How Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Campaign were Destroying My Kids’ Future

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  • PROBLEM:  Overhearing adult conversations about negative politics can cause children to feel 1) Unsafe 2) Hopeless and 3) Powerless about their future.

  • SOLUTIONS:

    • 1) Give kids a voice of empowerment and involvement by holding a USA Family Night. Let each child select and research a political candidate, then present a speech on what they learned.

    • 2) Monitor your own political conversations. If everything you say about the state of government is negative, then you might be instilling your own kids with fear and preventing them from moving forward in their life with confidence.

    • 3) Help kids understand that we don’t need perfect people, structures, or opportunities in order be successful and happy. A lot of people do amazing things with imperfect resources. Attitude and perseverance are most important.

How Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Campaign were Destroying My Kids’ Future

 

I’m curious how other parents are feeling about the second-hand effects the burning 2016 presidential primaries are having on their kids. Is my family the only one gagging on the toxic political fumes? Are other families turning off the television, closing the windows, and boarding up the doors trying to keep safe from the thick pollution of negative political coverage?

Ironically, my Bachelor’s Degree is in Political Science, but rather than feeling inspired to become a cheerleader for Camp Elephant or Camp Donkey, I feel more inclined to park myself in Camp Ostrich where it seems easier to breathe with my head in the sand.

Yes, I know better. I know that the success of a democratic republic depends upon the involvement of individual citizens. Still, the mothering instinct in me naturally puts out defenses to shield my offspring (and myself) from anything that appears harmful, corrosive, or poisonous.

With the 2016 Party Caucuses in full swing, my kids have been overhearing a lot of negative political firestorm––at school, on TV, but especially at family gatherings. Oddly enough, the most virulent political conversations have been happening at Grandpa’s birthday party, Suzy’s graduation, or after little Georgie’s baptism. Slowly, I am becoming more conscientious of how my perceived innocuous political rantings actually have been fostering fear and personal insecurity in my smallest citizens. Little by little, my husband and I have been witnessing the erosion of  youthful optimism replaced with doubt, anxiety, and hopelessness.

Doubt – in self, family, community, and country.

Anxiety – about past, present, and future.

Hopelessness – about a person’s ability to progress, thrive, and be happy in this “messed-up” country.

When I started paying attention to the derogatory comments about government that my kids were repeating, I realized that these impressionable young minds were translating all the political agitation into deep-seeded worries about their future. I pinpointed four specific negative perceptions that were starting to get embedded deep into my kids’ brains.

Negative Inference #1:  Because the country is so corrupt, broken, and messed up, so is my future.

Negative Inference #2:  Because my country is toxic and dangerous, I am not safe.

Negative Inference #3:  There is only one right way to think and act. If people don’t think and act the same as I do, then nothing will work, and therefore, I am doomed.  

Negative Inference #4:  Other than complaining about the way things are, I am powerless to influence and improve my community, state, and country.

The good news here (and the real reason I’m writing this little essay) is that in the midst of this political turmoil, my husband devised a brilliant plan to get our kids involved and talking about the current political environment in a proactive, empowered way. Today, I want to share with you, my politically concerned readers, how our “USA Family Night” helped our pint-sized Americans to transform those four negative misperceptions into educated, empowered understanding.

Is this pint-sized debate moderator the next Anderson Cooper?

Is this pint-sized debate moderator the next Anderson Cooper?

In the photo you can see our 6-year-old son acting as Master of Ceremonies for our “USA Family Night.” This handsome, bow-tie wearing boy also chose the title for the event and colored patriotic-themed decorations. (Maybe if political debates were moderated by kids, the participants would behave more like adults.)

Here’s the Cut-to-the-Quick Synopsis:

  1. The Idea

In the spirit of honest family reality, my husband’s announcement of this plan at the family dinner table last January was completely impromptu, and while I thought it sounded like a great idea, I confess I doubted if we would actually follow through with it. I’m sure this never happens at your house, but here in WarnerLand, we sometimes have big intentions that get buried under heaps of everyday life, stockpiles of school papers, and can anyone else build pyramids with their laundry piles?

For all I know, Hubbie may have concocted the concept right then and there while waiting for his turn to be served up a heaping spoonful of cooked broccoli.

  1. The Plan

Who:  All family members! (Dad, Mom, and all the young ‘uns.)

Who knew we had a Bernie Sanders supporter in our midst?

Who knew we had a Bernie Sanders supporter in our midst?

What: (A) Select a political candidate for whom you believe you would vote.

(B) Research the candidate and write a one-page summary of your research.

(C) Present your summary at the designated family night and be ready to answer questions from the audience.

When: Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2016 (My husband introduced this idea in January, giving everyone a month or so to prepare.)

  1. The Rules

(A) Participation was completely voluntary, not at all mandatory. (B) Anyone who participated would be treated to dinner at Tucanos, a local Brazilian Grill. This was real treat since most of us had never eaten Brazilian barbecue. Cryin’ shame! (C) And because he was feeling in an Emersonian mood, my husband added a $10 or dessert bonus for anyone who would go the extra mile and present a summary of Ralph Waldo’s The American Scholar

  1. Food & Decorations  

    A real American Dinner: Hot Dogs, Lays Potato Chips and Red, White, and Blue Jello

    A real American Dinner: Hot Dogs, Lays Potato Chips and Red, White, and Blue Jello

(A) Any successful family gathering must have food. We had an Americana dinner: Hot Dogs, Barbeque Potato Chips. I even made American Flag Jello® Salad.

Jello is not my forté. Don't judge.

Jello is not my forté. Don’t judge.

