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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Spencer Rendahl: Talking Politics With Kids

Like many parents, I’ve struggled to find age-appropriate ways to talk to my children about election news. My kids are aware that there have been comments made about minority groups, the handicapped, veterans, and families of veterans. They’ve also seen yard signs in town with prison bars superimposed over a candidate’s face. Because of my kids’ fascination with our neighboring senator Bernie Sanders and his insurgency, I’ve often used his candidacy as a diving board to talk about the role of government and shed some G-rated, non-locker room light on this difficult political season.

When they ask “Is Bernie Sanders a socialist?” and “What is socialism?” I explain that Bernie considers himself a democratic socialist. He wants us to still have the freedoms we have, but for the government to do more – like pay for college and everyone’s healthcare. In turn, we would pay higher taxes - like they do in Sweden and Denmark.

When they ask, “What’s communism?” I tell them China is a communist country, where citizens can vote, but only for one party: the Communist party. Chinese citizens have fewer freedoms than we do. If someone doesn’t like something the government does and protests against it, he or she can go to jail without a trial.

When they ask “Are judges always free?” knowing that a candidate has made comments about a judge, I tell them that in Turkey, the prime minister recently jailed judges he doesn’t like. And I tell them that in Egypt, jailing a political opponent isn’t just a provocative yard sign; it’s a reality.

My kids have visited Philadelphia’s Independence Hall where colonists debated and adopted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. We’ve talked about King George III, and how colonists fought for and won liberty. While the work of bringing equality to citizens proved hard-fought and may still be unfinished, the colonists created the framework to protect our freedom of expression and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

When the topic of deporting Muslims is raised, we discuss the holocaust - when a dictator led a country in the torture and murder of more than 6 million people throughout Europe – mostly religious and ethnic minorities, and the handicapped.

And when my kids hear Maine’s Governor Paul LePage say the US government needs “authoritarian power” after President Obama leaves office and ask what it means, I tell them it means they can count on their parents to vote in November.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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