Parents, Teachers, and Politics
Parents, Teachers, and Politics
We need to teach our children how to participate in civil discussions about topics they disagree about, including things that matter a lot to them. This is critical to the future health of our democracy.
At present, most politicians are acting the way co-parents in the ugliest divorces act — more interested in blaming the other side for everything that is wrong than in finding constructive ways to move forward. In politics, the other side could mean their opponent in particular or the other political party in general. In divorce, it’s the other parent. In politics, all citizens suffer from living with the consequences of embattled, dysfunctional political and news media systems. In the ugliest divorces, all children suffer from living with embattled, dysfunctional parents. Don Saposnik and Bill Eddy have written about this in Splitting America: How Politicians, Super PACs, and the News Media Mirror High Conflict Divorce.
This article is not about divorce. It’s about teaching all of the children in the country how to do something that many adults seem to have forgotten how to do. Kids need to see and hear examples of civil discourse about areas of serious disagreement. They need to see and hear people who can talk respectfully with each other about why they disagree about reducing the size of government, reducing taxes, letting people have abortions, legalizing marijuana, wealth redistribution, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, making quality education available to kids born in inner city slums, estate taxes, building more and wider roads, protecting our environment, regulating crony capitalism, avoiding the dangers of too much socialism, and other tough issues.
Sadly, most of our teens, tweens, and younger children are not going to see civil discourse in political campaigns, Congressional debates, or news coverage of political issues. If they are going to learn how to do better than we are doing now, they are going to have to learn it mainly from their parents, teachers, and religious leaders, with maybe a little help from coaches, scout troop leaders, and other youth group leaders.
Kids learn by seeing and hearing respectful discussions of areas of conflict. They learn it by being asked and helped to participate in such discussions.
Parents, if you know how to fight constructively, do it in front of your kids, so they can learn from your example. If you do not know how to do it, read Crucial Conversations and practice. Let your teens and tweens participate in discussions about rules and disciplinary practices in your family. Treat them with respect during those discussions. You are still the parents and you still get to make the decisions, but your kids need to know that you have heard them. They need to have a voice and to practice using it respectfully.
Teachers, if you know how to guide civil discourse, teach your students to participate in respectful debates. Teach them to be ready and able to argue in favor of either side of a divisive issue. They need to know that neither major political party is always right and neither is always wrong.
Everybody, practice having civil conversations with neighbors you disagree with. Here is a link to a short video that might give you something to talk about. If you watch it with a prejudiced opinion in mind and just react to what supports or offends that opinion, you may have difficulty making good use of it. If you watch it with an open mind and talk about it respectfully with people who often disagree with your political views, you may be able to set a good example for your kids. You may even develop some new ideas about solving a political problem.
Politics and news reporting have become terribly polarized. As citizens of one country, we need to relearn how to talk with each other about how things are, how we want them to be, and what we can do to solve some of the problems we see. If the next generation to govern our country is going to govern well, we need give them good examples to copy and teach them how to participate constructively in difficult conversations.
Virginia L Colin, Ph.D. is a Professional Family Mediator certified by the Virginia Supreme Court. She is not a politician, an attorney, or a therapist. For a free consultation about whether family mediation would be helpful for you, contact her at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703-864-2101.