Election Day is less than a week away, and if you’re like me and millions of other Americans, there are two words that describe your feelings: Thank God.
But as much as we might want this to be over, in these last few days of the campaign, there’s a real opportunity for parents to help educate the next generation of voters.
On Saturday, I spoke at the Newseum as part of a program on talking to kids about elections. Brave parents and grandparents took time out from stocking up on bottled water and batteries ahead of Hurricane Sandy’s arrival to let kids vote in a mock election, make campaign buttons and, heaven help them, hear me talk.
One boy, 12-year-old Drew, sat in the front row, looking engaged for my 30-minute presentation. I immediately liked this kid. Afterward, his grandmother approached me because Drew had an idea for a story KidsPost should do about the election but he felt too shy to suggest it.
His idea: What should a kid do when his mom wants to vote for one candidate and his dad for another? It was clear from the way the grandmother conveyed Drew’s question that the red-blue divide created enough tension to make Drew uncomfortable.
This is not the first time that a lack of civility involving kids and the political process had reared its head this campaign season. My colleague Petula Dvorak wrote about a letter that a prominent Washington school sent home to parents, the gist of which was, “Tell your kids not to bully the Republicans in class.”
These two incidents made me feel sad about the “teachable moment” that we parents are missing if what we impart to our kids this electoral season is that the candidate we support matters more than why we support him.
Of course, part of the cool thing about being a parent is creating “mini-me’s,” and in Washington that means creating a new generation of party members, regardless of what party you’re affiliated with.
But in the waning days of the campaign, we would all be better served if the behavior we and Drew’s parents modeled wasn’t Democratic or Republican, but American. Here are a few suggestions:
●Talk to your children about the importance of being not just a voter but an informed voter.
●Discuss the political ads that have been inundating the airwaves and about how there is some truth and some deceit in ads on both sides. (Paul Farhi did a story on political advertising for KidsPost that can help spur conversation).
●Ask your child to come up with three positive things about each candidate. You might want to try this yourself.
●Vote, and let your kids know you did.
●Allow your kids to stay up a little late Tuesday to watch election results come in.
When your kids wake up Wednesday morning, make sure they know that whoever is elected President of the United States is deserving of our respect. Not because we will always agree with him, but because the way Americans pick their president — with all the messiness and name-calling, all the division and divisiveness — is still the best system the world has ever known.