With the U.S. Presidential Election less than two weeks away, we’ve heard from numerous families that the stress of talking about politics — or trying not to talk about politics — is taking a toll on family time. Besides the usual delicate balancing that may need to happen if family members disagree about political matters and candidates, 2016 has brought its own challenges, with tensions flaring over everything from bullying to sexual misconduct, dishonesty and “isms” of every kind.
Ordinarily our advice to families about discussing difficult topics at the dinner table is simple: If a topic adds tension to the meal, it may be best avoided until another time. After all, dinnertime is supposed to be pleasant and help you bond, not tear you apart over the fate of the White House! But elections, and all that they bring with them, are an important cornerstone of American democracy. They provide a unique teachable moment for families about the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that are fundamental to our society, and they can be a lens through which adults can impart lessons about the ideals and actions that their families value most.
So should you talk about the election at the table? Not if it’s going to devolve into a screaming match or cause seriously wounded feelings. However, it’s possible to talk about aspects of the election itself — voting, taking part in an important democratic process, decision-making and media consumption — without allowing the conversation to become too heated or divisive. Here are some tips and tools for discussing the election with your family that may help you keep the dinner table a peaceful place:
Our friends at the Harry Potter Alliance are working hard to make sure that all eligible voters turn out on Election Day to exercise their rights. Their Wizard Rock the Vote Campaign helps young people register to vote, send “howlers” to friends to remind them to take part, offers trainings and webinars on getting involved in the political process and more. If you’ve got teens and young adults at home, encouraging them to learn and take action through Wizard Rock the Vote’s many useful options could be a positive way to encourage political engagement without negativity.
The team at Common Sense Media has put together a fantastic guide for families to help direct conversations during election season. Their tips for steering kids through the political season show parents of kids across the age spectrum how to talk about what children are seeing, hearing and feeling during a fraught election cycle. Expert tips with book suggestions, practical advice and ideas on imparting your own views to help foster dialogue will have you feeling more in control of the political dinner conversation, and get kids thinking about the messages they’re receiving both at home and through the media.
TFDP friend Christopher Phillips, founder of Socrates Cafe, Democracy Cafe, Constitution Cafe and The Declaration Project, is an expert in engaging young people in learning and exploring the foundations of our political system. Visit his sites for thought-provoking conversation starters about the U.S. Constitution and the origins of democracy, or consider making an election-season family declaration through his intriguing Declaration Project.
There are many good reasons to “talk politics” at the table at this moment in history. The above resources, along with a good deal of patience, a sense of humor and a focus on your family’s ethics and ideals, should help you keep the conversation positive and constructive for everyone involved. In just a few weeks’ time, the national focus will have shifted to the next four years of governance; having a strong foundation of discussion and ideas about our rights, responsibilities and the meaning of participation in a democratic society will be just as important then as it is right now.