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Parenting Tips for Today’s Political Climate

October 5th, 2020     By Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

Acceptance, Anxiety, Inclusion, Parenting Skills

​​With election day right around the corner, today's political climate is a challenging, often exhausting experience for many parents, kids and families. This is especially true during the pandemic when tensions and worries are already on high alert concerning health, finances and education. On top of that, parents are now dealing with a highly stressful election that many children and teens are engaged in and following more closely than ever before. The following two blogs offer you some practical, clear advice about how to help your kids navigate and express themselves during this difficult election season.  

Teaching Social Tolerance in Today's Political Climate

The current presidential election has created intense feelings for many people – adolescents included. Those feelings and thoughts are often expressed using social media. While it's great that young people are engaged in the political process and want to use social media as a way to express those thoughts and feelings, often times they need guidance on how to formulate a digestible opinion. Before they do this, it's important for parents to see this experience as a teachable moment for helping young people learn how to express themselves in ways that are consumable by others. Here are some suggestions for teaching teens to post online in appropriate and productive ways:

  • Acknowledge that online posting is a developmentally appropriate way for teens to express themselves and their opinions. Even though you may not choose to post your own opinions online or have had a negative experience with posting political views online, that doesn't mean you can't teach your teen how to effectively use social media as a communication outlet. Posting online can be a healthy outlet for young people as long as they know how to do so properly.
  • Communicate with your teen. Discuss the election and their political views. Help them decipher and better formulate their opinions. Work with them on developing written (and verbal) ways to express their opinions that are respectful so they can be heard and listened to by others.
  • Discuss the importance of listening to other diverse and opposing points of view and how to be tolerant and accepting of them. Help kids understand that to be heard and understood, it's critical they also listen and attempt to understand others. Diversity and different points of view are a staple of our country and the communities we live in. That's why teaching young people about tolerance and acceptance, and that diverse opinions and values can co-exist, is so important. The idea here is to teach teens that even though people can completely disagree, tolerance and acceptance allows people to understand one another without having to agree or trying to change others' opinions.
  • Model appropriate behavior and talk with your teen about what an appropriate online post looks and sounds like. Before they post, ask them to think about questions like: Why is it important to me to post about this topic? What is the value in posting this? What's the message that I have? Also, encourage your teen to think about how others might interpret their post instead of looking at it just from their perspective.
  • Praise teens for being informed, educating themselves and having an opinion on politics and the election. One of the positive outcomes from this election is it has inspired and engaged teens and young people on political issues and the political process. Encourage your teen to remain engaged on current events and discuss how this is an important part of being an informed, responsible citizen.

As a parent, you may want to deter your teen from posting controversial views like political ones online because you are worried they might offend others and/or receive negative backlash. One of the inherent hazards of online posting is that we might offend someone without meaning to do so. That's why it's important to prepare and teach young people how to express their views and beliefs in ways that are consumable versus objectionable.

At Election Time, Wage Your Own Campaign to Teach Kids Positive Behaviors

It is exhausting and dispiriting to see so many attack ads from politicians, both on television and the internet. Between all the name-calling and unsupported claims, what is being modeled for our kids? That if you tear a person down enough, people will like you more and want to support you? At Boys Town, we know that's not true, and most parents don't think so either.

At Boys Town, we have a more positive way to teach kids about citizenship and the electoral process. Each year since 1935, the youth of Boys Town have elected a Mayor and a Vice Mayor from the upcoming senior class. There are a few guidelines every candidate must follow in order to run for these offices:

  • You must respect all other candidates.
  • Your campaign can last only two weeks.
  • You cannot make promises you can't keep.
  • You can't use food as a campaign gimmick or as an incentive to get people to vote for you.
  • You can post only a set number of campaign flyers and posters.

Wouldn't it be nice if we only had to put up with political ads for the last two weeks leading up to the election?

Your kids probably have seen many of the current campaigns' attack ads and have questions. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about politics and the appropriate behaviors candidates should display. Those behaviors include being respectful of others, disagreeing appropriately, being willing to listen to others and working together to solve problems.

You also can have discussions with your kids about why you support or disagree with certain candidates or positions, and how your faith influences your political decisions. (Check out resources like the League of Women Voters® for helpful information.)

Election season can be a very exciting time. But it can be confusing for children, especially when the candidates seem more interested in slinging mud than talking about important issues in a constructive manner.  As a parent, you can teach your child about the positive side of politics and the good behaviors that go with it.

Check out these links to learn more about the  Boys Town's mayoral election and our  self-government history.

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