Playing Politics

During an election year political tensions, inspirations, and polarities burn fast and hot, like the smoldering tail of an endless wick. Adults like to chatter, disagree, and grandstand about hot-button political issues, while children either turn a blind eye, or creatively try to make sense of the hullabaloo. Zogby polls, super delegates, and exit strategies–honestly, the children must think we are all crazy.

But the lumbering political machine, we American’s affectionately call democracy, can seem as engaging and inspiring to children, as it can seem confounding and senseless (really, not much of a difference in perception on this one between adult and children).

The big questions are: When do you broach the subject with your child about the particulars of politics, how do you introduce your child to the benefits and drawbacks of modern democracy, and do you refrain from imposing your (sometimes strong) political beliefs directly on your child?

The last one seems to be an especially tough one, as I have seen all sorts of examples of parents, not only foisting their political beliefs/convictions on their children, but also employing their children as unwitting billboards for political candidates and causes.

There are no shortage of Obama, McCain, and even Hillary Clinton T-shirts, onesies, etc., for citizens well below the voting age. Sure they look cute, and seeing a child outfitted in an article of clothing donning a political message is the epitome of adult-imposed precociousness, but what does it really say, if anything, about the child?

More than anything, it is, at best, an expression of the parent’s cultural and political aspiration for the child, or, more cynically, a way to indirectly communicate your beliefs using your child as a buffer. It might just be the self-satisfied, politico way of having your kid reciprocally declare, “I’m with stupid.” I absolutely believe that our world, by nature, is highly political one, and that children should not be shielded from all of the depravity and optimism that drives the political machine.

As much as politics can get horrendously dirty, at its core, it is an avenue for tremendous optimism and an arena for complex moral and ethical gymnastics. Children deserve entry (as observers now, participants later) into this world, with one hand firmly held by a parent for guidance, and the other hand left free to gather, investigate, and explore, and ultimately become an active part of the larger community.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appťtit, among other publications.


.7 years ago


ERica E.
ERica E.7 years ago

Hey Eric,just don't let your child out to play politics before explaining that 'mud-slinging' is just an expression.Especialy if they have been spanked.

Just a nod.

Patti C.
Mary-Kay L9 years ago

I have to laugh at myself for being seen with my side-kick 2-year-old son who has a t-shirt that, as you say, might as well say "I'm with stupid." depending on my audience. In actuality it says "My Mama's for Obama" which does not exactly put him in my political camp since it only reveals my political beliefs, not his. He has none, he's two! Although the slogan is a conversation starter and it gets a good laugh here and there. And talking and laughing are two things that I think we need to do more of in an election year -- rather than bitching and moaning about how bad the other guys (or gals) are, and getting angry at people for their beliefs. I think the thing we need to teach our children about politics is that we are all entitled to our own beliefs and that our country needs honest, strong leaders who care enough about its residents to think less about gaining political power and more about what's best for the rest of us.