(B) To make the evening feel “official,” we turned the music stand into a podium and hung an American flag. (Again, in the spirit of full disclosure, the meal and decor were thrown together about an hour before the Family Night started. I do excel at impromptu event-throwing-together, which is probably why I don’t make good Jello®, since you need to start making Jello®  more than 15 minutes before you plan to eat it.)

 

To our surprise, the kiddos had latched onto the idea, and everyone showed up to dinner buzzing about (but not revealing) the candidate they had picked. Remember, we did not assign specific candidates. Each family member got to choose the candidate they preferred. Yes, there was a lot of typing and printing right up to the deadline. The results were inspiring. I saw my kids stand with shoulders squared to declare their opinions. We felt the mood in our house change from “Everything is wrong” to “I can do something about this.” Out of six family members, five different candidates were represented––some Republican, some Democrat, and one write-in candidate. If nothing else, the evening became a visual testament that different political views can live happily together under the same roof!

The whole night boiled down to two simple things: (1) giving kids the chance to get educated about the current candidates and (2) giving kids the opportunity to find personal empowerment in using their voice. From these two simple acts, we witnessed our kids (and ourselves) transform four existing negative social undertones into positive, proactive mindsets.  

I don’t want my kids growing up feeling unsafe, hopeless, and pigeon-holed. I believe in the power of changing debilitating misperceptions into soaring perspicacity. In helping my kids pack their suitcases for successful life, I want to take out the unnecessary weight of negative inferences. In place of that dead weight, I’d rather my kids carry around a box of power-tool mindsets that will actually help them to build an amicable world. Tools that look a little like this:

Positive Mindset #1:  We don’t need perfection in order to succeed.  

Positive Message #2:  The United States of America is an amazing place to live, with a successfully functioning government supported by the work of industrious, creative, and generous citizens.

Positive Message #3:  Diversity offers strength of option and choice. I can live happily and be successful alongside people of diverse opinions.  

Positive Message #4:  Education is power. I can be educated and involved. I have a voice and I have influence.   

So, before introducing my candidate selection for the evening, I took advantage of the platform to imbue my offspring with a little positive political reassurance. (It’s a mother’s job, and I do, after all, have a degree in Political Science.)

I'm not quite Hillary Clinton, but I do have a degree in Political Science.

I’m not quite Hillary Clinton, but I do have a degree in Political Science.

I wanted my kids to understand this important principle:  Imperfect people can accomplish incredible things with imperfect structures and imperfect situations. So I told them the following story: The Story of The Warner Rental House

Eight years ago, we moved from Arizona into a rental house in Utah. We rented the house for five years before we bought it. We lived here another two years before doing any interior remodeling. There were some problems with the house. The carpets were. . . nasty.  The entry and kitchen consisted of three different combinations of linoleum that were cracking and peeling up. Certain corners in the fridge froze our food, while other areas kept butter soft. There were some plumbing problems, and one day, the floor of our master bedroom shower fell through to the basement. The main fireplace never worked, and the central heating system was unbalanced. In the winter, the corner bedrooms were icy cold while the main rooms were furnace-hot. When running, the dishwasher sounded like a heavy metal garage band practicing inside a high-speed blender. We hand-washed our dishes for over a year until the landlord installed a new (not necessarily improved) dishwasher.

Based on the above description, you might be imagining our house to be a tin shack in a ghetto. On the contrary. Let me tell you another story.

Eight years ago we wanted to move closer to grandparents, siblings, and cousins. As a family, we drew pictures of what we wanted our new house in Utah to be like. Every family member’s picture had unique traits, but we all wanted:

  • land around us with some farm animals,

  • room for a large garden, raspberry plants, and fruit trees,

  • plenty of friends living close,

  • a safe neighborhood to ride bikes around,

  • good neighbors not closed off by thick stucco fences,

  • to live within thirty minutes of pine trees and mountains for frequent camping.

This rental house fit the bill in every way and the story behind how we found it has become our own family miracle. Living in this house we can:

  • look at the sheep grazing in the field behind us. (What’s better, they’re not even ours!)

  • pick fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers from our garden. (I almost immedieately planted a peach tree.)

  • meet up with friends to ride bikes around the neighborhood.

  • sit on the front porch and talk with all the super friendly neighbors who walk by.

Here’s the point about our house: if my husband and I had constantly complained about what was wrong with the house, our kids would have felt insecure here. But we didn’t. Every night we prayed gratitude for this house in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, our neighbors, our garden, the great schools and teachers, and the dozens of baby lambs every Spring. The stained carpets and broken plumbing were small annoyances compared to the abundance of good. Indeed, we have watched our family thrive in this place that, based on my first description, may have seemed otherwise like living in a garbage heap.

I know that if I constantly complained about the wiring in my house, my kids would be awake at night worrying about an electrical fire. If I continuously harped about chips in the mopboards, unlevel walls, and not enough outlets, my kids would feel impeded rather than empowered in their ability to grow healthy here. The way I talk about my house determines whether my kids feel safe or if they are paralyzed with fear that the floor of the shower will fall to the basement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I want to bring this story back to our USA Family Night. If I constantly complain about what is wrong with government, my kids are going to feel unsafe and hopeless about living here.

I don’t intend to say that all problems should be ignored or that we should be blind to problems. I am saying that I don’t want to raise a generation of complainers. I prefer to raise a generation of proactive problem-solvers. I am saying that no house, school, church, family, marriage, government, or person is without flaw, and I am okay with that. I know that neither I nor my surroundings need to be perfect in order for me to be happy and successful. I want my kids to know the same. Our little USA Family Night helped us all to see what we can do to get informed, get involved and empower ourselves to be the changed we want to see in the world.