As we approach the 2016 presidential election, the question on everyone’s mind is who the next president will be. Your child may already have comments about some of the people they’ve seen on their television and are asking questions. It’s never too early to get your child invested in politics and to understand what is going on in the world.
Along the way, you’ll be asked some common questions about the campaign. It is best to be honest and open with your children about the process. The most common will be what is voting. You can explain to older children that voting is a process where people cast a ballot to decide the next president. With younger children, you can introduce them to voting by having the family sit down and make a decision together with everyone having a say.
When children ask if they can vote for the president, you can explain to them that the Constitution and the four amendments that deal with it, declare that U.S. Citizens who are 18 years or older are the only ones allowed to vote. While that means they cannot vote in the election for president, they still can have open discussion about politics.
As you talk to your children about voting, make sure they understand the importance of being heard. That when they turn 18, their vote and voice counts. After all, it was largely young voters who decided who won the 2004 presidential election. When the results become neck and neck on items, it could be their vote that ultimately helps to determine a position on a proposition or who holds a particular office.
You’ll also need to explain political parties to them. While it sounds exciting, it isn’t the same as a birthday party. Instead, this is a group of people who share interests that are banding together to help make decisions in the world. While there are similarities to their own parties like balloons and dancing, the focus is on making decisions. There are Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Green Party, Libertarians, and others.
As your child learns more about being president, the next logical leap is wanting to be president. You’ll need to teach them what the constitution says about being president. The only way they can run for this office is:
- Being a citizen who was born in the United States.
- Have lived for the past fourteen years in the United States.
- Be age 35 or older.
With this in mind, we need to look at the reasons why children should be involved. The first is the most obvious, freedom depends on everyone being part of the political process. When you don’t voice your opinion and allow others to make the decisions that direct your life and your rights, you give up something precious. Many laws are difficult to fight when they are put in place.
The constitution is another reason to get active in the voting process. They need to know what it says and to understand that we must protect it. As soon as these rights are removed, we begin to lose pieces of our freedom. Help them to understand what it means and how the document can be amended.
Next, teach them about being open minded in the political process. Explain to them that while they might want to be an “elephant” or a “donkey” there is more at stake. They need to go away from the colors, the animals and understand that the decision in a candidate should be based on the values and ideas that the candidate has. Being closed minded in an election and simply voting for the person who is part of your affiliated party is as irresponsible as not voting. Political affiliation is not something we must remain dedicated and loyal to, but our system of beliefs and our values should be.
You can explain it like this. Would you like to have someone who wants to come in and rule the school and ban dessert from being served in the cafeteria, just because they were someone you knew? Or would you prefer the person who wants to keep dessert in school to run it, even though they weren’t someone you knew?
The goal is to ensure that children understand how important the process is, without sacrificing their belief system in the process. There needs to be integrity, humility and a foundation for having integrity in office. That doesn’t mean they should approach politics with fear and dread, or even pressure. Instead, let them understand that it is something to be excited about and an honor. When they hear something they like, they should talk about it and share it with others. When they are confused about a topic, encourage them to ask more questions. Then make sure you explain the details in as an impartial manner as possible. After all, your children should be free to determine their own political views based on the system of beliefs they have.
This is another point you need to stress with your children. Tell them they shouldn’t become parrots in the political system where they have the same views and thoughts on things. Democracy is important to all of us and being closed minded prevents us from making progress in exchange for holding firm to the opinions of others. This means they need to be willing to listen to both sides and then think about what is being said. They need to understand what is true and to understand political bias. Children must look at several sources of information and to gain a deeper understanding of what is being offered to them. Make sure they understand that it is important to ask questions and to understand. That when people disagree with our views they are not bad people, nor are they bad Americans. They just have different views of the world.
It is important to encourage an open dialogue with our children and to let them explore politics with us. Just be open, honest, and understanding as they do this. That way, you can help to introduce politics into their lives in a positive manner.