Politics of the Playground

“You support who? SHUN HIM! SHUN HIM!”

“Did you know that Mitt Romney tackled Barack Obama?”

These exact words that were said to our children last week at school. From the oldest of our four kids (12) to the youngest (4), politics is part of their day. Unfortunately, it’s not just background noise. It’s front and center–and it’s extreme.

When we were little, we certainly remember big elections and political figures, but it just wasn’t something that we talked about with our friends or heard about at school. We vaguely remember the Kids Voting we’d do at school, but it was a fun and happy thing. A silly thing even. It certainly wasn’t something we’d go back and discuss. It *especially* wasn’t something that would make us spew hate filled words at our friends. Boy, times have changed.

Whether or not you know it, your kids are exposed to some pretty rough political rhetoric when you’re not around. It’s difficult enough to help them sort it all out when you are right there to explain that “the other guy” isn’t mean or bad, he just has different opinions on how to help the country. But even the smallest of children are having to deal with this by themselves in this political climate. Ugh…what went wrong?

Our job as parents is to guide our children and teach them values. We obviously want them to think and stand up for themselves, but we also encourage them to do so in a way that is respectful to others and certainly isn’t damaging to anyone. Most of us would say kindness is a virtue we hope to instill in our children. Most of us make this point on a daily basis from the time they’re little. There is a reason you don’t grab someone’s shovel in the sandbox or hit them if they irritate you. As they get older we also let them know there is a reason you sit with the person who is all alone at a table at lunch. Kindness matters.

It’s really hard for children to get this message when adults aren’t practicing it. We can’t think of anyone we know who would approach a stranger to tell them how stupid they were for being a different religion or choosing different groceries at the store, but somehow politics is now fair game. A few months ago, a man we didn’t know, approached the car we were in (which also contained our children) just to let us know that the political bumper sticker on the car made us idiots. This was a stranger…coming up to two women…with a car load of children…for the sole purpose of being insulting. In addition to being incredibly rude, it was actually scary. When did this kind of behavior become acceptable? More importantly, can it change?

We really wish that the conclusion of the 2012 Presidential Election would signal the end of this phenomenon. The problem is, this isn’t a phenomenon that started or will end with this one election. It’s where we seem to be right now as a country. It’s the zeitgeist.

We want better for our children. Not just because working together gets things done, but because stopping this cycle of “I can insult you faster than you can insult me” results in everyone reduced to their worst selves.

Isn’t it sad that it’s even necessary to type those words? OF COURSE people can be good, and smart, and patriotic, and yet have totally different viewpoints.

Thankfully, we’ve seen this in action this last week. Even right before an election, two people who couldn’t be farther apart on the political spectrum have come together, praised each other’s work and dedication, and helped the victims of a ravaged eastern seaboard. Even though they disagree on most issues. Even though they are in different political parties. Even if they are voting for different people in the presidential election.

Barack Obama and Chris Christie working together amicably for the common good should not be surprising news. It should be the rule, not the exception. It shouldn’t take a tragic, natural disaster to remind us that “the other guy” is a hardworking patriot who wants what is best for our country, too.

Political differences do not make us enemies. If we want our children to embrace this concept, we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got to start sending this message now. After all, isn’t that the message we actually want them to receive?

Photo Credit: State of New Jersey, Office of the Governor, Official Website http://www.nj.gov/governor/


Politics of the Playground — 62 Comments

    • I agree, Chris. It’s a mess. How can we expect them learn how to get along with others with opposing viewpoints when the adults can’t seem to do it. (and don’t seem to care to that they can’t) 🙁

    • Exactly. It was just a different time. With 24 hour news and everyone being in constant contact now, it’s just so different. This is one change that has not been for the better.

  1. “Disagreeing with someone doesn’t make them your enemy”
    If adults paved the way for this motto our children would handle conflicted opinions better. Unfortunately some of us don’t do that. This should be on every fridge in America!

    • Thanks, Nikki!
      What’s so funny is that, if asked, we’d almost all universally say we want our children to respect people who aren’t just like them…but we don’t seem to hold ourselves to that same standard when it comes to politics.

  2. My second grader came home the other day telling me all about why one political candidate is so awful- courtesy of a lunch conversation with a friend. Totally crazy to me that they had that discussion.

    • Totally crazy! What 8 year old needs to be lectured on how awful a candidates is by their 7 year old lunchmate? Sheesh. What’s so awful is that it is *really* upsetting and confusing to them. Ugh.

  3. It’s discussed way more than I think it should be on the playground. Especially because they really don’t know what they are talking about. A kid went up to Tommy and asked who he is voting for and when Tommy told him, the kid went off on how dumb Tommy was for voting for him and was I voting for him because that meant his mom was dumb, too. Tommy came home with 1000 questions. So, yes…I remember voting as a school but it was in fun. It was not a reason to be mean to everyone that didn’t vote the way you did.

