Updated: Jul 23, 2021
Rick Birt | President & CEO, SADD Nation
Today is election day. For centuries, it’s been a day where United States citizens celebrate the freedoms we have by practicing our most sacred civic duty. However, for many Americans, today is a day of great anxiety. This holds especially true for parents who are trying to determine how to help shape what their teens are seeing in the media, in their friends and family, and the world around them into something positive. SADD is here to help.
I vividly remember the thrill of casting my vote for the first time. I want our teens to feel that same excitement in this process, but right now we have to help them process the state of our democracy.
Parents, now is the time to have some serious conversations. I don’t know what will happen this evening. I don’t know if we’ll have results, but there is no shortage of hypothetical horror stories of what the next few days could hold. Parents, as the next few hours unfold, here are some concrete ways you can process the election with your teen.
Talk about Their Ideas and Questions
It’s best to start with questions that are open ended like, “What do you think?” You’ll be amazed at what your pre-teen or teen will know. They live in an era where they are bombarded with information every waking moment. This is the most connected, most educated generation in history. Ask them what they believe and why they believe it. Show them how you can discuss issues with passion and poise without taking the low road.
Talk about the Process
This election will be historic for many reasons. There has never been a better time to whip out the civics textbook and talk about the history and process of our election. Talk about the fact that the U.S. is both a democracy and a republic (a fact that many individuals forget) and what that means for the election process. Having the most votes doesn’t make you President. Explain the electoral college, and, who knows, you might learn a thing or do as you do. Let’s not forget our local elections too. Many (including this author) assert that local elections have a far more direct impact on our daily lives and often don’t get the attention they deserve. What a great moment to talk about the Board of Education Election, City Council, County Commissioners, and State Legislatures, and the role they play in our society.
Talk About the Source
We all know that we can’t believe everything you hear. But do your teens know that? As a family, have a discussion about how, where, and when you get your news. Explain the differences between the outlets, how news from newspapers is different from 24/7 cable news. Have them flip between articles/channels and spot the bias that exists in each outlet. This framing will help them be better consumers of information.
Talk about Digital Exposure
Limit the news your family is taking in each day. Talk with your kids about digital dependency and why too much screen time is a bad thing. Realize that we’re already in overload with the amount of virtual living –meetings and class time—we’re all consuming right now. Agree as a family how much media you will take in from all sources. Use that extra time to do something stress-relieving together, like reading a story, playing a board game, or going on a walk. The world is still moving, and memories should still be made. Textless Live More has great resources that we can use to help wean ourselves from the devices that fight for our attention. Check them out here https://bit.ly/3kRbMLt
Talk about the People
We need our teens to understand that the person you support does not define you as a person. So often we hear “Anyone that supports __________ is a __________.” Stop. Talk with your teens about the world they’re entering. The negativity of political rhetoric has been off the charts, especially on social media. Let’s work to reframe that conversation to a teachable moment about respecting people. Many citizens might believe something different than what you and your family believe, and that’s ok. That’s actually good. It creates a perfect moment to talk about differences, why they matter, and how they can be celebrated.
Talk About Labels
I guarantee you that your kids have already been labeled or labeled themselves with respect to their views of the world. Ask them about that. They’ll tell you about a moment when a friend asked them who their parents were voting for or why they believed what they did. Have a conversation with your teen about what they can say in those tough moments. Give them tools to exit conflict and have meaningful conversation with those who agree and disagree with them.
Talk about the Fact That Everything Will Be Ok
I don’t know what Election Night or Election Week, or November or December will bring in terms of results. Remind your teens that everything will work out in the end. If there is civil unrest, talk about it as a family. Help your teen understand the broader context of why things are happening the way that they are. Give them reassurances that they will be safe. There may be periods where we don’t know what happens next, and that is a teachable moment too. Again, the most important thing to do is keep talking. Share your fears too, because you’re human. When you’re vulnerable with your teen they can feel it and chances are they’ll be real with you too.
Talk about Your First Voting Experience
Voting is so exciting and one of the great privileges of being an American. Talk to your kids about the first person you voted for in a major election, how you felt, and, by doing do, remind them that, even in a stressful year,
For more importation on ways to keep conversations like this going, please visit www.sadd.org. Make sure you vote. Make sure you talk to your teens. May God bless America.