I just saw a tweet from an online acquaintance who was upset because her little kindergartner came home with the news that her classmates had told her that “Obama kills babies.”
Now that is all kinds of wrong for all kinds of reasons. Number one, it’s factually inaccurate and intellectually lazy: Mr. Obama supports legal abortion; he does not kill anyone. Number two, no five year old needs to know anything about abortion or baby-killing of ANY kind. Let’s preserve their innocence as long as we can.
And then there is number three, the subject of this post: no five-year-old came up with that language independently. Someone they trusted and respected, most likely a parent, TOLD them that. Which means that their parents have introduced inaccurate, inflammatory information into their innocent intellects in the interest of indoctrination. And that’s not how I believe we need to be talking to kids about politics.
I don’t believe in indoctrinating children. (Some of you are probably laughing because you know I am raising my kids Catholic and certainly that implies indoctrination–but moral and religious indoctrination is another story and we can argue about that another time!) What I like to do is to present kids with a variety of ideas, answer their questions, see what they come up with, and correct any misinformation.
So when the subject of the death penalty, or abortion, or any other controversial issue has come up, I’ve explained it to my kids in the most neutral way I can. Then I wait for their reaction. Most recently it has been William, age 11, learning about these things. “But that’s ridiculous,” he said of the death penalty. “That’s horrible. That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t DO that.” Even when I agree with his reaction, I offer him some of the reasons that other people disagree. I don’t want parrots. I want thoughtful critical thinkers.
My kids are–at least I think they are–extraordinarily lucky to have been raised in a home where 1) the adults don’t always agree about politics, and 2) the adults love to discuss politics. John majored in International Politics at Georgetown and is passionately interested and well-informed. I love nothing more than analytical conversations and arguments. But there has never been any danger that my kids are going to go off to school and parrot their parents’ opinions, because we don’t walk in lockstep here. We encourage them to come up with and defend their own opinions. And now that three of the kids are more or less grown up, they don’t always agree with either of us. We’ve got one kid identifying as Republican (not a Romney fan, though) and two who lean Democrat (of the pro-life type) but refuse to identify with any party.
Then there are the little ones. Several weeks ago William announced that he did not like Mitt Romney because “he doesn’t care about poor people.” I assure you, he did not hear that around here. We just don’t make over the top statements like that and we call our kids on them when they do make them, so that I told him I was sure Mr. Romney cared about poor people but that different candidates have different ideas about how to help them. I felt it was only right for balance to tell him some of President Obama’s drawbacks as well. William learned about abortion only a few months ago, even though he has been participating in Marches for Life since he sat in a stroller. He’s an oblivious sort and I was happy not to have to explain it to him. So when I told him that President Obama was pro-choice, he decided he could not support either candidate.
Lorelei does not know what abortion is and I have no intention of telling her any time soon. Seven is too young–too young, really, to understand most political issues. But she did sit and watch part of the debates with us until she fell asleep, and she was excited to cast a vote today in the mock election at school–for President Obama. “Why?” I asked her. “I just like him,” she said. “Well, that’s fine. It’s your choice,” I told her. She looked so dejected coming out of school today, where predictably Mr. Romney carried the day with over 80% of the vote. She perked up, though, when she got to come help me vote after school.
I read an article earlier today suggesting that we shouldn’t share our political views with our children at all until they are old enough to understand them. I don’t agree. I believe we can share in an age-appropriate way. When Lorelei asked me how I decided on my vote, I was vague: “There are things I don’t like about either candidate, that make me feel I cannot support either one.” I remember many years ago a friend of mine commented that she was surprised that we talked about politics with our kids. Politics are important. If we don’t talk to our kids about them, if all we do is say things like: “We are Democrats in this house,” or “Obama kills babies,” we are raising people who do not know how to think for themselves.
Remember, the kids who parrot you now will grow up to parrot some idiot, if you haven’t taught them to think critically. If it’s important for you for your kids to think like you do, then educate them. Tell them WHY (if you know) you think the way you do. For us, having kids who think like us isn’t the goal. The goal is having kids who THINK.