Politics is one of those things that is considered to be a topic for adults and adults only. No one expects children to debate the latest tax reform or complain about a foreign policy decision. Instead, people figure that most children will find politics boring. In many cases, people who think that way are not wrong. Many children do find politics boring. That said, many children also find math boring. They still have to learn about it. Does politics fall in that same category? Should parents be talking about politics with their children or let them form their own opinions when they are adults?
Adults may think that by avoiding discussing certain topics, they are letting their children grow up as a sort of blank slate. If the adults do not force their own opinions on their children, those children will be able to decide what they really think when they are old enough to consider the topic. This is nonsense. Children form all sorts of opinions based on the snippets of conversation they overhear or from watching how their parents react to certain things. Even if parents hide in another room and close the door when they discuss political issues, children are likely to pick up on whether the house tends to be conservative or liberal.
Hiding a topic away will not convince children to form their own opinions. Instead, they will be determined to listen at the door and find out what the adults are discussing. Nothing is more interesting to human beings of all shapes, sizes and ages than a secret. Generations of children from all over the world have made it a point to eavesdrop on their parents when they know the adults are hiding something. That the topic is politics will not make children less likely to spy on the conversation. Politics may be boring to them, but if the parents are trying to hide it, there must be something more interesting about it! It is the temptation of forbidden fruit. It is a natural assumption of humanity that if someone is hiding something, that something is interesting, valuable or both.
Parents who believe that they can raise a child who is a political blank slate are fooling themselves. People, whether they are adults or children, have opinions on just about everything. Even “I don’t care” is an opinion. It is a stance of either complete neutrality or, more often, utter apathy. Children are not devoid of opinions on topics simply because they have not explored them extensively. You could ask a child about almost any political subject and, once they have even the slightest grasp of the concept, get an opinion. Parents who want to raise a child who decides what they believe when they are old enough are destined to fail. Children do not exist in a vacuum. They will inevitably encounter political opinions. They might hear their friends’ parents talking about such topics, a teacher or coach might mention it or a child simply might be stuck listening to those unskippable advertisements on YouTube during election season.
Since children are going to be exposed to political thoughts and opinions anyway, parents should be prepared to discuss the issues with their children. In today’s day and age, parents should be especially sure to instill in their children the understanding that differing political beliefs are not an acceptable reason to be cruel to another person, ostracize them or insult them. Children will inevitably see that behavior in other people, but parents can help keep them from copying it.
Encouraging a child to be friends or even simply civil acquaintances with people who think differently will help expand a child’s worldview. They will get to spend time with someone who has different opinions and learn to see the world from another person’s perspective. It will also teach them how to handle working with or talking with someone who is very different than themselves. This is an important skill that they will need when they get older.
As much as many children are uninterested in politics, there is the occasional child who is actually very curious about what those people are talking about on TV. In that case, parents have a responsibility to encourage their child’s interest. One good way to do that is to talk about current events with the child. The child may decide that they do actually find politics boring when they start digging into its nuances, but they may also find it to be even more fascinating than ever. There is no way to know for certain unless the child explores their interest, and they will have trouble doing that without parental approval and assistance.
Whether a set of parents like politics or not, there is no denying that they are important to understand. A basic interest in politics will help make a person a better citizen by keeping them more informed about issues and any candidates running in an upcoming election. Given that the United States is often mocked for its low electoral turnout, a bit more interest in politics can only be a good thing to encourage in children.
Instilling at least a basic understanding of politics into a child will also help keep them from getting into trouble in their teens. Plenty of political and pseudo-political organizations that cause violence have causes that sound good, but are actually ridiculous in practice. Discussing politics with children, and encouraging them to think through the potential consequences of each decision, will help them avoid getting swept up in the excitement when they get older.
Politics are an unusual choice of discussion for parents and children, but there are many reasons to be open to having these types of conversations. Children are going to learn about and explore such things anyway. They may as well learn some of it from their parents. If they decide they disagree later in life, they are welcome to do so. The family will just have to agree to disagree.