Talking Politics with Teens
Helping Them Stay Informed…And Out of the Mud
At dinner one night last week, our 12-year-old son said, “Dad, it looked like a street brawl was about to break out!” Was he describing a playground scuffle at school? A blow-up at the basketball court in our neighborhood?
No. He was referring to the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Divided to the Edges — One of our son’s assignments is to present a current event to his 7th grade civics class each Friday afternoon. The recent political landscape has given him and his peers plenty of material for their short presentations. After all, millions of adults – including dozens and dozens of our elected officials – are acting like children when it comes to politics.
For instance, two years in, the nation remains bitterly divided over President Trump. Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court after one of the longest and nastiest confirmation hearings in recent history. And the midterm elections that are less than a month away look to have higher than typical voter turnout because of the polarized views of many Americans.
But it’s not just America as a whole that’s divided; individual places like Hollywood are also experiencing a split. In the past few days, celebrities have added fuel to the fire by weighing in with their differing opinions. It seems the political furor has pushed Taylor Swift in one direction…and Kanye West in another.
Perhaps the recent gubernatorial race in my home state of Florida best illustrates our nation’s current divide. We’re now the nation’s 3rdlargest state by population, and in our recent primaries, voters chose the absolute most liberal candidate (Andrew Gillum) and the absolute most conservative candidate (Ron DeSantis) leaving voters with a stark choice for governor on November 6th.
It’s as if we’re running to the edges of both extremes leaving the middle ground littered with land mines. Mud is being slung from both sides and collateral damage is taking its toll on millions of minds. This is the political atmosphere confronting our teenagers.
Donkeys, Elephants, and Sheep — When it comes to bad influences such as druggies, bullies, or gossips, we can simply tell our kids to steer clear. But we can’t advise them to avoid politics…even if they’re negative and nasty. We want them to be informed. We want them to be engaged. We just don’t want them to be sucked into the funk.
Is that even possible in today’s political climate?
Absolutely! Here are a few tips to help you keep your teenagers “informed” without becoming “insane.”
- Make sure your politics are informed by your faith. Conversely, don’t ever let your faith ever be informed by your politics! Before you are a Democrat, you are a Christ follower. Before you are a Republican, you are a disciple of Jesus. Our very first allegiance must be to God and His will…even if it parts with our political preferences. As you discuss politics with your teenagers, weave in (accurately interpreted) Scripture as the basis for your stance. This will not only provide them with the “what,” it will also help them understand the “why.”
- Never let your words, actions, or attitude compromise your witness. Listen closely: Jesus will never give you permission to be a jerk. There are literally millions of people who disagree with your political ideologies. Your God-given mission isn’t to verbally pound them until they conform to your way of thinking. Your calling from God is to love them. If you constantly attack, belittle, and ridicule those who oppose your views, you run the risk of undermining your position and integrity in the eyes of your teens. Make sure you can get your point across without getting nasty…and help your kids learn to do the same. That will definitely make your position a unique one!
- Be willing to humbly talk about your side’s shortcomings. Both platforms have their strengths. Both platforms have their weaknesses. Honesty should compel us to point out both to our kids. We don’t have to agree with – or defend – something that runs counter to our values and beliefs just because the person who said it (or did it) was “red” or “blue.” Acknowledging a flaw, and speaking humbly about it, will not only help us have genuine conversations, it will help us avoid rants, as well.
We live in a land dominated by donkeys (Democrats) and elephants (Republicans). But according to the Bible, we are to be sheep. Our identity is in Christ, not a political party. Remembering that, and living by it, will help us and our kids not only honor God, but also avoid a lot of headaches.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.