By Dr. Steve Schlozman
I’m not that old, but I’m old enough to remember when it was routine to hear in grade school that if you worked hard, you might get to be president of the United States someday.
Never once did I hear any of my teachers tell me what kind of hard work I’d have to do as a parent when, about 40 seconds into a presidential debate, one party’s leading candidate references the size of his…um….hands.
Are you kidding me?
How did we get to a place where you have to explain to your 10-year-old daughter that the Republican front-runner is bragging on national television about the size of his penis? Seriously. Tell me how we make that sound OK in any arena?
That was my task Friday morning when my 10-year-old daughter saw me watching clips of the debate. You might say that a 10-year-old is too young to watch the presidential debates, because it can include references to things like wars and lives lost. I think there are ways we can talk about those unfortunate aspects of a complex world to children of all ages.
But I (and I’m a child shrink) don’t have a great template to help my daughter understand the reasons a presidential candidate might refer to his penis. Not just anyone said this, mind you. It was the front-runner! What a mess. And it’s not like the debate got more admirable after all that.
People are, of course, allowed to argue for their beliefs. We even encourage these kinds of arguments. In fact, the entire fabric of our society is based on our ability to engage in these kinds of arguments in a thoughtful and civilized manner.
We’ll have to admit to our children that, developmentally, our politicians just can’t play nice in their sandboxes.
The problem, therefore, is how we reconcile the basic human desire to disagree with the values of civility and truth that we all pretty much agree save us from anarchy. It feels to me like right now, we’re only really accomplishing half of our goals. We have no problems disagreeing. We do, however, have all sorts of problems disagreeing in ways that we can later be proud of.
This is when we parents need to step in. Even if you don’t agree with the government, think the country is heading nowhere good, and really dislike the current leadership’s platform, you must (and I’m begging you) make the case to your kids for a reasoned and thoughtful process of objections.
As parents, we have an obligation, an absolute duty, to be crystal clear with our kids right now. When someone running for office says that certain religions are unquestionably and across the board more dangerous than others; that he should “rough someone up” because he doesn’t like the way that person behaved, or what he believes in; that he tends to respect the soldiers who don’t get caught and become POWs — you can’t just shake your head, chuckle, and explain that politics is a contact sport.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Say little Timmy, age 10, gets a paper back from his teacher, and the teacher’s written comments make him very unhappy. Let’s say he wads up his paper, and with a dramatic and disgusted flourish, throws it into the trash in front of his teacher and peers. Continue reading