The election is failing our kids

At the breakfast table not long ago, one of my twin girls asked: “Dad, are you voting for Hillary?”

“Yep,” I responded. “She’s smart and she’s got a lot of experience — she’s the best one for the job.”

My other girl laughed and said, “Yeah and Donald Trump is so stupid!”

Trying not to laugh, I did, really, use it as a teachable moment in name-calling. That’s not what we call people, I said, and tried to explain why I didn’t think Trump was qualified for the job.

This episode also made me think: Between my two 7-year-old girls and my almost-11-year-old boy, we have really screwed up an opportunity to begin sparking an interest in the political process, or at least giving them a sound, early civics lesson.

Not that this wacky election has been easy to teach or learn from.

We have talked about the election to a degree, and the kids are learning about it at school. We’ve talked a little about what our values as voters are. We’ve talked a bit about how the presidential election process works. We’ve talked about what local ballot measures are and what they can do, like helping fund their schools. We’ve talked about the three branches of government, and how the president can impact what happens in each branch, such as a Supreme Court nomination.

We’ve gone mostly silent about the election around our breakfast table, and I hate it.

But now we’re in uncharted waters and as we enter the final weeks of the campaign, the TV has been turned off. Discussion about it has largely stopped. The news cycle and campaigns are in the gutter. What can you say to seven year olds about the guy running for president who’s accused of assaulting women? We’ve gone mostly silent about the election around our breakfast table, and I hate it.

Then Michelle Obama gave a speech Thursday that gave me a window to have a chat with my 10-year-old. I wasn’t surprised to learn he already knew that Trump had “said some inappropriate stuff” and “treated women bad.” Kids are talking about the election at school, in class and with friends. It’s almost guaranteed that somewhere in the 5th grade, some kids have had a giggle about pussy.

This was as teachable a moment as ever, so I gave him some context about the Billy Bush tape and the allegations and, more importantly, about how he needs to handle himself around girls and women as a young man. This is important stuff, and it’s not easy to talk about. Our assignment for this weekend is to watch the full speech together.

Michelle Obama, in a must-see speech, gave us an opening to talk to our son about becoming a well-behaved young man.

When I was a kid, politics in my family weren’t discussed as much as I often was surrounded by information about politics. We got the daily paper, and we watched the evening news. During campaign seasons, the conventions and debates were always on. Every big campaign-related event that was on TV was on our family’s TV.

When I was young, political news and 60 Minutes sparked an interest in journalism that carried me through college and into a career in media. In addition to a newspaper internship, I worked on two political campaigns, one of which sent our congressional candidate, Walter Capps, to Washington, D.C.

Hoping this election year will just go away isn’t doing anything to make our kids more civically minded.

Now we watch the debates after the kids go to bed. Election news on TV is almost worse than watching late-90s Jerry Springer. After this last week I can’t even fathom watching the next debate on Oct. 19 with kids in the room. This does our kids a disservice. Hoping this election will just go away isn’t doing anything to make our kids more civically minded. Shielding them from the process isn’t doing anything to help them formulate their own opinions about issues and candidates.

With our kids, we should be talking about the attributes of what makes a good president, and how the President of the United States sets an example for leadership in our country and across the rest of the world. We should be talking about the issues and how the election will shape the next few years of their lives.

Eight years ago, I sat with absolute joy watching Barack Obama claim the win as 44th president, the first black man to ever get the job. As an American I’m proud that my kids will grow up knowing and remembering their first president as an African-American man. I remember Ronald Reagan on TV and wondered if we’d ever see any diversity in the Oval Office. It’s here today, it’s happening, and it should be amazing.

But instead of celebrating the possibility of a female president on the heels of our first black president, we’re hiding the kids from debates where Trump shouts down moderators and tries to intimidate his opponent.

Donald Trump is not an upstander, he’s a bully. My kids know the difference.

Today we should be talking about how Hillary Clinton is incredibly well qualified to become the 45th president. Instead I’m hiding my kids from the news and most of the campaign.

Instead of watching campaign speeches about issues like poverty or climate change, we’re hiding the kids from “locker room talk,” whatever that is.

I digress. The campaign has digressed. And instead of taking the election on and using it as a teachable moment, I find myself hiding behind my own insecurities and am certainly looking forward to this all just ending. And of course it won’t end, at least not until inauguration day.

When it finally is all over and the blowhards have gone home to tweet, at least we’ll have the option of not-subscribing to Trump TV.