Los Angeles Times, August
Headline: Parents Model Political Attitudes for Youngsters
Byline: Lorraine Gayer
The man and I entered a Trader Joe's at the same moment, passing a sidewalk
card table bedecked with "John Kerry for President" campaign signs
and manned by volunteers. As soon as he was inside the market, I overheard one
of the two teenage girls with him (presumably one of his daughters) ask him a
question about Kerry.
"John Kerry hates America," he bluntly told her. As I watched, the
family disappeared into the aisles of groceries, the apparently chastened girl
falling silent. The father's curt and dismissive answer to his daughter's
legitimate question about the election left me angry and unsettled.
This presidential campaign season with the political parties filling the
airwaves with paeans to family values and calls for parents to join the public
schools in educating their children is a teachable moment for parents.
Studies show that parents are the single greatest influence on a child's choice
of a political affiliation, with as many as two out of three adult children
embracing the affiliation held by their parents.
What can a parent do?
First, it is obvious that parents, regardless of political leanings, should
avoid the Rush Limbaugh "cheap shot" approach. Of course, Kerry does
not hate America, and, of course, George W. Bush is not a fool. Whatever we may
think of their prescriptions for America's future, they are decent Americans.
It is a disservice to children to abuse the natural respect they hold for their
parents by indoctrinating them with talk-show simplicities and political sound
bites. Instead, why not explain who the candidates are Bush, a former Texas
governor and incumbent president; Kerry, a Massachusetts U.S. senator for
almost two decades and a decorated Vietnam War veteran and discuss what types
of individuals deserve the nominations for president.
This could easily lead into a discussion of the presidency. Does character
count (and what is character)? What makes a person a true hero? Is
military service important to establish a president's competency as commander
in chief? Should a president have experience in public office?
Parents also should teach their children to intelligently evaluate the issues
presented by the candidates. Instead of a "John Kerry (or George Bush)
hates America" answer, how much better would it be to use a child's
question to discuss the actual issues in the campaign and the impact of those
issues upon the family?
Probing such issues as gay rights, terrorism, taxes, the Patriot Act, etc.
would seem to present a tremendous opportunity to discuss the family's values.
This would also be a fine opportunity to teach lessons about tolerating
differing points of view, including the child's.
Finally, why not encourage children to participate in classroom and schoolyard
discussions, read newspapers and news magazines and learn to recognize
political propaganda (including name-calling and attack ads) for what it is
the tactic of bullies? Those lessons would almost certainly be carried forward
to school, where students would begin to hone the skills of responsible
citizenship at a young age.
I worry about the girl at Trader Joe's. Will she grow up to think about
politics as nothing more than nasty sound bites, wherein a legitimate candidate
is arbitrarily dismissed as "hating America," or is it remotely
possible that her father can come to his senses and introduce her to the skills
of political and social responsibility?
1. According to Lorraine
Gayer, what is problematic about the way the man at Trader Joes responded to
his daughter? Is this a serious issue? What does she believe is the preferred
manner of discourse? What benefits might result from such discussions? Do
you agree with Ms. Gayer?