The first presidential debate is rapidly approaching, and it's sure to be strange, entertaining, and probably horrifying too. While you're likely stocking up on plenty of adult beverages to get through the experience, your little ones may be wondering if they can see what all the fuss is about. So, should you let your kids watch the presidential debates? It's definitely essential to talk to your children about the election, but letting them watch Monday's debate is a risky move, partially because the debate this year is so unpredictable.
In any other year, it would be a great idea to watch the presidential debate with your children, assuming they were old enough to stay awake for it. Two intelligent, civic-minded people, exchanging different ideas about the future of our country! What better way to get your kids excited about government, and encourage their critical thinking skills?
But this year, we have Donald Trump. And if his performance in the primary debates is any indication, he's more interested in defending the size of his manhood and spouting dangerous lies than discussing high-minded ideas. There's a very real chance he may make racist, sexist, xenophobic, or otherwise deplorable (to borrow Hillary Clinton's word choice) comments, and those types of sentiments with such a far-reaching platform could be disturbing to children watching. When a debate becomes less an exchange of ideas and more a display of bullying and mean-spiritedness, it risks giving kids the wrong idea of what American politics should be.
Add to those concerns the fact that the rhetoric used in this election often skews toward the apocalyptic—ISIS is coming to kill us all! Our cities are rife with violent crime!—and children are liable to freak out. After all, even adults are getting Election Stress Disorder. And many Latino children in particular are terrified by Trump's promises to "build the wall." So perhaps it's not the best idea to make kids watch 90 commercial-free minutes of those ideas.
On the other hand, children are definitely picking up on the current election anyway, and if you aren't talking about it with them, they risk not getting the full picture. Watching the debate together could prove a valuable learning experience, as long as parents are willing to put in some hard work, and suppress their own urges to scream at the screen.
Dr. Stephanie O'Leary, a clinical psychologist and mother of two, recommends that parents take time to discuss the election with kids. She urges parents to "send the message that respect is non-negotiable." She also notes,
Guide but don't push. If your child cites misinformation or parrots headlines without a solid understanding of the issues, take time to review facts and give your child space to draw his or her own conclusions.
The National Children's Book and Library Association also has a thorough guide on how to watch the debates with your children, recommending that parents "make an event" of it.
Whether or not parents let their children watch the full debate, it's definitely important to discuss the current political situation with them fairly and hysteria-free—even if inside your head, you're worried that the end of the world is nigh.