Voters with young children share how they choose to talk to their children about the election

By Cameron Fisher

“My son wanted to dress up as Donald Trump for Halloween this year. He’s a bit of a jokester,” said Doreen Spallino.

As the mother of 11-year-old twins, Spallino takes these moments of childhood in stride. Kids often have questions about President Trump, but as a figure with so much controversy, Spallino has tried to view this election through the perspective of her children — especially when it comes to questions they may have.

“I just try to tell them to listen to each [candidate], and then you have to draw your own conclusion. That’s it,” she said. “Whether you want to be democratic or republican, it doesn’t matter. You have to believe in what’s going on and who you want to vote for.”

Her children are physically in school three days a week, and often hear differing opinions from their classmates, so the Long Island resident has tried to instill voter-driven critical thinking skills in her kids. There are many important headlines circulating about the election each day, and Spallino has tried to remain objective to allow her kids to form their own opinions.

2020 has been a challenging and unique year in many ways. Especially for children, the drastic shift to online schooling, wearing masks in public and seeing the strain on the country from their perspective has taken a toll on many young kids. These stresses combined with a contentious presidential election and new levels of online exposure have created a generation of young kids who are more aware of politics than ever before.

For Pennsylvania mother Janine Carey, her 8-year-old and 5-year-old may still be a little too young to really grasp what’s happening on a deeper level within the election, but they still ask questions that are sometimes difficult to answer.  

“I always want to be honest with them, I don’t make up anything, but I also don’t try to dumb it down for them,” said Carey. “If they don’t understand something I definitely try and explain it to them in more simple terms, but I’m very honest with them about what’s going on in the world. Whatever questions they have I try to answer to the fullest extent that I know.”

The difference in age between her kids also presents a challenge in what to tell the older child and not the younger child, along with determining the right age to begin having critical discussions about current events. Carey said that borrowing books with political undertones from the library has been a good way to start the conversation with her kids about topics like voting, 9/11 and racial inequality.

Children’s books today are tackling subjects such as democracy, identity and social justice in an effort to educate kids on their relevance in American society. Books like V is for Voting, What is a Presidential Election? And Lillian’s Right to Vote serve as resources for many voters with young children, adding to the numerous other academic sources which are made for students in social studies classes.

Pennsylvania voter Kate Garrett has three sons, 13, 11, and 7 and she cited the use of CNN’s ten-minute newscast, CNN10, which explains the day’s headlines and is used as a conversation starter in her oldest son’s classroom.

“They watch CNN10 every morning. [CNN10] was talking about voter fraud and how the ballots have some accusations about getting lost, and the children are still very young and innocent and don’t understand that things like that can happen,” said Garrett. “But because of some of the things that have come up in the news or they’ve seen, we have had to talk a little bit more in depth about the tragedies of election.”

As Election Day swiftly approaches and even after the day passes, parents and teachers will be looking for ways to thoughtfully explain the news and current events to young children. The results of the election not only will impact the people who voted, but also will impact the generations of kids to come.

“Throughout everything, I have been teaching my kids that you have to be careful of your source,” Garrett said. “Not every source is totally unbiased, but come to mom and dad, or a trusted teacher when you have a question.”

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