One afternoon, my 8-year-old son came home from school and informed me that Hillary Clinton is going to ban cheeseburgers.
At least, that’s what a kid at school told him. He wanted to know if it was true.
I know I’m not the only parent who’s found talking to their kids about this election a little bit more “challenging” than anticipated. I presume that you, like me, are probably ready for this election to be over.
After the whole Hillary-banning-delicious-cow-sandwiches incident, I decided to let my son watch the beginning of the first debate with me so he could hear what Clinton really thinks. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump made a bit of a bigger impression on him and didn’t exactly set a shining example of what being presidential looks like. Trump spent the last hour of the debate attacking his opponent’s health and threatening to say “really tough things” about her, which meant he was gonna say mean things about her husband (who isn’t running for president right now).
I worried what Trump would do to kick it up a notch in the second debate and what kind of example this was setting for my son and daughter.
Then some news broke about an old tape of Trump and a bus and Billy Bush and bragging about doing not OK things to women, and it was announced that those comments would be addressed in the first question at the second debate. I didn’t feel confident that the conversation that ensued would handle the topic of consent responsibly.
Regretfully, I told my son he couldn’t watch the second debate with me…
…which turned out to be the right call.
It seems weird that I’d have to shield my children from what should be a very informative example of our democracy in action. Yet there I was, doing just that. The problem is, like many parents, I really want my kids to learn about the democratic process.
So what’s a parent to do?
Here are six not horrifying conversations I had with my kids about democracy this election season. I hope you find them useful and/or adorable.
1. On fact-checking:
When your kid’s primary source of gossip is other kids, it’s important to make yourself accessible to answering any questions they might have. Here, something clearly got lost in translation on the playground.
8yo: Daddy, is it true Hillary Clinton is gonna ban cheeseburgers?
Me: Where did you hear that?
8yo: At school, Teddy said she was gonna ban all cheeseburgers and candy and guns and stuff.
Me: Ah, no. Shes not going to ban any of those things. She does want to fix the rules to make buying guns safer for everyone. Teddy is confused.
8yo: Then why did Teddy say she was going to?
Me: Well, sometimes people get incorrect information. If you ever want to know if something’s true, just ask me, we can look it up together.
8yo: Fine, can I punch you in the stomach now?
Me: No, that’s only for before dinner.
For the record, a good punch in the stomach has provided me more thoughtful introspection than watching the debates.
2. On temperament:
As if it isn’t hard enough teaching your kids about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, doing it while one presidential candidate is demonstrating all of the “don’t” behavior is even harder.
4yo: Daddy, why is Donald Trump yelling at Hillary?
Me: Well, some people arent good at controlling their tempers and listening. You know how when you are upset, sometimes I have to get you to calm down before we talk?
Me: Well, Donald Trump isnt good at calming down or listening. He wants to boss people around and make them do what he wants, even if it isnt a good choice.
4yo: He should calm down and listen more.
Me: Yeah, hes just not very good at that.
On the other hand, Trump has been a delightful role model of how not to behave, and my 4-year-old could really use that right now, what with how she responds to criticism like he does. 4-year-olds: Earth’s adorable defensive irrational narcissists.
3. On building walls:
Honestly, I’m starting to think my 8-year-old would’ve been a great debate moderator. He asks the obvious questions that a 70-year-old belligerent uninformed presidential candidate refuses to think about or answer.
8yo: Daddy, why does Donald Trump keep talking about a huge wall? Wouldnt he have to build it into space? Otherwise people could climb or fly over it.
Me: Um OK. Yeah, making a bigger wall is silly. But the more important thing to ask is why its there? Do you know what immigrants are?
8yo: Theyre people who come to live here from other countries.
Me: Correct. So some of those immigrants come here from other countries like Mexico. And sometimes they come here without permission because they need to make money to send home to their families or want to feel safer than they did in their country or it’s sometimes hard to find work where they live. And Donald Trump says that they want to come here to hurt people and steal things.
8yo: Do they?
Me: Nope. They actually pay $11 billion into the economy each year, and then they cant use any of the stuff that they pay for because then theyd get in trouble.
8yo: Whats the economy?
We’ll talk about the economy when he’s older. But at least he’s thinking things through logistically, unlike some people we know.
