We rarely discuss politics with kids.
By Tanu Shree Singh
"It is important that they know," responded a mother recently at a protest venue when asked why her daughter was accompanying her. Another father comes with his two daughters every day. They stand there with a different poster each morning.
There are countless stories of children participating in protests, taking interest in the system, trying to come up with ideas to fix it and more. As a child, I remember being hounded by my parents to read the newspaper. Now I hound the boys to read many newspapers, research multiple opinions, sift through for truth, fact check and then form an opinion. I also see multiple posts from parents online asking how to talk to the children about the current situation. And then there are the ones who believe children need to be protected. So what does one do? How much is too much? What IS the truth? Some things to consider:
Politics is not a taboo
We rarely discuss politics with kids. First they are too young and then too old to listen to us. A young child might not understand the intricacies of political systems but they do understand fairness, justice and truthfulness. Explain the roles in that light to young children. As they grow older, discuss different systems in light of historical facts and current relevance.
Keep biases aside. Rely on facts
This is one tough thing to do. Obviously if you knew you were biased you won't be so any longer! But rather than just filling them up with our versions, teach them how to research properly. Not through WhatsApp forwards or unauthenticated information floating around. Fact check everything. Teach them to check.
Read multiple versions of history. Connect the dots.
History always has multiple faces, versions. The versions change as per whims and fancy of those in power. So read history from different standpoints, discuss with kids, encourage them to read as well. This is difficult with younger kids. But for middle readers and up, these discussions not only take everyone closer to truth but also encourage analysis and questions - important pillars of democracy in today's times.
Read. Read. Read
Read about the marginalised, read stories and books that talk about diversity, are inclusive and pose uncomfortable questions. No, innocence is not lost by exposing kids to the real world. They stand a chance to be better equipped and be more empathetic if they have travelled some part of the journey with those suffering or the ones who suffered in the pages of history, through stories. So go on and read books themed around diversity, secularism, socialism, equality and brotherhood. Read about revolutions. Just read. For younger kids, books like We the children of India, Elections in India, A is for Activist are some of the books that come to mind.
An important part of raising a politically aware child is to listen. One look online and you'd find a sizeable number of teenagers openly condemning their families for endorsing violent and extreme viewpoints. We as adults do children a great disservice if we just transmit our ideas and expect them to absorb. Listen to them. Ask for facts. Check them and perhaps readjust your own ideas.
Show the fake news too
Knowledge doesn't come from taking a stand and sticking with it, wearing blinkers. Read all sorts of things, hear fake news too. Show them how you fact checked to come to the conclusion that it is fake. Ask them how they feel, encourage them to do their own research. Fake news are a great teaching tool in research. Use it.
Debate not fight
One look at multiple channels and our own idea of debating gets transformed. All of us have been awkwardly silent at family dinners after heated arguments for and against the current situation. We do not want our kids to equate debates to hateful shouting matches and swearing. So in case of a scenario that you end up debating with your child or the child is a witness to a debate, choose your words carefully, rely on facts and empathy. Ridiculing anyone, no matter what side you are on, gets us nowhere. Lead relentlessly with pure facts.
Talk about the Constitution
CAA, NPR, NRC - the jargon should not be limited to protests and the rare authentic coverage of the same or the ridiculous phone call. Tell your children what it means only once you have read up various analyses, interpretations and so-called clarifications. Talk to them about the preamble. Analyse it, read about its history and the significance of each word. Each generation needs to understand the importance of Constitution and what all has gone in to making it. Yes, amendments are essential to keep up with the times. But we all also need to know of the non-negotiable pillars it stands on.
These are hard times. We all have our own opinions, sides and sometimes whispered disagreements. Most of the times the disagreements come in the form of blood-curdling screams. We need to face the fact that the children cannot and should not be hidden from the truth. It will find them eventually. It is up to us now what truth they find. The truth that keeps their heads high when years later they narrate the story of the times to their grandchildren or the one that hangs their head in shame. Think. Decide. Talk to them. You owe it.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh's podcast podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)