Talking To Kids About Respecting Our Leaders: How Viewing The President Has Changed Over Time
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Growing up, I remember two things about politics. Seeing Jimmy Carter at the Springfield, Missouri airport; and how much emotion and conflict politics caused when my extended family was together.
I knew my parents were Democrats, but didn’t know what that meant. I don’t remember seeing my parents vote, asking my parents about the President, or discussing current events. I wasn’t counting down the days until my eighteenth birthday so I could vote.
Today, in contrast, kids understand and talk about politics. They don’t just talk with us, they talk about it with their friends at school (gasp!). Why is that, and what is has changed?
Politics are being discussed more and more at home. My kids knew exactly which friends’ parents were voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. They knew as much about the Senate race as what was happening in their favorite YouTube shows. Dare I say they talked about it as much as their Fortnite wins?
Our political environment has changed since I was growing up.
It’s accessible and discussed 24 hours a day on a multitude of platforms – from TV to social media. Just think about how much time you spend watching the news (even if it’s just in the background). Our kids are absorbing all of that. I was talking to a friend who pointed out how much even Saturday Night Live has changed. It’s become almost completely a political satire.
I want to create a space where we can safely talk about anything, even the hard stuff. I strongly believe politics doesn’t have to be polarizing. We each can unite rather than divide. I invite my kids to take action with me, and they witness my support for causes important to me. Last year, my son and I marched in a rally to protect kids from gun violence. Both of my kids knew I participated in the Women’s March a few years ago.
My kids have come with me to vote multiple times, I talk about my views – and ask about theirs – and we have open discussions about important topics like immigration, the environment, taxes, healthcare, gun control, abortion. During the recent Senate race, my son really wanted to understand why I liked Beto, and he questioned me – forcing me to do more research! Side note: I’m learning it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
But one discussion we haven’t had when it comes to politics specifically is respecting our President. Now let’s break down what respect really means. There are two noun-based meanings. First, “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” We can’t force anyone – including our children – to admire someone. That is deeply earned, personal and unique. However, the second meaning, “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” YES! This is it! Another word to describe this specific meaning is civility. Or, politeness and courtesy.
Regardless of who the President is, who is sitting next to my child at lunch, the coach or teacher who is instructing my kids, the vulnerable person asking for help at the side of the road, and oneself… each deserves respect in the form of regard, civility and courtesy. It’s important to re-frame what respect means.
No, not everyone deserves to be admired. However, everyone deserves to be regarded.
So let’s talk about that with our kids. In every aspect of our lives, we are modeling how to act – eyes are watching us. In our current political environment, it is easy to be angry and criticize our country’s leadership, or those with different political views. Yet we want our kids to respect adults, even ones we don’t agree with or are difficult. This behavior is inconsistent and confusing for them, and I am guilty of it.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying we need to LIKE or AGREE with our current President, but respecting (regarding) him is a necessity.
This quote encapsulates why this is important: “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection on yours,” Dave Willis.
I recently received an email from one of my daughter’s teachers letting me know she was acting disrespectfully in her tone and words. I was floored and embarrassed. Yet this provided an excellent – and much needed – conversation about our absolute expectation that everyone deserves our respect.
But what does respecting someone – especially someone you don’t personally know and/or agree with – look like? What tools can we provide our kids to truly understand what this means?
- Model it in big and small ways. Forbes recently published “Eight Inspiring People Share Their Must-Watch TED Talks.” One of them is Victoria Pratt talking about how respect is contagious (note: not suitable for kids younger than 10).
- I agree with this powerful statement from a professor of political science at Stanford, “The big and compelling need we have in this country is for people to look at both sides of an issue and distinguish between facts and rumors and pseudo-facts.” Encourage your kids to ask questions, dig deeper and question until they understand. Show them where they can seek the truth.
- Encourage your kids to get involved in issues that are important to them. For example, my son is in student council. Being a part of politics is a great way to show how hard it is. Write letters to our local City Council. I recently learned about the process it took to bring major league soccer to Austin, it opened my eyes to the power we have with our local leaders.
- Talk. This is a great opportunity to discuss what you stand for. I am blown away for our independent and critical thinkers. And respect isn’t only for others, it’s important we treat ourselves with respect as well.
According to the Stanford professor quoted earlier, “Parents have a tremendous influence on the interest people have in politics, the values they bring to politics, and the habits they have with regard to citizenship.” Let’s MODEL what it looks like to respectfully agree or disagree. Let’s model and reiterate our values and expectations that every fellow human being should be respected (regarded).