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Parenting and Politics: Raising Responsible Voters

  • Jenny Runkel ScreamFree Parenting
  • Updated Jul 29, 2011
Parenting and Politics: Raising Responsible Voters


April 30, 2008

Carpooling is an underrated parenting tool. True, you have to be willing to trade your clean car and peaceful commute for chaotic chatter and OKR (other kids’ residue), but I have found that it is well worth the sacrifice. Why is that? Because carpooling has taught me more about my children than any other school related activity. Carpooling is the legal equivalent to truth serum. From the bowels of the back seat, children reveal incredible things. If you just listen long enough without interrupting or prompting them, you’ll find out more than you ever thought possible about their friends, their teachers, and their views of the world.

The other day after school, I picked up my kids and two of their friends, Dana and Delaney. After the usual shuffling and maneuvering of 80 lb. bookbags and cumbersome musical instruments, we got situated and buckled in.

At first, the conversation from the back was like any other. Talk of crushes from the older ones and disgusted protests from the younger set. I had the radio on and a local dj was commenting on the primary results here in Georgia that took place earlier this year. He mentioned that Barack Obama had won the Democratic primary and began taking calls concerning all the presidential candidates.

As soon as the dj finished his commentary, my 8-year-old son piped up, “Yes! He won! I love ‘the rock Obama’. He’s just so cool.”

I was simultaneously surprised by Brandon’s enthusiasm for the candidate and amused by his mis-hearing of Obama’s name. I was about to correct him when my daughter beat me to the punch – but for a reason far different than mine.

With a horrified gasp and raised eyebrows, our 5th grader Hannah lunged toward her brother. And with all the urgency and seriousness she could muster, she whispered through clenched teeth, “Brandon!!! …..He’s a Democrat!”

“So?” came his reply.

“So?!?! Democrats just wanna take our money and send it to people in other countries!” replied my obstinate offspring.

I wanted more than anything to jump in and correct her horrible misconception (and his Freudian slip), but I just bit my lip and continued to listen with the utmost curiosity, wondering what his retort would be.

I didn’t get a chance to hear it because before he could reply, the second eldest politician in the car chimed in, “Plus, Brandon, Democrats don’t believe in God.”

I couldn’t believe what was taking place – full on propaganda from the innocent little prepubescents in the back seat! I knew it was time to step in and carefully straighten things out, but I didn’t want to make the girls feel bad for simply repeating what they’d heard. After all, suburban Atlanta is one of the most Republican counties in the country. It makes sense that kids would hear some disparaging comments about Democrats in one way or another, but this was ridiculous.

So, I took just a moment to compose my thoughts before laying out a careful explanation.

“Girls, that’s just not true. There are millions of both Republicans and Democrats who believe in God and see their political choices as a way to serve God. And both Democrats and Republicans have lots of different views – even amongst themselves - about money and trade with other countries. I know it’s sometimes hard to understand, but instead of just assuming something about all Republicans or all Democrats, it’s always best to get to know the individual and what they believe in. After all, everyone has their own beliefs – and that includes you, even though you’re young. You should figure out the things that matter to you and find out what the candidates believe about those things before you make up your mind.” 

Dead silence filled the air from the back.

I was pretty proud of my little speech and how articulate I had been. I peeked in the rearview mirror to see how well I had actually done. Some had blank looks of acceptance on their faces while others carried looks of confusion. Delaney, however, the youngest of the group, had a deeply pensive expression and I could tell she wanted to ask a question. I was sure that I had struck a chord with her and made a real impact on her young political mind – until I heard her question.

“So, do Democrats believe in unicorns?”

My turn for dead silence.

“Umm…I don’t think so, sweetheart.”

“Well then, I’m a Republican, ‘cause that’s what matters to me.”

I relayed these events to my husband Hal and after a good laugh, we thought some about how most parents tend to steer clear of political discussions with their kids. Because of that, children are on their own to splice together the bits and pieces they get from the airwaves and in the hallways. We decided to be a little more proactive ourselves and we came up with three principles of politics to live by at our house. They are:

1. Model What You Don’t See Enough. Our kids will catch most everything we say, so let’s try to model political conversations the way we wish politicians would do it — calmly centered on the issues at hand. Besides, there’s nothing like a little conversation with a child to sharpen your own intellect. They will want to know why you feel a certain way, so be ready to tell them.

2. Let Our Kids Disagree with Us. Encourage them to do so. Not only will such discourse grow their thinking skills, it will drastically increase their respect for you.

3. Fight for the Right to Fight. Whether we disagree (with our spouses, friends, or kids) is not the issue — whether we can freely disagree without violence or hatred or dirt is the issue. Think of the change for this world if our kids grow up practicing ScreamFree politics.

Like I said, I learned a lot that day. I learned that kids hear and pick up on more than you think. I learned that they need guidance in sorting out all of the stuff that they think they understand. I learned that apparently, my skills in unraveling complicated political intricacies need some work. And I learned that by matter of default, if nothing else, Republicans have a staunch supporter in the 2nd grader who is really hoping for a win this November, for the sake of all the unicorns out there.

Jenny Runkel is the Director of Content for, and wife of Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool.