A few days ago it occurred to me that my daughter, now in the first grade, would be nearing eleven years old when Donald Trump ends his first - and hopefully last - term as president. If the unthinkable happened and Trump was re-elected, she will have spent her entire adolescence with a dangerous bigot as the leader of her country.
It is because of this thought, this sadness for her and her childhood, that my husband and I speak fairly openly with our daughter about what is happening politically.
We tell her, in an age-appropriate way, how the government wants to stop letting people who need help into the country because they look different or believe different things.We tell her that the men in charge think that women should be forced to have babies even when they don’t want to. We tell her that not everyone can look to the police for help.
She deserves to know, as young as she is. And for the same reason I teach her that it’s important to be kind to people, to clean up your own messes and to work hard - I also teach her that it’s everyone’s responsibility to do something now.
And so we make posters to hang in our windows expressing support for our Muslim and immigrant neighbors who may be afraid. We talk about what the Women’s March meant and why so many people are angry about a president who brags about hurting women. She reads children’s books about important, kind, leaders and the positive change they helped create.
To some people, involving children in politics is out-of-bounds. I have more than a few friends in bitter fights with extended family because their aunts, brother-in-laws or grandparents don’t approve of the pictures they see on social media of their kids at a protest or wearing a feminist shirt. The term ‘indoctrination’ is thrown about.
But everyone passes on their values to their kids, from religion to politics. And as any parent can tell you, children have an acute sense of right and wrong: they know what a bully is, they know what it means to help people who need it, and what unfairness looks and feels like. What’s happening in this country is an extension of those basic lessons, and in that way are easily explainable to kids.
Besides, there are many children in America and around the world right now who don’t have the privilege of ignorance. They’re worried about their families being separated or that the people tasked to protect them will hurt them instead. My child doesn’t live in fear in the way that others are forced to - I’m glad for that. But she should know that her relative comfortability is not a luxury everyone has.
Teaching our children about the world, as messy as it is, can increase their empathy and sense of social responsibility. It can make them better citizens, better neighbors and better friends. And right now, I think we could all stand to be a bit better.