    • I totally agree. It was one of Bobby’s fairly good friends who literally yelled “Shun him, shun him” to their other friends when Bobby informed him who he supported. He wasn’t joking either. WTH??? It was really hurtful…and for what purpose? Ugh.

  4. Beautifully said. My heart just breaks over this entire issue. We are blessed we live in a country where we GET to vote. Over the course of the past year, with James working overseas, our lives have crossed paths with people who have escaped horrible situations, totaly poverty and tyranny, and they would give ANYTHING to live freely in the United States just to have the right to vote. The fact that we act like spoiled brats and fight with each other completely disgraces this privelege. So, our family’s focus this year, throughout this election, has been focusing on the privelege of voting. When my kids get challenged or bothered about who we are voting for or why we support our candidate, I’m encouraging them to say “Isn’t it great we live somewhere we CAN disagree. Not everyone is allowed to do that.” BIG PICTURE PEOPLE.

    • Exactly. SO well said. We need to be celebrating that we get to have a voice through our vote and live in a country where power is peacefully handed off to the winner without incident. It’s wonderful and we need to embrace that and celebrate it…not use it to bash each other!

  5. Good article. We had fun voting with fake campaigns when I was a kid (Humphrey vs. Nixon). It certainly wasn’t personal. I have friends who are going to vote incorrectly in this election, so we just steer clear of any political talk. I know they aren’t bad people, just misguided, foolish and so, so wrong.

  6. Good grief! We’ve been dealing with this at our house. Our daughter absolutely lost her little mind when she found out we weren’t voting the same way she voted at school. Oy. I will be so happy for tomorrow to come and go.

    I try to remember that no matter what the political beliefs of my friends, they are their beliefs and it doesn’t change why I liked them to start with. We all gave opinions and thoughts on things way beyond politics that don’t jive, they just don’t get dragged out as often.

    • Exactly, Jamie!
      Whatever their political beliefs, they probably operate independently from why you are friends in the first place! And really, has ANYONE ever change their mind after being insulted by someone? I know I haven’t.

  7. I love this post! It is so true–I get so hesitant to say how we really feel about anything b/c I think the hate will be showered upon us. What your graphic says is perfect–I am pinning to help spread the word. Thanks for this post.

    • Thanks so much, Meredith!
      We’ve got to start changing the way we handle political discourse in this country. It matters!

  8. I’m so sick of the political name calling that I wrote about it on my blog today. A topic I avoid at all costs. But it’s getting out of hand and I wish more people would try to work together instead of tearing people apart.

    • Yes! LOVED your post!!
      It’s absolutely out of hand and we’ve got to turn it around. I can’t imagine how we will EVER get things done as a country if we do not.

  9. Great column! Well said – all of us have a duty to our young people – give them fair and unbiased ( and I don’t mean the Fox variety) thoughts on how our society and nation work, how our differences actually make us stronger, and how one must be tolerant of other opinions while remaining true to our own beliefs and principles. It is time for the “silent majority” to start making our own voices heard above the politically biased din. Thank you for writing this. Keep up the siren call for rationality and respect.



    • So true! Our differences truly DO make us stronger and it is absolutely possible to tolerate those different from us without being untrue to our own beliefs. Very well said! 🙂

  10. Our parents had always exemplified respect to the president no matter who was in office. I was taught that the position was one of honor.

    I remember once, in elementary, someone brought in a signed photograph of George Bush (Senior). I knew NOTHING about politics, but thought it was amazing that she had something so valuable. I eagerly waited to see the picture as it was passed around the classroom. But as it got closer to me, I noticed that kids were gingerly picking it up and passing it to the next person like it was “germy”. I’m ashamed to admit that I followed suit and did the very same thing – I was afraid of being accused of not knowing what was so bad about him.

    I regretted it, since I didn’t even know what they had against him, and I asked my parents about it later… they had never thought to tell me how other people are sometimes disrespectful of the opposing party. I plan to teach my children both of those things: that it’s a position of honor and should be respected, and to beware that other people might not always act that way, but not to be swayed.

    • Your parents had it right, Robin. I wish more people agreed now!
      (and your story kind of breaks my heart. I wish it had just been a sweet memory of how cool it was to see something that was signed by an actual president–no matter who the president–because that *is* cool)
      You’ve got a good plan for the boys!! Spot on!

  11. I honestly didn’t know that kids were getting this level of exposure to this. UGh. It’s bad enough for adults. I love this picture of Obama and Christie. I can’t wait until this is all over. IT’s been so brutal and this country doesn’t need that.

    • It’s so surprising, but even the tiny ones are getting it. UGH.

