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Episode 36: Involving Kids in Political & Government Discussions ft. Sharon McMahon
If you’re a parent, you probably think every single day about how to raise kids who are kind and hopeful, who know how to ask good questions and think critically, and who know how to disagree with someone else respectfully. Sooner than we realize, kids will be adults who make decisions about to run the world, using the tools and stories and lessons they learned first at home. That’s why, little by little, as nerve-wracking as it is, Emily and Bryan are introducing discussions about government and politics at the dinner table. For tips about how to do it gracefully, Emily’s consulting a very special guest: Sharon McMahon! You may know her better as @SharonSaysSo, America’s Government Teacher, who shares non-partisan government facts and political news on Instagram. Sharon and Emily talk about how Sharon talks about these topics with her teens and nine-year-old and how to teach kids what is and what isn’t a reliable source of information, how to ask questions and let kids come to their own conclusions, and why it’s important to debate a politician’s actions in office without demeaning their personhood.
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“When Bryan and I had Brady, my dad told us to remember that we were raising adults, not children. I think about that pretty often, and it influences the way that Bryan and I make decisions about the way we parent our children. Because it’s true: the little ones we’re raising today won’t stay little forever. We’re guiding people who, before long, are going to use the tools and stories we’ve given them to step into the world and steward it for themselves.” – Emily Ley
“Little by little, as nerve-wracking as it can be, I need to bring my kids into discussions about government, and about politics. Because, don’t forget: I am raising adults. And I need to equip them to be those good and kind and hopeful people I want them to be.” – Emily Ley
“And when our kids are adults, when they’re faced with running the world we’ve given them, I want to make sure I’ve also equipped them to think for themselves. I want them to be people who have clear eyes and full hearts, who remember to work hard for what they have, and also remember to help people who didn’t have a leg up like them. When they encounter people they disagree with, I want them to disagree respectfully. I want them to fight for what they believe in without tearing down someone else. I want them to be people who are good and kind and hopeful. That is what I want for my children. That is what I want for the adults I am raising.” – Emily Ley
“One of the things I think is incredibly important is for our children to develop complex, nuanced opinions about things instead of just existing on a diet of force fed opinions. Because that ultimately doesn't help the world. If you don't know what you believe and why you believe it, then that doesn't carry you very far once you leave your parents home.” – Sharon McMahon
“I am a believer in leaving space for your children's opinions to evolve over time and to not panic if they do not currently hold the same opinion that you do. Chances are good that as their minds grow and they acquire new information, they will change their minds about things regularly. So it's okay for them to land on an opinion today that you maybe don't agree with.” – Sharon McMahon
“It's a bit like parenting with the Socratic method, which is instead of telling somebody what the right answer is or what the answer should be, ask them what they think the answer should be and ask why. Because the process of questioning is incredibly important for intellectual maturity.” – Sharon McMahon
“It's super important that, even if we vehemently dislike someone in leadership, we can attack their policies. We can discuss their behavior, but we are not going to discuss how they look and we are not going to say things about them that demean their personhood.” – Sharon McMahon
A Blessing for Your Week
When your child asks a question you don't know the answer to, I hope you have the courage to say, “I don't know.”
When your child points out places where the adults could do better, I hope you have the humility to say, “I agree and I'm sorry. We’ll do better.”
And as you try to navigate this complicated world right now, I hope you remember to never give up on doing good and that you're already doing a great job.
Simplicity Tip of the Week
One of the easiest ways that kids can grasp what government means and how it functions is to look at it on a city level.
On a nice Saturday morning, take them on a field trip around town to show them where a city’s government runs. Show them buildings like city hall, and explain what a mayor does for the city. You could show them the courthouse and the city council chamber and the school board building, and explain how people who work there affect the way a city runs. You could also show them the library and the post office, even the fire and police departments to show what kinds of services a government can offer.
And if your kids are a little older, see if there’s a leadership program in your town that teaches teens about these kinds of things. You might be surprised at what your budding good citizens are able to learn about the care of keeping of your hometown.
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Resources, Links, Mentions from This Episode
- [book] For Which We Stand: How Our Government Works and Why It Matters
- [resource] Congressional Research Service
- [resource] Congressional Budget Office
- [expert] Nedra Tawwab - Therapist & Boundaries Expert
- [expert] Paul Nicklen - Wildlife Photographer
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