You’re fortunate enough to live in a country where happy hour exists, stuffed crust pizza is seen as necessary, and citizens have the right to express their views through peaceful protest. Not only is this fundamental to democracy (protest, not stuffed crust), but it’s going to be something you’ll eventually have to talk to your kids about. Maybe you’ve already gotten, “Daddy, why are there so many people wearing pink cat-ear hats on the street?” from your daughter. So how do you explain 240 years of civil disobedience to a tiny person who never listens to you?
The answer, according to Lauren Leader-Chivee, co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women’s organization that trains women in political, civic, and professional leadership, is to start age-appropriate conversations “It’s not just in these oppositional moments that women need to be engaged,” she says. “We need to start talking to young girls about civic issues, how our government works and the importance of democracy and politics.” Because the expense of raising a child is not the only kind of check or balance you should be thinking about.
Girls Especially Can Use Your Help On This
Of all the different kinds of gender gaps, political achievement and engagement are probably the least talked about. “When it comes to seeing ourselves as agents of change and having the ability to make a difference, women lag men,” Leader-Chivee says. It’s up to you to remind the girls in your life as often as possible that they have just as much of a voice as boys and that theirs can impact the world. Cheesy? You bet. But a little cheese goes a long way. Just ask the guy who invented Hot Pockets.
It All Starts At Home
“Many women who ultimately run for office or get involved in civic causes say it was conversations about politics, government, and social justice at the dining room table that gave them the spark early on,” says Leader-Chivee. Getting the ball rolling early means making these issues a part of household discussions. Sure, you could spend dinner debating the merits of each Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s weaponry (Michelangelo wins, btw). But why not sometimes use it as a forum to talk to her about wage inequality, the prison industrial system, or, where, exactly, that glass ceiling everyone always mentions can be found.
They’re Kids, So Keep It Simple
If you understand basic civics, that puts you in a frighteningly small category of Americans. Unfortunately, your job as a parent is to make up for what way too many kids don’t learn in school. “Kids are not getting this at a meaningful level in the classroom,” says Leader-Chivee. Good starting points? How about these: Explain what democracy and representative government are. Explain that we have 3 branches of government and a system of checks and balances. “If we don’t start basic, it’s hard for kids to understand the more complex stuff,” says Leader-Chivee. You don’t need to be a scholar to teach your kid; a web browser open to a trusted link (like this) will do.
Share Your Own Views
Tell your kids where you come down on political issues and why. That includes explaining which candidates you support. And if you don’t support them, explain why. “Politics is not religion; people have their own moral compass,” Leader-Chivee says. “You’re giving your kids tools for critical thinking and reasoning to come to their own conclusions. Ask them what they’d do if they were president or in Congress.” Just having them consider it as an option is a big part of the battle.
Take Them With You To The Polls (Or Protests, If They’re Old enough)
A lot of voters took their kids to the polls back in November, and some have recently protested with kids in tow. If your kids are too small for that, just tell them the in’s and out’s of voting and why certain people are protesting. “Explain that we have a new president and that many people don’t agree with what he’s doing, and aren’t we lucky to live in a country where people can say what they think? Break these things down into the simplest nuggets,” says Leader-Chivee. Because just like the chicken variety, nuggets of wisdom are delicious.
Frame It From A Kid’s Perspective
As many politicians and activists would have you know, at least a few of today’s hot-button issues revolve around inequality. “Children are very sensitive to questions of fairness,” Leader-Chivee says. “If you have a boy and a girl doing the same thing, is it fair if one earns more than the other?” Chances are, your kids will have pretty strong opinions on this. While it might give you a headache, it’s good to know they have stronger feelings on fairness than many adults?