3 reasons the 2016 campaign can be good for kids (parents, it’s up to you!)

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Follow me at @drClaire

This year’s presidential campaign has been remarkable — and not for good reasons. It has been full of rancor, which is common in campaigns, but this time, the rancor has been more vehement and more personal, and it has involved different ethnic and religious groups in ways that are unusual for campaigns. As a parent, one’s first instinct is to shield children from it — change the channel, recycle the newspaper, talk about anything else.

But doing the opposite could be really good for children. Here are three reasons children and families could end up with not only a new president, but also some new, important perspectives.

  1. The campaign is full of negative examples. From the way candidates treat and talk about each other generally, to the way they have talked about groups such as Mexicans or Muslims, this campaign has made a lot of people wince. But rather than just wincing, we can point these things out to our children and talk about them. Ask your children, “How would you feel if someone said that to you — or about you?” Talk about how words can hurt; use what has been said as examples. Talk about the importance of listening, of kindness, of not making broad judgments about people. These are lessons we all want our children to learn; use the 2016 campaign to help you give a crash course in tolerance.
  2. The campaign can help children learn about the electoral process. Let’s face it, some years it’s kind of boring. This year, it’s definitely not boring. Talk about the Electoral College and the delegates (if you don’t know about it, the National Archives and Record Administration has useful information, as does Congress for Kids). Talk about polls, and how they influence people. Talk about the party system, about primaries and party conventions. Help children understand what the candidates are trying to do.There are also sites that have news geared for students, such as Time for Kids, CNN Student News, Scholastic News, and KidsPost. The New York Times has a site that shows where candidates stand on the major issues as well as one on the candidates and what they would need to do to win. This year, there’s enough entertainment factor to make learning interesting.
  3. The campaign offers opportunities for families to talk about beliefs and values. As much as we want our children to share our beliefs and values, it’s not always easy to find natural opportunities to talk about them. This campaign in particular has been full of opportunities. Whether it’s explaining why you identify with a particular party or candidate, or what you think about a particular issue, or how you feel about an event or an interaction, the campaign can be a jumping-off point to have some really important conversations that could have a real impact on your child — and maybe even bring you closer as a family.

Ultimately, the 2016 presidential campaign is one big teachable moment. If we use it the right way, there is so much good that can come of it — despite its rancor.