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Q: How can I talk to my 11-year-old about the election and all the controversy surrounding it? It's important to me that he understands our country's political process and the important role of our President and country. I want him to become an active voter when the time comes. But I don't want to overwhelm him or burden him with some of the difficult issues in this election. How can I educate my son about the election and politics without frightening him?
A: At age 11, your son already knows much about voting and the election process. He's lived in this culture all his life and has soaked up political bits and pieces from you, the media, talk at school, and possibly lessons in the classroom.
It's your parental responsibility to sift all he hears through your political value system and let him know where you stand. You don't need to bombard him with all him the details, but pique his interest by introducing the various controversies that exist. Try to show him both sides of any issues. You want him to know that you're available to offer insights when he's confused or needs an explanation.
Read him excerpts from the newspaper, and encourage him to focus on certain segments that appear on TV. If you disagree with a news segment or a political opinion, talk back to the newscaster or commentator. Let your child know you hold an opinion different from those in the media. If you agree, voice that opinion as well.
Your job is to think out loud so your child can hear your thoughts, ideas, and opinions, not so much so that he'll be indoctrinated to think like you, but so he'll be aware of the current issues. Then when he's 18 years old, he can make responsible voting choices for himself.
Tell him the story of the electoral process, include some of the frustrating details of the last presidential election, but always end with the message that regardless of the ugly politics that often surround elections, it's every citizen's duty to vote.
Read him the voters' pamphlet, which lays out who is running and for which offices. Explain the various initiatives and how you're voting. Tell him how you came to your decisions.
It's also important to offer -- even when he's just 11 -- terms such as propaganda, public relations pitches, and campaign strategies. And, yes, include some information about unsavory political party tactics and dirty politics. Your child's mind is beginning to open up to the bigger world, beyond school and extracurricular activities. By engaging him now, he's open to your ideas and influence.
Once he's a full-fledged teenager, the opinions of his teachers and peers will hold his interest more than yours. At this point don't be afraid to discuss and even debate the various issues and candidates.
The messages and information that you provide now will be with him until he's a young adult voter and goes to the voting booth on his own.