      We absolutely love that picture of Obama and Christie, too!
      Fingers crossed that, whatever the outcome, we know it today without any sort of fighting in the courts a la the 2000 election. I just don’t think we can take much more.

  12. Visiting via Yeah Write. I love this post sooooo much! I want to steal your images and post them myself.

    When it becomes winners vs. losers, we all lose in the end.

  13. You make an excellent point. Why do people have to attack the person instead of the idea? I run into this all the time where I sit on volunteer committees. It’s fine to offer polite criticism of an idea if you think there’s a better way to do something, but there is no need to criticize the person. Thanks for making a point of this.

    • Yes, that’s it exactly! Attacking the person instead of the ideas is not necessary. In fact it’s completely unhelpful (not to mention rude)

  14. This really shocked and saddened me. I wonder if this is a generational difference or something specific to the U.S., because I don’t remember any kind of political discussion before high school growing up (I’m in Canada). I love your statement badge and it applies to more than politics. A lot of people need to learn how to express a different opinion from another without being hateful.

    • It’s something that seems to have changed here in the US over the past 15 to 20 years or so. It wasn’t like this when we were younger. And you are so right, it does apply to more than politics.

  15. I’m pinning your graphic, too. It flabbergasts me how many people forget this. And your words about kindness, too – I just blogged about this same idea a couple days ago. People just forget to be kind way too often… and as you demonstrate, some people also feel entitled to be incredibly nasty to others, based on next-to-no information/reason. How can anyone harassing a carful of strangers consider themselves qualified to pass judgment on others?? Yikes.

    • Thanks so much, Angela. We just think it’s so awful that it’s not only prevalent with adults, but it’s all over schools now. I guess that’s not surprising because children learn from their examples, but still. Sad.

    • I’m so glad your son hasn’t experienced the mudslinging at school. Thank goodness! That needs to be the rule, not the exception!

  16. “Barack Obama and Chris Christie working together amicably for the common good should not be surprising news. It should be the rule, ” Yes… this is about WE the people.

  17. It’s hard to have conversations with children about politics. My son asked who I would vote for and I struggled to explain to him why. At 5, he doesn’t understand the issues and the idea of one man being better suited to run the country is just outside of his scope. But kids repeat what their parents say and that’s where their politics will start. Until adults respect each other, our kids won’t learn to do it.

    • We totally agree. It’s up to us to change the atmosphere as adults. Until we do, no wonder the kids are behaving this way!

  18. Well some parents back in the day used to tell their children how to feel about people who looked different from them. Soo…at least we’re not dealing with that anymore. Oh wait. Never mind.

    • We hate that attitude, too. What’s even more ridiculous is that nobody ever changed someone’s mind by being hateful toward them. NEVER. If you did want to impart some new bit of info to a friend, that’s sure not the way for it to be received.

  19. My nephews hear too much from their very closed-minded mother and her parents. They call candidates they don’t support “clowns” and “a-holes” and other disrespectful things. Make me madder than mad. I try to explain that it is possible to disagree on issues and still be respectful, but it falls on deaf ears. I can only hope to teach my own kids to be respectful of differing opinions.

  20. I remember school voting as a kid and actually when my kids were kids. It was fun and light. Times have changed. My kids are older (19 & 22) and what I want them to understand is that it is important to know how to “agree to disagree” and that it’s okay to do so. Timely post!

    • We want our kids to understand that too, Gina! I can’t imagine how awful it will be if things keep going on this way!

  21. This was so well said. If I spewed hate at people who didnt agree with me, then I wouldnt have any family! Sure, I’ve been tempted to comment on a facebook post or two, but I dont because I care more about them than I do.about making a point.
    That guy in the parking lot was completely out of line!

    • Oh, that is so true. We’ve been so saddened by all of the hateful things we’ve seen on Facebook in the past week. (some of it from family, too) *sigh*

      And yes, the level of ugly in that guy coming over to us was unbelievable. It was shocking to us.

  22. Beautiful post. Yes, kindness matters. It matters so much more than so many others things we think matter. This line: “ ‘the other guy’ isn’t mean or bad, he just has different opinions on how to help the country.” Wonderful! Unfortunately, I don’t think most adults believe this. Or they think that everyone who disagrees with them is stupid. It kind of makes me crazy.

    I’m glad the election is over. So glad. I hope things get better. And I will continue to try to sow seeds of kindness wherever I can.

    Happy Sharefest. Thanks for your words.

    • It is really sad, and it’s got to change. Our kids will be living in a more diverse country than ever as they grow up, thankfully. They need to learn how to disagree with someone without being made to feel they have to hate them!

  23. My second grader came home from the Kid’s Voting Day and shared with me that afterwards the class did a poll and the results were 17 to 3. The first thing I thought of was how left out and targeted the minority 3 must have felt. I thought it was poor judgement on the teachers part if I am being honest. 🙁

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