Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Hope and Politics

Two questions that I can't resist discussing  today:

Are you full of hope and joy this morning? 
I see all over social media this morning both those who are full of joy and optimism following our presidential election and those who are discouraged and ready to prepare for the end of the world.   I completely understand the emotions surrounding this particular election year.  Both sides feel the future of our country is in the balance, and maybe, just maybe, this man, this president, can lead our country into change.  Maybe he's our hope, our only hope.  Or, maybe his opponent was our hope, and now we find ourselves deeply discouraged.

Well, friends, may I suggest that all this hope is misplaced?  Instead, Psalm 33:18 reminds us that,
"But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love." 
Our children are watching our every reaction to this election.  If they see us placing our hope in a man, they will learn that hope is found in men.  And, then, they will be disappointed by men.  Because that's what we do as humans.  Many times we mess up and disappoint those who love and trust us. 
Please remember this post-election season, that the Lord is still in his strong tower, watching over us and working out his will in his creation. That doesn't change every 4 (or 8) years. So, if we teach our children that our hope is found in the never-changing, loving God, who has promised to work all things for the good of those who believe on him, they will have a firm foundation to stand on when a friend, parent, or president disappoints them.  And, if they learn to trust in a God who watches over and cares for them, they won't be shaken by disappointing events in this world.  Instead, they will wake up the morning after election day saying,
"For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth." Psalm 71:5
When should you start talking to your child about politics?
Again, our children have been watching us this election season.  And, they may have questions.  Of course, young children do not have the cognitive capabilities to fully grasp politics.  But, as soon as children start asking questions, learning about politics in school, and hearing about political mess on television, it is our job as parents to help them understand what they're experiencing in a developmentally appropriate manner.  If we avoid discussing the topic altogether because 1) we don't think they'll understand, or 2) we want them to develop their own views, we may leave our children with fearful, anxious, or warped beliefs.
For instance, many schools have been discussing the election and many even  hold mock elections.  This is a good opportunity for schools to teach children about our election process, the political parties, the role of the branches of government, etc.  On Monday, as I was picking up a third grade boy for counseling, I noticed he had an "I Voted" sticker on his shirt. 
"Oh, wow!" I exclaimed.  "You got to vote today! How neat!" 
Now, I didn't intend to infringe on the child's privacy and ask who he voted for, but he immediately said with a grin, "I voted for Barack Obama!"  "
"Well, you seem pretty confident about your vote.  Why did you make that decision?" (I'm thinking I'm going to hear some points his teacher shared about policies or party platforms.  Helping the poor, lowering taxes, etc.)
"Oh, well, President Obama has a lot of money and his wife is good-lookin'."  Same proud grin.
Hmm.  Not what I expected.  "Well, what about Mitt Romney?  Does he have a lot of money?  What does his wife look like?" 
"I'm not sure.  But, I  know he was the president of something already and some people didn't like him." 
"Oh, you're right!  He was Governor of Massachusetts.  And, I'm sure some people didn't like him.  But, did some people like him?"
"Yes!  Some people did!"
"So, why didn't you vote for him?" 
"Because Barack Obama has a lot of money and his wife is pretty!"
Oh, right.  Duh.
This cute little conversation got me thinking.  Where did this young man learn these points about Barack Obama that shaped his voting choices?  His teacher?  His mom?  The television media?
Can you see why it might be important, at even a young age, to talk to your child about politics?  Wouldn't we rather our young children start thinking about what REALLY matters in a candidate to rule the country?  You can discuss this in age-appropriate language.  Plan on beginning  around third grade when children's brains are able to process these types of concepts a little more fluently than in earlier years (though it's never to early to start).  For instance, you might say, "God loves babies.  This candidate shows his love for babies in how he votes."  Or, "You know how Uncle Joe is in the Army? Well, this person believes in helping the Army become stronger."  Or, even, "This person would have the government help poor people more.  God wants us to help poor people." 
Ask questions like I did with the third grade boy above to help them explore the issues.
When a topic comes up on the news or in conversation, explain in child-friendly terms.   For instance, "That person is upset because many people in our country don't have jobs right now.  Without a job, they don't have money to buy food, clothes, medicine, or toys!  Some people think President Obama should have more time to help people get jobs.  Other people think Governor Romney should have a chance to fix the problem."
Remember, Proverbs 22:6 advises parents:
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

While always remembering to do as in Hebrews 13:17:
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority."
 Be joyful and full of hope today!  And, share with your children the reason for your hope.  Resist showing disrespect for our leaders, while demonstrating a peace that passes all understanding of our country's political drama.

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