Did you miss the first presidential debate on September 29, because you thought, “Debates are for grown-ups?” You may be right, especially this year. Last Tuesday’s debate was filled with interruptions and personal attacks, many more from President Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate, than from former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic Party candidate.

It wasn’t a good opportunity for kids to learn about the candidates’ proposals or their record as lawmakers.

But that event wasn’t typical in the 60-year history of the United States’ presidential debates. Usually candidates are respectful. The Commission on Presidential Debates is considering changing the rules so the candidates and viewers can focus on the issues at the next two scheduled debates before the general election on November 3.

Because Trump tested positive last week for the coronavirus, it’s uncertain whether the next presidential debate will take place as scheduled on October 15 in Florida. Whenever that debate occurs, we encourage kids to watch at least part of it. But in the meantime, there will be a vice-presidential debate Wednesday between United States Senator Kamala Harris (Democrat) and Vice President Mike Pence (Republican).

KidsPost asked for debate-watching tips from John Koch, who teaches debate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He explains not only how to watch if you’re a kid, but also how to make it an interesting experience.

Koch first saw a presidential debate with his parents in 1988, when he was 6 years old.

“My family was rooting for Michael Dukakis,” who was running for president against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Koch says he has clearer memories of the 1992 election, when he was 10 years old. He says 10 is a good age to get interested in debating.

JFK Library

Watch past debates

Before you watch, Koch says it helps to know how traditional debates work. He explains that there’s a moderator who asks the candidates questions. One candidate will answer first; the other will then offer what’s called a “rebuttal.” “Then it will go back and forth from there,” Koch says.

Koch suggests seeing recordings of one or two debates from the past. For example, you could watch the first televised presidential debate, which was between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960. The first town hall-style debate, where audience members asked questions of three presidential candidates, was in 1992, involving President George H.W. Bush, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and businessman Ross Perot. And during the 2012 debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the candidates’ claims were fact-checked live.

Koch says that by watching old debates, you can learn about debates without caring about the outcome — because we already know what it is.

Koch says the historical events show that the purpose of debating is “to act as a discussion between the candidates, to help voters decide whom to support.”

Make up your mind

Americans younger than 18 years old are not allowed to vote in a presidential election. But you can still have an opinion about what issues matter to you and what the candidates say about those issues.

So make a list. Maybe you’re worried about wildfires on the West Coast. Perhaps you think teachers deserve to make more money. Maybe you want people to be treated fairly no matter what color their skin is.

Koch suggests making a list of three to five issues that you care about. If your family is talking a lot about the issues they care about, ask them not to when you’re around. That way, you can form your own opinions without their influence.

Have your list handy while you watch a debate. Did one candidate have a good plan for stopping the wildfires? Check his name next to that item on your list. Which candidate seemed like he cared about education? Make another check mark on your list. At the end of the debate, add up the checks. Which candidate was your winner?

Finally, says Koch, it’s important to know that there’s not going to be a candidate whom you agree with 100 percent. But you’ll agree with one of them enough, hopefully, to make a decision about who you think should be the next president.

Happy debate watching!

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts at the time of the 2012 presidential debate. He was a former governor of Massachusetts at that time. It also stated that Vanderbilt University’s John Koch was 10 in 1988. He was 6 at the time. The story has been updated.