October 10, 2016

“Presidential” Debates: What to Tell Your Children

During PBS’s broadcast last night, political analyst Amy Walter disclosed that she would not be allowing her fourth-grade son to watch the second presidential debate. Like many parents of young children, Walter was uneasy imagining how a young person would process likely references to sexual assault, marital infidelity, and who knows what else might fly out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

I don’t have young children at home any more, so I didn’t need to engage in a moral calculus pitting a sense of civic duty to be informed against a desire to protect kids from exposure to inappropriate subject matter. But I was thinking about what I’d have done were my kids in grade school. I concluded that I’d probably have asked the kids to watch with my husband and me and that I’d have asked them to talk about what they were hearing.

Same with the recently-released video of Trump describing his “techniques” in making unwanted moves on women. As with most things having to do with sex and violence, I think it’s better to watch/listen — once (not in a continuous media loop) — and discuss than risk handing the job over to other kids.

The two big takeaways for young children should be:

Words are never “just words.”

When we talk about other people, we need to remember that they are people. We don’t refer to people as “it.” We don’t use words for body parts that make those body parts seem shameful. We also all make mistakes and say things that have the potential to hurt others. It’s inevitable. We always need to take responsibility for our words and the damage our words may do. Learning to repair and comfort is an important skill to practice.

No one ever has the right to touch another person without permission.

It doesn’t matter who is doing the touching, whether it’s a presidential candidate or a family friend. We all — boys and girls, men and women — have a fundamental right to decide where, when, how, and by whom we are touched. If we don’t like the way we are being touched, we need to tell someone we trust to help us make sure it never happens again. It’s OK to make a lot of noise and risk offending someone who is touching us in ways that make us feel uncomfortable.

The harder questions to answer have to do with how the American political system works. How to answer questions about why Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for the presidency? That one leaves me flummoxed.