How to Talk to Your Kids about the Election


Healthy Living - September 27, 2016
Mark Allen, MD - Acadia Hospital

Every four years, the country gets to decide who will be the next president and arguably the most powerful person on the planet. This particular election cycle has been more than a tad controversial with mud-slinging from both sides. As parents (and voting members of society), how should we be communicating with our children about what it all means and help them develop into adults who appreciate the democratic process and politics, in general?
Kids do pay attention. Children are sponges.
  • Per a study by, 75% of kids & 79% of teens thought that the outcome of an election would change their lives
  • Most teens ranked gas/food prices, education, health care, war, and the environment as "very important" to them
  • ½ of teens believed they would have an influence on their parents’ choice of candidate!
Social media is their primary news source.
  • Per a study by the University of Chicago, nearly ½ of young people age 15-25 get news at least once a week from family and friends via Twitter or Facebook.
    • Conclusion from the study: “Youth must learn how to judge the credibility of online information and how to find divergent views on varied issues."
How to Approach Elementary School-aged Kids:
  • Setting the right tone early is important.  Politics conversations should be polite.
  • Kids may not understand the content but certainly feel the emotion of political rhetoric.
  • Be aware of your own reactions as kids will pick up on them and may feel at fault
  • Ask what they’ve heard about the election, and talk them through their reactions.
  • Attempt to pre-screen what they are watching or change the station/mute the TV if necessary
  • Seek out kid-friendly news about American politics, which break down events into age-appropriate terms and avoid inappropriate content
How to Approach Middle School-aged Kids:
  • Start having conversations about political identity and what issues are important to you
  • Ask kids what they think and encourage them that it’s important to think through political decisions and that it’s ok to come to their own conclusion
  • Watch a televised debate together and discuss the issues during the commercials and afterward
    • Who do they think won, and why?
    • Did the moderator challenge the candidates or just let them ramble or provide sound bites?
  • Discuss political advertising – how is it any different than a regular commercial for a product?  Who paid for it?
  • Look at political cartoons
  • Ask how elections really work and compare/contrast versus student body elections (i.e. popularity versus policy)
  • Explain that candidates may intentionally try to appeal to people's emotions to gain an advantage over their rivals
  • Ask them to differentiate between attention-seeking and meaningful comments about what policies the candidates would institute if elected.
How to Approach High School-aged Kids:
  • Recognize that this age group is only a few years from actually getting to vote
  • Recognize that they may form different opinions or hold similar positions (but for different reasons)
  • Watch the news and debates together and talk about the influence of polls
  • Discuss media coverage and its effect on the public – stories that heat up the news cycle versus real issues facing the country
  • Discuss the role of social media in elections
    • Are they following any politicians on a news feed?
    • What posts earn their respect or erode it?
    • What happens when you disagree with a friend?
  • Remind them not to believe everything they read
  • Utilize to check the credibility of candidates’ claims
Take Away Points:
  • It is important to teach kids that while we may all have different political opinions, at the end of the day, we are just trying to solve problems.
  • Healthy debates should be healthy.
  • Listen to your kids’ views and use the discussion as a teaching opportunity.  This promotes critical thinking and may clear up misconceptions that they may have or calm any fears about the future.
  • While your kids can’t vote yet, it’s important that they start becoming informed.
  • Take them to vote with you!