Parents guide young ones through dicey political discourse
In this election year, much of the dialogue between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump has been particularly harsh. Both candidates for president of the United States have taken turns hurling accusations of illegal or immoral behavior at one other.
The verbal assaults, frequently discussed in decidedly “adult language," have left some likely voters wondering what ever happened to common decency and common sense.
What, then, are parents supposed to do, when their children hear talk and see actions that in no way set examples of how reasonable people should behave?
Tamara Durham, of Maplewood, has a 14-year-old son, Malcolm, and a 12-year-old daughter, Minerva. She says the children have overheard her and her husband, Noah, having sometimes heated discussions about politics and other important current events.
“My husband and I are both what anyone would consider very liberal,” Durham wrote, in response to questions through the Public Insight Network.
“However, I do not buy into every single liberal thought, equally. For example, I highly value and have the utmost respect for our law enforcement officers and I want my children to do the same.
“But, we are white and I make sure to discuss the very complex issues regarding police distrust among other groups of people, particularly blacks, with my kids. When the Black Lives Matter movement started, those were some of the most difficult yet important conversations we had. I always try to instill this notion: Always seek to understand all sides.”
Durham wrote that she and her husband welcome questions from their children, “but we don't usually go out of our way to prompt [or] ask them to join our discussions.”
When it comes to businessman Trump, she stresses that he was fairly elected by his party.
“I always try to drive home this message: You must have a certain minimum level of respect for those who are Republican/conservative even if you strongly disagree with their opinions,” Durham wrote.
To avoid problems or confrontations, “I tell my kids to please not get into any political discussions at school or even outside of school. I try to remind them that you never know what may offend someone. In the privacy of our home it's different.”
For Sarah Richardson, of Webster Groves, conversations with her sons, ages 7 and 4, have been very
“My husband and I didn't really set out with a plan to talk about — or not talk about —politics with them,” Richardson wrote.
But Peter, the 7-year-old, “has been very interested in the election since the primaries. He came home one day from school and announced that he was rooting for Bernie [Sanders]. He took it very hard when he learned that he wasn't allowed to vote in the primary — and that I wouldn't 'give' him my vote.”
“Lately, we've been discussing the local races more, which has led to some good conversations about the structure of our government — U.S. vs. Missouri vs. local.”
“Peter's primary concern is that he's not allowed to vote. We've also had to have some direct conversations about staying friends with people we disagree with politically. This election has made that a harder thing for all of us to do than previous elections.
“A lot of their questions have come as a result of the mailings we receive, which are more of the attack ad variety. That's something I wish we could shield them from for a little while longer, so we try to downplay those as much as possible.”
Sandy Diamond coordinates Kids Voting Missouri, which provides voting education resources to teachers throughout metro St. Louis. "This is probably the most challenging election year I’ve ever had," she said in an interview.
Diamond, who's a teacher by trade, said students have been shocked by many of the attack ads. "It’s the rhetoric and behavior that is a complete opposite of what they learn in the school curriculum," she said.
Diamond said parents and teachers must find a balance between using the election as a teaching tool and shielding kids from possible negative impacts.
Kameel Stanley contributed to this report.
Help inform our coverage
This report was prepared with help from our Public Insight Network. Click here to learn more or join our conversation.