Becoming President of the United States used to be one of parent’s highest aspirations for their children, but I’m not so sure that remains true today. The hostility and disrespect amongst politicians and voters these days is a turnoff to most young people who might have an interest in serving in this way. In the current environment, how can we best educate our kids about politics and leadership?
The most impactful thing parents can do is to encourage their kids to put themselves into the shoes of political leaders instead of criticizing them. If all kids see and hear is leaders being criticized and judged, why would they ever want to put themselves in a situation to receive such condemnation? It discourages kids from stepping out in leadership roles.
Allow open conversations in your home where everyone can share how THEY would handle current situations in the US and world. Teach kids to be critical thinkers and problem solvers vs. passive complainers and blamers. As a kid, I used to love listening to my parents and their friends discuss politics at our holiday meals. I learned it’s okay to have strong opinions, how to put them out there, and how to not take disagreement so personally.
Teach your children to listen to other people’s opinions and get in their shoes and see the issue from different perspectives; to understand what others see and feel and why. Practicing perspective taking promotes cognitive problem solving and builds empathy, and it’s the only way to come up with true win-win solutions to disagreements. Research has shown that having kids reflect on victims who have suffered an injustice makes it more likely they will speak up to right wrongs done to others.
Encourage children to take action as well: have them go into the voting booth with you on election day, work for a campaign, write letters to elected officials, or do fact checking and research on candidates. Urge kids to read history and biographies of past Presidents and world leaders so they can learn from history. Watch documentaries about world issues and then have open discussions about them. Teach kids how to debate with authority and respect. A father told me recently that once a week at dinner he has each of his kids give a five minute spontaneous talk on a topic the dad chooses to persuade the rest of the family. What a great way to practice advocating for a cause.
I don’t want young people to be dissuaded from entering the political realm because of the histrionics of our current political climate. We need brave, respectful, powerful, and collaborative leaders to emerge from the ranks of our young adults. It’s our job to educate and inspire them to step forward and lead.