4. On campaign ads:
I don’t know about you, but here in Colorado, the commercials that run when we watch the nightly news lately have been not what I would call “family friendly.”
If you believe the local attack ads, my congresswoman wants to protect child predators (she doesn’t). Also apparently there’s a ballot measure that will pressure people to end their life if they are terminally ill, even if they don’t want to (it won’t).
Neither of those things are true, but try explaining that to a kid.
8yo: Daddy, is this commercial talking about how Hillary is bad?
Me: Yes, but here’s the thing: Never believe anything you see in commercials.
Me: Well, the folks who make political commercials like to only tell one side of the story and sometimes don’t tell you what you really need to know.
8yo: Even Hillary commercials?
Me: Yes. They’re probably telling stories a little better than Trump commercials, but they still will skip over important details. If you see it on a commercial, you should probably google it too and get the whole story.
[Commercial comes on about how my Democratic congresswoman is super stoked to let all the child murderers out of jail.]
Me (loudly, to drown out audio): HEY, KIDS! WHAT DID YOU DO AT SCHOOL TODAY, I WAS JUST WONDERING! WAS IT SUPER FUN?! DID YOU STEAL A CAR OR LIGHT THE BUILDING ON FIRE?! (Continues this charade for 30 seconds until awful ad goes away.)
Kids: DADDY, WHY DO YOU KEEP YELLING AT US?! USE YOUR INDOOR VOICE! WE DON’T STEAL!
Obviously, the smart choice here is to just turn off the news until 2017, but where’s the fun in that? Either way, my kids just learned a great lesson in doing their own research. And I learned that they don’t steal or set things on fire. Maybe I am actually OK at this parenting thing?
5. On breaking glass ceilings and good role models:
This conversation just gave me all the feels. I don’t know how my daughter was aware of the gender of all our previous presidents (although she does love the musical “Hamilton”). But she did the math. And then asked this:
4yo: Daddy, Hillary will be the first girl president?
4yo: I want a girl president for once. Its about time. Also, Donald Trump keeps yelling and being mean.
Me: Yeah, hes been making some bad choices lately.
4yo: Can you talk to him, please?
She thinks politics are boring and is adamant that she won’t run for president herself one day. I can’t decide if I’m relieved about that or not.
6. On voting:
The most clutch part of being a citizen is the whole voting thing. So I sat down with my kids and went through the ballot section by section. (We have mail-in balloting in Colorado, which is so much more convenient). We have like 473,023 things on the ballot, including nine state ballot issues, a ton of judges, and 22 different presidential candidates. I walked the kids through the major initiatives, and then we got to president.
Me: OK. So for president, should I vote for Jim Hedges from the Prohibition Party?
Kids: WHO IS THAT?! NO!
Me: OK, what about Roque De La Fuente from the American Delta Party?
Me: What about Ron Silva from the Nutrition Party?
Me: What about Donald Trump?
Kids: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! He’s MEAN!
Me: So Hillary Clinton, then?
4yo: Because she’s a girl!
Me: Do you have a better reason?
4yo: She’s cute! And I want a girl president!
8yo: She’s not cute! She’s a grandma!
Me: Have any better reasons?
8yo: I just want her because you want her. I don’t really know enough stuff about what she believes and stuff.
Me: That, sir, is an astute observation. When you get to vote for president, I hope you learn all the stuff first. Don’t take my word for it.
8yo: OK, can I go play now?
Full disclosure here: I have no idea if I’m doing any of this right.
Kids are impressionable. I don’t want to turn them into little robots who spout talking points from political parties on the playground. I want them to be exposed to lots of different ideas. But I’d prefer if their beliefs come from an empathetic place that considers the greater good for all (I’m zany like that). Which is why I believe Trump is a poor choice for me personally. I’m planning on sending a clear goodbye message to him this year with my vote.
Obviously, like all parents, I’m making this up as I go. What about you? How have you handled it? Let me know. And please vote. That way we won’t spend four years having to explain horrifying things to our children about topics they will have plenty of time to learn about when they are at the actual appropriate age to actually talk about them.
I’m gonna go let my kid punch me in the stomach now instead of reading what Trump said today on Twitter. If you were looking for something to do, this nonpartisan site will tell you where and how to vote. Please? And while you’re at it, ask your friends how they handle these conversations.