Raising Conscious, Caring, Collaborative Kids

If you want to get fights going in your family, talk about politics. If you want to get thoughtful discussions going, talk about current policies and issues.

Some of the political bickering today is getting so intense it seems our country has created two new political parties: the good one and the bad one. (The “good one” is the one you agree with, the “bad one” is the one you don’t.)

Thinking in those terms doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s time to start talking about issues in ways where we can find common ground and work through our differences. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans want the president to work on legislation that Democrats and Republicans can agree on—and get passed into law.

In our family, we often talk about political policies and issues. Instead of focusing on what one party is doing (or isn’t doing), we talk about how we would solve the bumps in the economy, health care, and roads that need repair. If you have younger children, you can talk about what the government does, such as running schools, building roads, and helping people who are disabled.

What’s key is to get kids interested in political issues and to become engaged citizens. We’ve done this by talking about different issues and seeing which ones fascinate our kids. We have one child who believes strongly in social justice. He thinks that there are many people who are marginalized in our society. Our other child is deeply concerned about our environment. He’s helped us make changes in our family to have more energy-efficient appliances, cut down on our driving, and recycle more.

Instead of getting frustrated with the gridlock (or the heated rhetoric) that can occur in politics, find ways to make public policies relevant to your every-day life. For example, our family is currently working on our annual tax return. Instead of complaining about taxes, we talk about how taxes help pay for things we use and need: public schools, highways, our national parks, and school lunches.

In my children’s high school civics class,our kids have to memorize the 15 executive departments (such as the Department of State, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services). This activity reveals the many ways our government works to help the people. The best part of the class, however, is when the teacher assigns a senator to each student—a senator from the opposing party that they support. This assignment forces teens to look closer at legislators whom they initially would disregard, and find issues where they agree.

We need more of that kind of discussion today. Yes, it’s important to help our kids find their voice and support the causes they believe in, but it’s equally important for them to learn how to listen to people they disagree with and find ways to connect with them. That’s the beauty of our country. We’ve always been a melting pot. Diversity can be uncomfortable at first, but when you really get to know people, we can find issues that we have in common.

1. Susan Page, “Poll: Most Want GOP, Obama to Get Along,” USA Today, January 18, 2011.

2. The United States Government

3. Voting

4. U.S. major and minor political parties

5. Photo Credit: tjmwatson via Flick’r

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