On Kids and Politics

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With the first of the general election presidential debates coming this week, and the daily batch of emails requesting time and/or money for a variety of causes and campaigns, it’s hard not to think about politics.

And, before you tune out or get riled up, this is not a post about one side versus the other.  I have my very strong opinions, and you have yours, and we can agree to disagree (or agree, for that matter) on that for right now.  What I’m thinking about more specifically is how we pass along our political affiliations, or not, to our kids.  I’ve seen a bunch of people struggling with this in the blogosphere, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

The struggle seems to be over whether we might be overly-indoctrinating our kids.  Ah, the things we modern moms worry about.  “Is it right to put my baby in the [your candidate here] shirt?”  “Should I try to present both sides equally so my two-year-old can make his own informed decision?”

To which I say: stop the insanity.

I grew up in a very political (Democrat with a capital D) household. Before I was born, my dad ran state and national campaigns. He’s even got a funny story about how he’s the genius behind David Axelrod (or, at least, was for one night almost 30 years ago). I grew up knowing about Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis and Paul Simon and Paul Wellstone.  When I was about 10, I spent several afternoons stuffing envelopes for someone running for alderman.  I was furious that my 18th birthday was about a week after a presidential election and I wasn’t going to get to vote.  Now, my kids sport their new “Baby Got Barack” t-shirts and I try in vain to get two pre-verbal 13-month-olds to say “Obama.”

Am I brainwashing my kids? I don’t think so.  No more than anything else.  Just as when you chose to raise your kids in a particular religion, set certain expectations in your house about TV watching or behavior or chores, or pass along your socio-political values, you’re teaching.  You’re passing along the things that you find important.  If you find certain political issues important, then you shouldn’t hide them when your kids are around.

More than anything, as parents, we are trying to give our kids a solid foundation, and part of that foundation is (in my opinion, anyways) the ability to think critically and question assumptions.  So you know what? If I succeed in that very important goal, then no matter whether I raise my kids Democrats or Jewish or no-soda-at-dinnertime, there will come a point when they question that which I have taught them.  They will choose to reject some of it, though admittedly I hope it’s only the no-soda-at-dinnertime bit.  But yes, there will come a point when my kids are free-thinking adults, and will choose whatever path makes the most sense to them.  They may look back at their “Tiny Democrat” onesies and smile, or they may shake their heads. And that’s OK.

I’m trying to pass along the things that are important in our family: respect for other people, civic participation, social justice, etc etc etc.  I’m not going to hide my political affiliations or preferred candidates from my kids.  When they get to an age where they ask questions, I’ll answer them as honestly and fairly as I can.  And when they can vote, I won’t go in that booth with them.

Don’t fret about “influencing” your kids too much when it comes to politics.  I hate to break it to you, but we’re parents.  Influencing our kids is our job.  Try to be fair, try to be respectful, and try to teach fundamental things like thinking and participating.  But don’t be afraid to say what’s important to you.

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12 thoughts on “On Kids and Politics”

  1. Well said! I’d sooner have my kids be democrats than apathetic about the whole political process.
    Kidding…..I want my kids to have conviction to care about these things. Republican/Democrat….doesn’t affect me as long as they are using their noggin and not just spewing out rhetoric they hear on the radio/tv etc. Thinking for themselves is the best thing we can teach our kids. Did I make you cringe by not capitalizing the “d” in democrat?

  2. Okay, slightly off-topic from the post, but *I* also turned 18 less than a month after a presidential election. Now I find myself wondering if we’re the same age or if you’re FOUR stinkin’ years younger than me, which is what I suspect…

  3. I very much agree. There was a similar discussion over at baby squared recently, and I made a similar parallel to religion — people don’t seem to have qualms about teaching their children their religious perspective, but somehow feel more iffy about it when it’s political (maybe it’s because people are more sure about what is right/true when it comes to religion?).

    Though I might be more disappointed by soda at dinner than voting Republican… tee, hee, just kidding.

  4. When we don’t share our thoughts and talk about our interests and beliefs … we leave things vague and that’s when kids grow up not sure about anything. Education is key … about everything. ANd, everything in moderation, even politics (OK, well, not at our house, but in other homes).

    Pretty sure that my girls will be influenced by our beliefs and that is intended. They are free to change their minds as I was able to do so … and did.

  5. heh the thought I had going through my head while reading this..? “Hmm…kinda like when I get the kids to yell ‘Go Red Sox!’ while Mike tries to get them to yell ‘Go Indians!'” LOL I know…not quite the same. But what can you expect from someone who still needs to register that she’s moved in order to vote….I’ll do it!!

    Well put, Goddess. :)

  6. Shawn, well put. When we talk to our kids about these things, they have somewhere to start, and they know that opinions are important. If we avoid it, then we’re still teaching… we’re teaching that it’s not important to think too much about it!

  7. Hear hear! Great post as always.

    I believe one of the most important parts of parenting children is to teach them to vote and to research that vote. We are LUCKY to live in a democracy where we can vote.

  8. Agree with everything here, particularly that we certainly do hope that the children wind up sharing our beliefs, but that will be their own path in the end.

    I don’t put my kids in Jesus T-Shirts however…. I’ve always found it odd to make your kids into propaganda.

  9. Love the new Obama t-shirts. :) I think it only makes sense to raise your kids with your own values, which are often reflected in your political leanings. Now, the best way to rebel in my house growing woud have been voting Republican, but neither my brother nor I could bear to rebel in that way. My tolerance to having your own opinion does not extend to significant others—when we got married, the one of us who had somehow been registered as an Independent changed his registration. I mean, really…he’s married to a social worker. What did he expect?!

  10. Agreed. If you think outfitting your baby in a Democrat onesie is going to make him a Democrat, you’re not quite realizing that he will indeed grow a brain one day (hopefully soon!) and have his own opinions (other than “I will only drink out of ORANGE sippy cups”).

  11. LOL SeaBird…does that also mean putting a pink bib on my boy won’t make him gay? (I had a nanny – who no longer works for us – afraid of that…she got very upset any time I “mixed up” the bibs.)

  12. I think its important to give them a basis and understading of the political policies and system. But I think Seabird said it best one day they will grow up and have their own brain. You present them with information and views and they will be the ones that decide!

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