Politics and children are natural playmates. I know it probably doesn't seem like it, but just think about it for a minute. Think about what your kids want on a daily basis. The power to make decisions. They want to win, they want to be right. They want people to agree with them and bow to their will. So, you know... they're basically little politicians, right? But how do you get your kids to become involved in politics?
As a mom of four boys, I can tell you it was a different story with each kid. My three younger guys all ran the gamut from actively passionate to mildly disinterested. It should be noted they all have very strong opinions about one candidate in particular in the 2016 presidential race. (I'll give you three guesses as to which one.)
My oldest son, on one hand, was a natural politician. He was forever taking charge of things with his friends, deciding who would do what and when and for how long. He could argue his way out of pretty much every situation. But beyond those cynical stereotypes we all recognize, he had another quality I tend to equate with good politicians. He was born with natural empathy. Even as a little boy he wanted to help people, especially people he didn't think could help themselves.
If I'm being honest, I would tell you that I had zero interest in politics until my kids came along. At which point I finally opened my eyes and noticed the deteriorating environment, the issues with health care, the troubling economy. I wanted change for my kids. But more than that, I wanted to change things for themselves. And here is how I (tried) to go about it.
Incorporate Democracy In Daily Decisions
Who wants pizza and who wants burgers? Would you rather go to the park or the museum? What color should we paint the bathroom? Our house is a constantly evolving democracy, and my sons have learned to lobby with the best of them. When one of them wants to, say, go to the movies and the others want to hang out at home, the odd man out begins his campaign. He pulls up trailers of the movie he wants, offers (I'm ashamed to admit) small bribes or "incentives". Until he breaks the others down. Luckily I remain the President of the McGuire household and still hold veto power. So maybe we're a little more like a dictatorship.
Relate It To Television Or Movies
My son once helped me decide who I was voting for by relating the choices to Game of Thrones. Before you judge, he is almost a man. Plus, his Lannister vs. Baratheon analogy was pure poetry. The reality is, your kids probably connect with their favorite characters on TV more than you realize. So if you can find some way to make a cohesive political analogy to, say, SpongeBob SquarePants, you win Parent of the Year!
Show Them How Choices Make Change
I don't know about you, but making choices for themselves was basically my kids' favorite thing. If you can show them how choices make change, it's a deceptively simple way to get them to understand the fundamentals of politics.
Get Them Fired Up!
I think a healthy sense of outrage should be cultivated. There's nothing wrong with getting your kids all fired up about the injustice in the world. Protecting them, as is our wont as parents, isn't always the answer. If you see something wrong, see someone lying or being cruel or hurtful, speak up. Teach your kids to speak up. Show them examples of politicians who speak up and make the world a better place.
Teach Them Empathy
And now that you've gotten them fired up, remind them about the monumental importance of empathy. If it doesn't come naturally to them (and don't worry if it doesn't right away, kids are wonderfully selfish little beings), lead by example. Try to show them how to give a crap about other people every single day. Instill in them the need to give a crap about the way our world turns out. If you can manage to do that... why, not to get too sappy on you here, but the world might just turn out to be a beautiful place after all.
Allow Them To Participate
Take your kids to a rally if you're really feeling brave. They'll be able to see how excited people get over politics and the democratic system as well — just, you know, be careful which one they attend.
There are plenty of ways to get your little ones (or not so little ones) involved in the sometimes-tangled process of American politics — just remember that they'll probably want an ice cream cone afterward. (Who wouldn't?)