Elections are in the air! With a new Presidential election gearing up, the evening news is portraying an ever more polarized nation, with varying degrees of logic thrown into the mix occasionally to balance out the idealism and rhetoric. Teenagers are beginning to express those same polarized positions, and some question just how much teens understand – or care – about politics.
If you have teenagers still at home, you have a golden opportunity to guide your teen through the experience of learning how politics in this country works, and doesn’t. Your teen may claim not to care one way or the other, and you then can find ways to engage him or her in a discussion of the issues facing our nation.
A few years ago, I was privy to a fascinating conversation between two teenagers, where each took an opposite position on who should win the Presidential election. While each teen expressed their opinions clearly, neither one seemed to have a grasp of any factual basis for their strong feelings. It was easy to imagine them overhearing their parents’ discussions during evening newscasts and then taking a strong stand, not realizing that their opinions were just that – opinions.
How to guide your teen’s understanding of politics.
No matter how many times your teenager rolls his eyes and ignores what you say, he really is paying attention. Just as you watched your words when your child was first learning language, now you must watch your words and practice being a mindful parent as you help guide your teenager into a age-appropriate thinking understanding of the political issues facing our nation.
What the heck does that mean?
I am quite certain that if you bring out the economics textbook you had back in college or try to describe the workings of the House of Representatives, your teenager will find an urgent need to rake up the leaves on the front lawn. If you find yourself expressing strong opinions about the current politicians or potential ones, your teen will learn mindless rhetoric. And if you believe that the issues don’t really affect your teenager or you don’t believe in “the system” enough to discuss it with your child, you are doing both of you a great disservice.
Remember, until your child is grown and gone, your primary task as a parent is to prepare him or her to live successfully as an adult. That role of teacher, mentor, example, and guide, is absolutely vital to your teen’s development. Don’t give up on your primary job, even when it involves searching for ways to guide your teen’s understanding of the political issues facing our nation.
Questions to ask your teen about political issues.
Here’s how this can play out in the real world.
Rather than voicing your disgust for the gridlock that seems to often grip the states’ representatives, ask your teen questions. Ask what they would suggest if two groups of adults are unable to reach a compromise. Their answers may surprise you.
Rather than expressing your opinion of whether or not a particular politician has done a good job, ask your teen. They may have an opinion that is not based in fact. Choose just one issue with one politician, and guide your teen through discovering what it means to support a person in politics who is human, handicapped frequently by the marvelous checks and balance system designed to protect the American people, and varying degrees of personal integrity.
Use news of politics as a starting point for conversations with your teenager, not as a platform to making pronouncements that your teen may well repeat without thought.
If you have family friends who hold different political views than you do, model gentle willingness to allow for disagreement. It is amazing how often folks forget that both ends of the political spectrum are filled with intelligent people. Your teen will copy your gentleness, or your contempt.
If you are serious about raising a teenager to adulthood with a compassionate willingness to support others who think and believe differently than he does, make certain that your example is giving that same message!
Is there a difference between being opinionated and being an activist? When do activists go too far? When is compromise appropriate and when is it not okay? What issues are deal breakers for you? Chances are very good they are not the same issues that matter to your teenager. Get to know the political issues that impact your teenager at his school. Get your teen involved in the political experience of your neighborhood, your town. Use politics as a starting point for conversations, not as a soap box from which to make sweeping statements.
Finally, if your teen forms political opinions that are different than yours, celebrate! He is learning to think for himself. Remember that yours is not the only voice trying to get your teenager’s attention about politics. Be mindful, be intentional, be insistent about helping your teenager to form their own opinion and take their own stand on important issues rather than just becoming a follower of a popular position.
Today’s teenager will become tomorrow’s voting adult. Part of your job as the parent of a teenager is to help guide him into being a thinking person – one able to evaluate issues, give grace to human-ness, become more than a voice of criticism, willing to participate in creating something better.
How have you asked your teenager questions about politics? Do you struggle not to be overly critical of current or potential politicians in your teen’s presence? Does your teen say he doesn’t care? How have you involved yourself and your teenager in local politics as a way to guide your teen’s understanding of the process? We learn from each other – share your experiences here!