My son, Antonio, is reaching the age where he’s curious about absolutely everything. Why I was five minutes late getting home from work. Why I have my hand in his trick-or-treat bag. You get the idea. The kid is curious. At times, it’s a challenge. As parents, our instinct is to keep our children “innocent” as long as possible. So maybe we don’t let them hear us curse in traffic, or we don’t let them see violence on the news, or partial nudity in magazines. But either way, we try to, as we call it, “protect them” from that in this world which we find ugly or deplorable, or simply inappropriate for kids their age. But come election time, a conversation is inevitable. It’s even necessary. And I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, regardless of the result.
Antonio came home from school with a suspicious smirk on his face two weeks ago. I knew instantly that something was up.
“What’s going on, Antonio?” I asked him.
“I’m voting for Trump!” he exclaimed, with a greater sense of pride than I can remember seeing in him.
Clearly, this was a conversation I needed to have with him, whether I was prepared for it or not. It’s part of being a parent. So, I sat him down and tried my best to explain things in a way that a curious 7-year-old would understand.
“Antonio, I know that there’s a lot of excitement at school about the election, and they’re teaching you how important it is to vote,” I started. “But it’s also a very serious decision. Adults (should) learn a great deal about each candidate before making their choice.”
I sent him on his way. I think he understood it, as well as any second grader can.
Then, the election happened. We all know the results by now. So, Antonio woke up, and upon hearing the news, he smiled and declared, “Yay! We won!” I know I’ll be chastised by some for killing his innocent, 7-year-old buzz, but I felt the need to reverse this mentality kids are learning in school that the election is akin to a battle of pizza vs. chicken tenders for lunch.
“I want you to understand something about this. I know it sounds like a fun little game. But when you get older and start understanding this better, I hope you take your right to vote very seriously. And more than anything, I hope you don’t get in fights with others over it. There are a lot of people out there who don’t think Donald Trump should be President. They don’t think he’s qualified and they don’t like some of the awful things he’s said about others. Some people stopped being friends because of it. Please don’t ever let that happen to you. Your friendships are more important than any election,” I said.
This might sound silly to you. But we, as parents, should have a sense of when our children are ready to discuss certain topics. And it’s never, ever too early to teach tolerance, maturity, and an appreciation for what it means to have the right to vote. Again, regardless of the result.
I understand that our children are going to hear things about Trump. And they are going to ask us how someone “like him” could be our President. But these are not questions we should avoid. They should be used as educational opportunities and as a means of bolstering familial communication.
Maybe your answer to that question is, “Because many people believe, even though he is a jerk, he will create jobs for America.” Maybe it’s, “Because not enough people believed in his opponent and we didn’t have a better option.” Or maybe it’s, “Because, son, life is confusing as all hell. Sometimes mom and dad don’t fully understand it. The best we can do is to move forward with a positive attitude.”
Whatever your answer is, make sure you have an eye toward the kind of adult you hope to be raising. By saying nothing, you’re telling your children you not only don’t have answers, but you’re not someone they can turn to for the tough questions in life. That’s not a good look for a parent.
And to be even clearer, telling your children, “Because the people who voted are stupid!” is simply teaching them intolerance and hate, no matter who your candidate of choice was.
Here’s hoping, despite the dissatisfaction of so many of us, that we can use this as a learning opportunity, despite the fertile soil for much more negativity.
Joe DeProspero can be reached on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.