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    Elect to Be Thoughtful

    Your Child’s First Presidential Election

    These days, it seems like all roads lead to the campaign trail. The 2012 presidential election is going to be a big one, and people are going to be talking about it all year long. In our democracy, ongoing political discussion is essential, and even children should participate. But the election cycle can also bring out some less than exemplary behavior from those involved: scandal mongering, mudslinging, and name calling unfortunately seem like par for the course. As your children become aware of the political process, here’s how to keep kids well-informed and have a fruitful and positive discussion.

    If you vote, consider taking your child along to the polls. The value, history, and mechanics of voting are things they’ll presumably learn in school, but it’s always best to see the process in action, especially for young kids.

    Stay Informed

    If you keep up on politics yourself, you’ll have lots to share with your kids this election cycle. But unless you’re dead-set on molding your child’s political views, it might be best to leave your own views or party affiliation out of the discussion, at least at first. What does your child care about; the economy? health care? social issues? Then explain how various candidates feel about these things. Often, kids will want to pick a candidate right away, but ask them to wait about a month, and give them news coverage that’s related to their interests, from fairly unbiased sources if possible.

    Listen to Them

    When it comes time to ask kids who they would vote for, ask them why. If their choice is different than the candidate you plan to vote for, tell your child why you disagree with them, but never disparage their choice. Instead, debate with them in a respectful, age-appropriate way. If you want your child to develop a well-rounded, well-informed political viewpoint, it’s your duty to encourage a positive form of debate (which may be drastically different than the sort of debating politicians so often demonstrate).

    Do Your Own Research

    Depending on their school and grade-level, kids may be exposed to debate teams and current events curriculum, but it’s a good idea to watch some of the TV election coverage with your kids, and point out the differences between constructive debate and meaningless finger-pointing. The next time a roundtable of pundits is debating on TV, keep score with your kids: tally “Good Points” vs. “Rude Interruptions” and hold your own post-debate wrap up.

    Stay Focused

    It can be illuminating for kids to learn how much of TV election coverage is negative, focused on “horse race” poll numbers, or just plain slanderous. Through all this, try and keep your children focused on the issues they care about. If they can look beyond the negativity and still hold true to their own values, then they’ve taken a very important step as a citizen. When it’s time for them to vote for real, they’ll be ready.

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