Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

I Watched the Presidential Debates With My Kids: Here’s Why

Mayim recaps her reasons for exposing her sons to the debate & shares some of their reactions
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 10/14/2016 at 12:30 PM EDT

Some people have said that this election – and the Presidential debates – are not for children. And as you may know, I’m fairly protective of my kids and we don’t watch a lot of television. But I decided that my kids should see this debate, and here’s why.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Google it and that’s pretty much me. My ex-husband is also a liberal and we have two sons who are already liberal sweethearts at 8 and 11.

When we see homeless people on the street, I talk to my boys about the foundations of inequality in this country and especially how people of lower socioeconomic status have a set of challenges they will never know. We talk about the financial difficulties many experience because of illness, natural disaster and struggles with mental health conditions that go untreated in this country.

When we hear things in the news that are scary (I try to protect them but sometimes they do hear things in restaurants or stores if the news is on), I point out that mental illness is a factor in many crimes and many tragic situations and that the justice system is a very imperfect and problematic maze of bureaucracy, corruption, and fear.

When we see parents screaming at or hitting their children in public (one of the most disturbing things to witness if you come from a house where you are not hit), I remind my children that “hurt people hurt” and that we can have compassion for people even though Mama wants to hit those adults back.

In the spirit of the liberal Democratic principles which my grandparents fled Eastern Europe to be a part of, I watched the second set of debates with my kids. My Little Man was not so interested, but FirstBorn was pretty into it. Sure, there were some prickly words, but it’s nothing he hasn’t heard on the schoolyard, let’s be honest.

Why did I let my kids watch?

  1. Debate as a process. The process of debate is important. My kids love to debate me all the time; about what we should have for breakfast, why I don’t pay to heat the pool every single day of the year, and even why the toilet paper has to be brought up from the laundry room by them and not me. I wanted them to see a formal debate and in particular, the process of how grown-up politicians have challenging conversations. We have challenging conversations all of the time; I like that they can see that our political process honors challenging conversations and has a format for how those conversations are supposed to go.
  2. Issues. I am happy that my sons got to see that there are real issues the President is supposed to know about. They know that Syria is being bombed by Russia and that the United States is in a real pickle about how we should handle refugees from that country and many others. They know that taxes are a thing grown-ups have to pay, and that some people want to pay more and some people want to pay less. They also know that what the government decides to do with that money varies depending on your values. They also know that there are problems with race relations in this country and they know that there have been riots because of the treatment (and mistreatment) of black men in particular in this country. I wanted them to see that their Mama is not the only one talking about these things. These things are important.
  3. Passion. My kids know I am passionate about a lot of things. I am passionate about them; I cry when I bless them in front of the Shabbat candles on Friday nights, and I cry when they have a recital for violin or Shakespeare class. I am passionate about people I love and they witness that, too. I am passionate about my love of cats and I am passionate about the brutality of this world. I think it’s healthy for them to see me passionate about politics and the political process. We are blessed to live in a country that allows us the right to vote (even though it’s not perfect). I want them to see me caring about this with all of my passion.
  4. History. Like it or not, the Democratic party has produced the first African-American President in history and the first female Presidential candidate in history. That’s amazing. Even if I was a Republican, I’d have to stop and take note of the history in the making here. I want my children to remember watching Hillary Clinton debate Donald Trump because it is amazing.

We all indoctrinate our children. It’s hard not to. It’s just…what happens. And I know many Democrats who were “born Republican” as my sons call it; I also know Republicans who were raised in Democrat households. It happens; but for the most part, we do tend to align with our parents’ values in many ways. I would be shocked if my children grow up to be Conservative Republicans but it may happen and I have to be okay with that.

In the meantime, FirstBorn kept asking why Trump kept interrupting Clinton. He asked why he was making mean faces and snarky comments along the lines of “I know you are, but what am I?” He asked why he was sniffling so much. He asked why anyone would brag about not paying taxes and about why someone would not want to use their money to help poor people. He also noted that Hillary seemed to get upset when Trump was talking about her husband and I showed him how she controlled her temper and dealt with the issues at hand as much as she could.

There were times when FirstBorn was defending Hillary just because she was Hillary; I pointed out to him that she has done some prickly things and even though everyone deletes emails, she definitely needs to take responsibility for that (which she did). I tell him that all politicians are complicated and their lives are very complicated. Everything in politics is a complicated mess, really.

Because there are those who have identified my being a Democrat as my being a bad Jew, I tell my kids that this is absurd and and that they shouldn’t to listen to people if they say that.  I also tell them to think about politics with your heart and not just your head; sometimes we need to share money to help everyone be happy. Sometimes we need to sacrifice our personal desires for the greater good.

I respect all intelligent people who desire a better America, even if we don’t completely agree on what that looks like. I am grateful to share this country with so many kinds of people with so many smart and reasonable opinions. I also feel very blessed to be able to teach my sons through the political process about the things we value in our family, in hopes that they will pursue lives that seek to uplift freedom, justice, and one day – please God – liberty for all.

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