When I was a grammar school kid, I was afraid of things like spiders, snakes and at times the dark. I worried about which friends I could play with and what activity I should do. I struggled with whether I should play in the park or go swimming in the neighborhood pool. I was a little afraid about doing badly in school, and I worried that I wouldn’t get my homework done before bedtime.
Faith and Family
Reflecting back on my early school years, I can honestly say I never remember my parents imposing on me the troubles of this world and the challenges of the political system. Unfortunately for many grade-schoolers this is no longer the case.
I have been disheartened over the past couple weeks hearing about young school-aged children who woke up crying after they learned who won the election. I got a bit miffed watching on television small children carrying signs that they likely can’t read denouncing the actions of this recent election. I can’t be supportive of media outlets that went into elementary classrooms asking third-graders what their fears or delights are as a result of this recent election. I was frustrated when my neighbor shared the story of her second-grade niece who was upset because her teacher was crying at her desk when she arrived at school. The niece explained to her aunt that the candidates her teacher chose did not win. I would have been equally discouraged if the election turned out differently and we saw the same reactions on the other side.
Although our house has always had lively discussion about political issues, we have tried to keep the level of conversation with an educational focus, assuming that our children, as middle school students and older, could handle some logic and discernment. The dialogue has more to do with our Catholic faith and the importance of seeing those values respected and encouraged in the public arena.
When we discussed issues with our children, we presented options and perspectives, not fear and anxiety. Sadly, I worry that the terror instilled in many young children during this election cycle speaks to a culture that appears to be using youths’ naivete to further a particular political agenda. When this happens in the home, it seems to me to be misguided parenting that could potentially harm a child’s normal emotional development.
Politics and elections are complicated. The research needed to untwist a heavily biased media, swinging either way based on the target audience’s preferred party affiliation, is overwhelming and possibly impossible even for an adult. Understanding both domestic and global relations that involve things like trade, domestic policies, military confrontations, environmental treaties and other similar regulations is nearly out of the grasp of most Americans, not to mention eight-year-olds.
Comprehending the intricacies involved in the checks and balances our founders put in place to safeguards us against totalitarianism is best appreciated at an undergraduate level, not in a kindergarten social studies lesson. Infusing adult distress into a young person’s mind seems cruel on every front. If our children in this country reacted with full emotion, either with fear or extreme delight, we as adults need to examine what we are exposing our children to.
The burdens we should be placing on our children are household chores, doing homework, practicing a musical instrument and remembering to thank friends and adults for doing something for them. When in the past 40 years did we start thinking we should insert children into the world of adulthood? Why would we want to rob our children of the innocence of their childhood? How could anyone expect a child to have the intellectual capacity to figure out a political agenda that most adults are clueless about?
Who would want to rush the frustrations of a struggling political process upon any individual before they even reach double digits is beyond me. I even question the value of the MN Kids Vote for children that are in Kindergarten to third grade. Although well intended, does this really improve the eventual understanding of the process, or does it simply add pressure to kids that is unwarranted?
So what do I think we should do? I think we should spend the same energy we use inundating our kids with scary political outcomes and instead fill our children with the joys that come with supporting the “King” that has governed us successfully from the beginning, continues to and will forever. Our King assures us not to be afraid, to put trust in Him and to place our faith in Him as He has assured us that this will always set us free.
This freedom guaranteed us as his adopted children is beyond anything any president or other government official can do for us. His loyalty seeks our love but is not dependent on it. He is inclusive of everyone, even those who don’t follow Him. This King has all the power yet acts as our servant, owns everything yet takes nothing.
Our children should be immersed in stories about who he is, what he has done for us and what he can provide for us into eternity. This leader does not have term limits and needs none.
As our country readies itself for the change of government from one party to another on inauguration day, we can prepare our children for our annual celebration of the birth of the real leader, Christ the King, on Christmas morning. I think discussions of baby Jesus will serve our children better, and those conversations are always age-appropriate.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.