How young is too young for political conversation? Most countries require their citizens to be at least 18 years old before voting, reasoning that by that age, younger voters have the reason and thoughtfulness required to do their part in charting their nation’s future. But what does this limitation mean for those under the age of 18? Should they be encouraged to engage in political discussion even though they haven’t reached the designated age?
I would say with absolute certainty, yes.
Kids understand more than we give them credit for. Too often, we assume that children won’t be interested in or won’t understand political happenings. However, by acting on our assumptions and cutting interested kids out of the conversation, we potentially handicap their interest and engagement in political action later in life. Think hypothetically for a moment. Two newly-minted voters stand in line to vote; one comes from a politically apathetic family and only bothers to briefly look up which candidate fell within his political party before meandering out to vote. The other grew up discussing politics almost daily with his family and can explain his rationale for choosing his candidate to anyone who asks. Who would you rather have at the ballot box?
Political engagement doesn’t have an age restriction. We need to encourage our kids to participate in the political conversation and teach them how to think critically about the candidates they align themselves with. Otherwise, we run the risk of turning our political decisions over to a generation of apathetic voters. Don’t lock kids out of the conversation; bring them in!
Bring the Child Into Conversation
Children ask a lot of questions, especially if the adults in their lives are visibly passionate about a subject. Although it might seem tedious to go over basic political ideas, you should do so for the child’s sake. Once they understand the foundation of an issue, they can build on that knowledge and comprehend more complex subjects. Give them a voice! The best way to inspire interest in political conversation is to make a child feel as though their thoughts and opinions are welcome.
Allow for Gentle Debate
By and large, children tend to align with their parents’ political beliefs. However, this isn’t a given – and children should never be shot down for airing different beliefs. Talk through both sides of an issue, and gently ask your child to explain why they hold their position. Calm, thoughtful debate is a constructive exercise in critical political thinking.
Many adults don’t understand the finer points of tax reform – so why would a child? Try to stick to digestible subjects that can be simplified. Opt for metaphors that relate to the child’s experience, such as casting an election as a game or contest. A little reframing can do wonders for a child’s understanding.
Next time a child asks for context in a political conversation, give it to them! By bringing them into the conversation, you just might spark a lifelong interest in political thought.