John Cowan - Political Kids

Publish Date
Friday, 18 November 2016, 12:42PM
By John Cowan

Hi I’m John Cowan from the Parenting Place.

I am not sure what my political heritage is because Mum always voted National and Dad was a Labour supporter, and every three years they would conscientiously head off to the polling booths and respectfully cancel out each other’s vote. 

Considering how mild and vanilla-flavoured New Zealand politics is, it’s no wonder I can never recall being disturbed by political events growing up. But after the recent US elections, I was spoken to by several parents who mentioned their kids – and kids at a school camp they were running – were very worried about the news coming out of America.

The first thing I would say is that children have very limited interest in politics but they are very concerned about their parents. They take on board your emotions and if you are worried they are worried. So, first tip: watch your emotions when responding to any news items – you may need to be a bit braver, a bit more sober, around young observers. The second thing is, they do not yet have a mature way of interpreting the news on TV and radio. Events that are far off might seem to them to be very close and threatening. As adults, we might be used to the over-used tone of alarm in the voice of some reporters, but to children it might be really scary.  If they are seeing disasters and turmoil on their screen, add your commentary, your interpretation, your reassurance.

An interesting study* shows that parents that deliberately try to stamp their political views on their children do succeed in making their children more politically minded but that political awareness has an interesting consequence.  They follow their parents’ views when they are young but, as they grow through their teens, their interest in politics means they expose themselves to a wider range of political views. Evidence from the UK and US suggests they tend to end up with different views from their parents! Conservatives spawn progressives, and vice versa.

So if you don’t want your children cancelling your vote out like my parents did to each other, I think it is wiser to actually sow values rather than political ideologies. When you react to politics as you watch the news, talk about it in terms of the values you hold rather than using political labels. If your kids grow up believing they should work hard, and care for others and their planet, then they will be good citizens who will end up voting for the right party.  And if you want to know what party that is, contact me privately!

For more, check

*Elias Dinas: “Why Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree? How Early Political Socialization Prompts Parent-Child Dissimilarity”. British Journal of Political Science, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp. 827-852; October 2014.

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