree.

  2. Adria says:

    My daughter is almost 5. In general, my philosophy has been to avoid controversial topics for now, but be honest with her when she asked. (For example, she asked me why we aren’t eating at Chick-Fil-A anymore.) I try to use phrases like “some people feel this way” and “it’s ok that some people think differently than other people”. I sort of view it as differences in people, just like different physical appearances, different types of families, etc.

    I will say that I am equally torn about how much of it all to expose her to, pretty much ever. I was a very sheltered child and I grew up very naive because of it. It was heartbreaking and I suffered as an adult in many ways when I discovered how the world can really be. However, I also feel that she has plenty of time to experience all the hatred and pain the world has to offer. I think I’ll let her be a child as long as I can. (And now I know why I was sheltered.)

  3. Jul says:

    Our politics are a direct extension of our family values – ie, we support gay marriage because we want to raise a family which does not promote discrimination based on gender, age, race, religion, color of skin, etc. We wouldn’t be true to who we are, and we wouldn’t be raising the type of family we want to raise, if we said politics were off limits. For that matter, it would be impossible for us not to discuss politics and why we believe what we believe either – it’s part of the dialogue and conversation we have at the dinner table every night. What the news headlines are, our reactions etc. This isn’t just a by-product of the election year, either – we’re just impassioned dorks like that. :) That being said, it’s important to be respectful, especially as we have quite a few members of our family who don’t believe what we believe.

  4. MJP says:

    I can never remember a time when I didn’t know how my parents felt about politics. I am so old I remember campaigning for Eisenhower (as a very young child). As a result,my siblings and I have always been very engaged in the political process. When my nephew was going to school at Berkley he often called me for ammunition to use against his friends in political debates. It is all good, but keep it civil. It also taught me that I have a right to my opinion but to be respectful of others. I think that is probably the most important thing to teach the little ones.

  5. Guajolote says:

    My kid’s already been to a march in support of a political/human rights issue. It’s important to let your kid know what your values are, and how you vote should reflect those values. That doesn’t mean you don’t ALSO teach your child to be respectful that other people may have different opinions. However, when talking about values, if you think gay rights, immigration rights, women’s rights are important, then understandably it’s offensive when someone else thinks those rights are NOT important. Or actively works against them, Representative Akin.
    >
    http://guajolotitos.blogspot.com

  6. MJP says:

    I should also mention that I came of age in the 60′s when we were all fighting for equal civil rights for all. This was not an issue drawn on party lines, it was drawn on geography. We prevailed, but not an easy fight. I remember some older people in our community being upset because we younger people were fully participating in the fight. Don’t assume because someone has a D or R behind their name that they don’t agree with you on most major issues. But no I don’t get offended when some one else has a different belief system than mine. You need to understand that because of different life experiences it just takes some people longer to get it. And that OK. There is nothing more difficult than being lectured to by a know-it-all 10 year old, because I while participating in a community activity was handing out FREE hotdogs provided by the community. Yes, I had this experience and it was not pretty. Children can also be taught manners.

  7. Holly says:

    What gets me the most is when parents use their children as pawns in a overt manner – like having them protest at abortion clinics, etc. Your 5 year old should not be participating in that! Sure, discuss how your family feels and why, but there is no need to turn them into an activist before they can choose themselves. My husband still regrets doing this exact thing as a child – he of course realizes he had no choice and didn’t understand what he was doing, but nearly 30 years later he is still embarrassed by his actions.

    Do not make hate a priority for your children, no matter the beliefs.

  8. Kay says:

    My parents never engaged me in political issues. My dad refused to vote, and my mom is a staunch conservative, so there was never and semblance of discussion or explanation about politics. When I was a kid, my elementary school was closed every election day because the voting center was in the gymnasium. I distinctly remember the Bush Vs. Gore election when I was 9. As we walked away from the school, I asked a question about one of the candidates (no idea what it was) and was told that George Bush represented the republicans who were good and were going to protect the country, while the democrats were bad and wanted to destroy it. This sort of explanation led to years parroting my mothers beliefs while not understanding the issues. I’m 21 now, and have the opportunity to vote for the first time this november. I have learned in the last few years to evaluate the information, the cources and the issues using my own moral compas and opinion without allowing others to deeply influence me. I don’t have kids now (and hopefully not for a few years) but I hope that when I do, I’ll approach controversal issues differently then my mother did. While I love her, I hate the way I was introduced to the issues (“Obama is muslim and wants to destroy america”, “being gay is bad”, etc) and I think she could have incorporated a little more fact and a little less opinion so I could learn to think for myself. There has to be a strong balance between respect for others and actually understanding the issues and making sure the stance you take are what you really believe is right.

  9. scarpeke says:

    One of the best things my parents ever did for me in this area, was to take me along with them to vote. My mom even took me to vote for President the first time. They always talked about their choice for president like it was a birthday wish “you can’t tell anyone or it won’t come true”. I never knew who they voted for but I did know what they believed in (gay rights, education, taxes etc..) Have the conversation with your kids but stick to the facts. If they want to know what you believe, be honest but not disrespectful to the other party. It’s important not only teach kids it’s okay to disagree, but to also teach them how to disagree in a respectful way.

  10. Meg says:

    My parents both grew up with staunchly party-line Republican fathers and, as soon as they reached voting age, each decided to register as independent. (This is one of the few similarities between them.) They explained the political processes, my mom brought us into the voting booth (back when it was a booth! with big levers!) for as long as possible, but they did not discuss their political preferences with us until we were adults. They believed it was very important to teach us to vote based on each candidate and each race, doing research before each election, and not just follow what a group does. We are now ALL independents, and I still do not plan on joining any party.

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