Helping our children understand the ins and outs of elections is a noble, yet challenging task. As a mom of a child who first read the constitution for fun in 6th grade, politics and constitutional rights were part of my everyday experience. This election year, history is unfolding before our eyes, and our children have a front seat! A Female candidate, a wealthy businessman with no political experience or a third party candidate? Regardless of the outcome, the 2016 elected president will be historic.
While numerous unit studies and books are available with a focus on the election process, let’s consider the value of watching and analyzing the presidential debates with your children.
Truthfully, how many of us would say viewing the 2016 debates is something we considered skipping this year? If this describes you, you are not alone. Historically, the percent of the voting age population that watched a presidential debate in the past 50 years has declined from 60% to a mere 28% in 2012. This year’s debates are predicted to continue this steady decline. Numerous reasons are theorized for this decline. Additional research and analysis on this phenomenon is available at the Annenberg Public Policy Center on Presidential reform.
Before viewing the televised debates, introduce your children to the candidates. Websites abound with information. Scholastic Election 2016 is designed for elementary to middle school students and has information on the election process and the candidates and includes an opportunity to vote. Older students may find the Presidential Candidates inside.gov beneficial. Once they are familiar with the candidates, ask them to list two or three issues or questions that are important to them. As they watch the debate, have them listen for the candidate’s responses on these issues. Additionally, older children may find this an excellent opportunity to learn and evaluate logical (and illogical) arguments. Fallacy Detective provides a short list of common fallacies in logical thought.
Watching a debate is more than hearing candidates address your specific questions or issues, since much of this information is widely available before the event. During a live debate, the American people have the opportunity to watch a candidate’s mannerisms, character and response under pressure, allowing them to ask themselves, ‘Is this the man or woman I would like to lead our country?’ Prior to the debate, introduce your children to how the debate process is designed to work, as well as to debate etiquette. As a family, watch the debate with an ear on the issues and an eye on the character and personality of the candidates. Remember, you and your children have a front row seat to history as it unfolds before us, so make the most of the opportunity. Watch, analyze and discuss the 2016 election together as a family; your children will thank you!