So, I asked them.
I also happened to be throwing an improptu birthday party for my son, and with about half of the kid residents of the neighborhood crowded into my kitchen awaiting their own slice of birthday cake, I wondered what they thought about the election as well.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t remember myself or my friends being terribly interested in political discourse as 7-10 years olds, (I did take it upon myself to write and mail a letter to President Reagan asking him to get rid of nuclear weapons, but that was the extent of my interest.) but I was a bit surprised at the response I got. These kids weren’t casual observers, in fact, they had opinions. They knew who they were “voting for”, why they were “going to vote”, and who they expected to win. Not only were they invested in the election, the race and the results, they were also were aware of the issues around the election.
“Mitt Romney gives some of his money to the poor every year,” said one 8-year-old little girl, and a couple of the kids nodded in agreement. But, she was immediately “corrected” by a 7-year-old who said, “My mom is voting for Obama, and I can tell you that Romney does not give money to the poor. He hates poor people.”
I told them to take it easy.
Perhaps because he was a slightly wiser 9-years-old, another boy chimed in and said,”They’re all politicians; they just say stuff to get elected. No politician gives away money.”
So, I asked them what they thought about the men running for office, did they think, for instance that these were “good” men? And, much like their adult counterparts, the kids fervently believed that the candidate they hoped would win was a “good man.”
Since it was a birthday party, afterall, I thanked them for sharing with me and decided to let them go back to discussing the finer points of gift wrap shredding.
While I don’t know if these kids happened to be more aware of politics because it was election day, or if it has something to do with the area where I live or the parenting practices at home, or if information is so much more prevalently streaming into daily life through multiple media sources that kids can’t help but absorb political discourse. What was clear to me is that children are often more cognizant of the endeavors of the adult world than we sometime give them credit for. If these kids are any indication, they’re also much more politically aware than, say, previous generations of American youth.
For my part, I can tell you that I was very surprised by my own children’s responses, since I rarely let them watch television and because their opinions were so obviously their own. Some of their thoughts were a direct counterpoint to my own views, for instance. Which made me wonder about the type of information children recieve about things like elections, democracy or national policy. Admittedly, if it isn’t discussed in classrooms, or with parents, the most obvious way children might ingest this kind of information is through the mainstream media. Although the media has its place, purpose and use, if that is the filter many kids get their information from, they are likely to get a skewed version of American politics, since polarizing topics, angry pundits and campaign smear ads abound.
So, what does a caregiver do about all of this?
As a mom, my instincts are to give my kids a solid foundation of bias-free reputable information, and thankfully there are lots of resources out there. We’re in charge of raising upcoming generation that faces many challenges and needs to be informed about the history of their nation, as well as the nature of democracy, liberty, and, yes, elections. That way, as children are learning they can draw from a vast reservior of knowledge that doesn’t limit them to one political polarity or another. When they’re ready, they’ll ask you for your opinions and you can discuss what you believe with these kids, since they’ll need guidance. Until then, the following list has some great resources for caregivers, teachers and kids.
This website is full of election news coverage created by kids, for other kids, educational political games, videos, opinion polls and information that teaches kids all about the election process. Also, be sure to look at the parent’s guide.
Our Country’s Presidents: All You Need to Know about the Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama (Update 2001)
This book from National Geographic has biographical information about every president, and the historical issues they faced while in office, including civil rights, the civil war, great speeches, and other national successes and challenges.
It’s a book where kids can, “find out why George Washington gave up his life as a Virginia planter to lead the nation; why John Taylor was deemed “His Accidency”; walk with the presidents through wars, depressions, civil rights movements, and the space race; romp with the Garfield children in a White House pillow fight; and mourn with a nation for John F. Kennedy.”
For curious kids who might wonder what it would be like to live in the White House, or who are interested in the lives of the first family, this is a great book for kids, since it helps them see the president and his family as “real people”.
For anyone hoping for a greater understanding of the presidential election process, this is a wonderful book that teaches kids all about the system we use to elect national leaders.