Shielding Kids from (Political) Horror

Next month, about 60 percent of eligible voters will cast a ballot in the presidential election. My sons are age 5 and 8, respectively, and the closest they get to elections and politics in our house is “Kid President” on YouTube. They are not allowed to watch the jokes I make about the candidates many mornings on my “Snark Report” segment on WCCB News Rising. I am doing my best to let them nowhere near much of what surrounds this election, and I urge you to do the same.

Presidential campaigns are never pretty. As fake president Frank Underwood says on the Netflix series “House of Cards,” “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret.” In my mind, one of the biggest casualties is decency. Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, talk radio and political ads, plus the never-ending nastiness on Facebook and Twitter, there’s a lot of vitriol surrounding almost every aspect of this election. The Internet trolls — from both sides — are well practiced in name-calling and threat delivery. The candidates themselves have used words that aren’t allowed in most classrooms. How do you explain to elementary school-age children that one of the individuals running for president called the opponent the devil? Or that the other presidential nominee called the previously mentioned individual a fraud and a bigot in return? Civility? Not so much.  

I would wager that we all like to think our kids aren’t listening or paying attention to the nastiness, but they are. Children pick up on your moods, especially if it’s anger or frustration. They feel the passion you have for your chosen candidate and, more startlingly, the anger you have for his or her opponent. How many times have your kids heard adults around them refer to one candidate as the “lesser of two evils” or that you’re primarily voting for a particular candidate to make sure the other one doesn’t win? If we haven’t already said so ourselves, we all know someone who has quipped, “If (insert most-loathed candidate here) is elected, this nation is toast. It’s the end for our economy, religious freedoms and our country as a whole.” Tell me that doesn’t sound scary to a kid. Heck, it sounds scary to me as a 30-something-year-old adult!

This is, as they say, a teachable moment. Ask your kids what they know about the election and if they have questions. Tyler, my 8-year-old, knows there is an election for a president of the United States every four years. He knows the names of the two candidates and that if Hillary Clinton were to win she’d be our first female President. While discussing this, Chase, my 5-year-old, jumped in with, “I hope they’ll be nice.” Oh the folly of youth.

As my kids get older, I know they’ll have more questions and I’ll carefully answer them. As for who will answer my questions? I’m still pondering that one. Let’s remember that the sometimes nasty, sometimes divisive world we currently live in won’t end next month, no matter who is elected. There always will be “noise” and there never will be a shortage of opinions. If you tune a lot of it out and instead focus on the positives, you don’t have to be caught up in the negativity. That bodes well for us, and rubs off on our kids.

Derek James is a WCCB News Rising anchor and dad to two boys, ages 5 and 8.