ParenTalk- Talking to Older Kids About Politics
Political matters garner strong opinions. They often seem inappropriate to discuss in front of children. Parents are instinctive to shield their children from such topics. However, it is important to introduce children to politics. It is a way of making them ready for the real world. Experts recommend keeping the discussions age-appropriate and talking about politicians, their role in policymaking, governance, etc.
Why is it important to introduce politics to children?
Politics plays a major role in our lives. As an adult who doesn’t know much about politics and struggles to make sense of it all, I wish I had learnt more as a child.
Also, every child will be a voter in the future. To ensure a better future, we need to raise a generation of informed voters who will depend on information more than polarizing opinions and misinformation. It may seem that you still have a lot of time before your children reach the voting age. However, it is never too early to teach them about the functioning of government.
Discussions about politics enable the kids to understand how their actions affect other people. They will also help them form opinions and enable them to deal with contrary opinions respectfully.
When to start talking about politics to children?
There isn’t a specific age guideline for discussions about politics. It is best to let the child lead the discussions. If they ask questions, answer them elaborately. Children are curious about it all when campaigns begin and they come across posters and rallies. Rather than avoiding their questions or offering curt replies, parents must discuss how the government works and what are elections meant for. This will help to create a firm foundation for such concepts. This will also help them understand social responsibility.
What you talk about will depend on their age. Talking about sharing, being kind, taking turns, listening without interrupting, and disagreeing with civility are some concepts that you introduce early in life. However, you mostly won’t mention politics explicitly while talking about these to a 4-year-old. With older children, you can talk about the social impact of being unkind and not sharing or taking turns. This way you can introduce politics and how it governs our lives.
Around secondary school, topics such as law, citizenship, democracy, functioning of government will also be a part of the school curriculum. Take this opportunity to discuss these topics in detail. Go beyond the syllabus and open avenues for better understanding.
How to talk about politics and help the children understand without overwhelming them?
It may seem hard to talk to your child about politics, but it isn’t as tough if you have done your research right. Make sure that you do not give them the wrong information. If you do not know the answer to a question they ask, read up and then answer. Here is how you can help them understand:
Use analogies with real-life situations: Make it easy for them to understand by using examples that they can relate with. For instance, tell them about budgets and allocation by taking an example of your salary and how you use it for different goals like buying food, school fees, etc. You could also talk to them about how everyone’s opinions are accounted for before making decisions in the house as an example of democracy.
Give examples to show the impact of politics on everyday life: While your children may not understand complex policies and decisions, discuss simple examples that affect everyday life. For instance, the mandate on wearing helmets or the ban on single-use plastic.
Read books about history, politics, and elections: Reading books on relevant topics with your children will equip them with the right information and also raise more questions for you to answer.
Read or watch the news together: When you watch a news bulletin or read a newspaper together, it will open up discussions about politics. You can keep it child-led and answer their questions as they surface. Whether this exercise is ideal for your family will depend on your child’s age and level of understanding. If you do not wish to overwhelm them, pick some news pieces and narrate them yourself. This way you can filter triggering news and talk to them only about aspects that you think are appropriate at that stage. You can also subscribe to child-friendly news publications and channels.
Let them know about people in power and their role: Talk to them about issues that citizens in your area face and tell them who will resolve them. For instance, if the road leading to their school is broken, encourage them to write to the local authorities and request for resolution. This will let them understand how politics determines if the citizens are comfortable or not.
Talk about democracy: Many videos present the concept of democracy in an easy and child-friendly way. Talk about democracy and what it means and watch videos with your child to let them know that they have a role to play in ensuring a bright future. Also, let them know about democratic rights and duties.
Sign e-petitions with them: Choose issues that your child is passionate about and sign online petitions with them. For instance, if your child is concerned about the impact of plastic pollution on marine life, let them know the bodies of government that can ban plastics or create other laws to help with this issue. Identify petitions, talk to your child about the contents and sign them online. This way you let them know that they can influence decision-making despite not being old enough to vote.
Take them with you when you cast your vote: Make sure that you choose to vote over other leisure plans. This will benefit the nation and also help the child to understand that voting is an important exercise. Take them along when you go to vote. This way they can see the voting process. This will raise a multitude of questions in their mind that you can answer. For me, going to the polling booth is one of my fond memories from childhood.
Help them form their opinions: When we have strong political views, we often try to influence others. Children are highly impressionable; telling them never to vote for a particular party or that a certain politician is good may seem tempting. However, doing so will curb their critical thinking. It is a good idea to talk about issues, discuss what a particular party or politician has done in this regard and let them form their opinion. Pushing your own agenda may win you a loyalist for the party you support but will prevent your child from thinking independently and forming their political voice.
- Teach them to be respectful during political disagreements: When you disagree with a friend or someone in the family on political matters, do not let the discussions get too heated. If they do, resolve them in front of the child to model the right behavior. Let them know that there will always be disagreements and they should maintain their calm when their friends or others have varying political views. Begin by letting them know that holding a contrary political opinion doesn’t make someone your enemy. Also, let them know that relationships are more important than political views and there is no point in burning bridges over such disagreements.
Exposing your child to politics and related topics will improve their critical thinking abilities. It will also help them to be informed citizens capable of decision-making. Introduce the concepts to them, answer their questions and help them form opinions. You will be amazed at their grasping abilities and maturity.
All the best!
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.