An exciting, heated presidential race offers parents an opportunity to teach kids some important things about life -- not just about which political party to vote for. As you watch debates, ads and other election coverage with your kids, you can help them learn analytical, social and problem-solving skills. Here are three things we're trying to teach our kids as we watch the Presidential race of 2012:
- There are two sides to every story. No wait, actually, there are MORE than two sides to every story...
Politicians love to act like every political issue is black and white. Either you are on the right side or the wrong side. But, as we know, there's usually good arguments for and against almost every political decision. Not only that, but also, wouldn't it be great if we could sometimes think outside the box and come up with some new solutions that have never been doggedly latched onto by either political party as the sole means of working out the problem?
So, in an effort to help our kids think analytically, objectively and wisely about politics, we watch election coverage with our kids, and then we often argue both sides. Just when our kids are convinced one candidate has the right answer for an issue, like the economy say (as if the economy is some simple "issue" that can be solved by one side's political strategy while the other side will destroy America for sure), we begin to argue the opponent's political view on the issue. Convincingly. Then, when the kids are like, "Oh yeah, we didn't think of that, we should vote for him instead," we start to throw other variables and questions at them. In the end, we've had some good discussions on how complex political issues can be and how both sides can have good ideas and bad -- at the same time even.
- Seek first to listen and understand, then to be understood...
I'm really waiting for the day when a Democratic candidate sincerely says, "Look, Republicans, I understand that you don't want big government to interfere with personal freedom and a free market. We don't want that either. We do, however, think the Federal government can more effectively oversee this particular issue resulting in a better situation for all Americans. Here's how we think we can do that, and here's how we'll address your concerns..."
Or conversely, the Republican candidate who says, "Look, Democrats, I understand that you believe access to health care for all Americans is a very important issue. We also believe that to be true. We think we can achieve that without relying so heavily on the government by... And to make sure your concerns are addressed we will..."
Most average American Republicans don't want kids to die because their parents can't afford health care. And the average American Democrat doesn't want to steal all the hard earned money from those who have worked for it and give it to people looking for a free ride. Why does there have to be such vitriol? Why not acknowledge each side's concerns and ideas?
We like to use politicians and their often mean spirited debates as a "what-not-to-do" example for the kids. Then, when they are having an argument with each other, we remind them to understand, acknowledge and work out a solution together. We reinforce what they are learning at school in the 7 Habits program -- think win-win. The website Learning Peace has a great explanation of the steps to effectively resolving conflict. Maybe by teaching our kids this now, they can use it to make the world a better, nicer and more effective place when they are in charge.
- Be part of the solution...
Our world has problems. That's never going to change. But no matter how small our circle of influence, we can all be part of the solution. Isn't that an empowering idea for kids? They can change the world -- and they can do it right now, every day, just by doing their best to be part of the solution in their own sphere.
We can't all be President. Most of us wouldn't want to. But we can do our best to become as educated as possible (I say "as possible," because hey, even those who have degrees in various areas of knowledge don't always agree on the best solutions) about both sides of the issues and cast the best vote we can according to our own consciences. We can support those leaders who have undertaken the task that most of us wouldn't want to by helping in our own communities and disagreeing respectfully.
Most importantly, we can teach our kids all of these things as we lead by example. If we make it a priority to be educated, to disagree respectfully, to understand others' points of view, and to make a positive difference in our own homes and communities, then our children will learn to make these things a priority as well. The future of the world will be much better for it.
And of course, we can capitalize on our kids' interest in the election to learn concrete educational stuff like how the government works as well. Here are some resources from around About.com: