Monday, May 3, 2010

How much politics should we teach our kids?

President Barack Obama's visit to Ann Arbor last  weekend was very exciting for a lot of people living in the surrounding areas.  Lines for tickets to the event to hear him speak stayed steady for three days.  For our family, we certainly would have attended, however, the U of M Commencements at which the President would be speaking, happened to fall on the same day and time as my youngest son's First Holy Communion.

"Let's invite President Obama to my Communion," my young son said.  I looked at my husband, he nodded in agreement, "Well, we could."  And so we did.  When it was time to send out invitations, one of them was addressed to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. complete with a picture Sam had drawn of President Obama during "free draw" in art class.  (He presented me with the picture two days before the election in November 2008 and it now hangs in our living room).  "You never know what is on his agenda, and we're only about 8 miles away from Michigan stadium" I added.

I wanted my son to know that his President is accessible.  True, he probably won't make his Communion celebration, but he should feel free to write to the President any time, for just about any reason.  This helps drive home the idea that government and politics are very much a part of each of our lives.

Studies show the significant influence we as parents have on our children's political views.  I remember on my first day of Government class at WCC, my professor pointed out the overwhelming evidence that most people are products of their parent's political viewpoint.  It is true, some may rebuke those ideals during adolescents, but mostly revert back to the liberal, moderate or conservative viewpoints of thier parents as they reach adulthood. 

My husband and I have always tried to teach our kids the importance of politics to their daily lives.  We take them to the voting booth EVERY TIME.  They know the issues, we tell them why we vote the way we do, but how everyone has the right to vote anyway they choose.  They hear our discussions, ask questions.

My oldest son (a freshman in high school) has been exposed to both sides of the aisle, from myself and my husband (his step-father), as well as from his dad.  This has been really great for him, as he hears two different perspectives and then gets to make up his own mind.  I love it when I pick him up from school and he says "I argued some really good points in History today, but I can't believe there are so many kids that don't pay attention to what is going on in the world."  I am thrilled he feels confident enough to assert his own views, and sees the importance of current events.

The next question is whether or not kids are exposed to too much information.  For example, my seven year old comes purposefully walking into the kitchen, "Mom, I know who the next victim of Walmart is going to is MacDonalds!"  He had seen a Walmart commercial selling the same toys offered in Happy Meals.  From the conversations my husband and I have had about our belief that Walmart stores are unhealthy for small town "mom and pops" shops and small business owners, he drew the conclusion that MacDonalds was next to go out of business!

I've told this story to others and have drawn some critics who state an eight year old has no business worrying about things like small businesses and the economic climate. We, however, see this as a grand teaching moment.  I get to make it clear what our views are, however teach him that it is important to respect other people's choice to shop at Walmart or anywhere else for that matter, without judgement.

Politics and current events are full of teaching moments, and can be a wonderful asset to our children's academic toolchest as long as information is provided respectfully. We are our kids' first teachers. We read to them to help improve their reading/language arts skills, we run flashcards to help them with their subtraction, we even quiz them for their spelling tests.  Why not add some civics and current events to the mix?  As far as I'm concerned, it is never to early to start lessons of fairness, social justice, and the benefits of living within a democracy.


  1. That reminds me...what a shame there were so many parents who wouldn't allow their children to listen to the President's message early in the school year.

  2. Yes, Julie, that was a shame. Even when W was President, though I did not support him at all, I never would have kept my kids from listening to a message from him in school.