Parents all over America have been asking this question this week after the president said in a news conference on Tuesday about the protests in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend:
“I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”
And then: “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
His tweets, his speeches and the footage from Charlottesville and from the terrorist attack in Barcelona have been playing on many of our TV sets all week.
Ava Siegler, a clinical psychologist and former director of the Institute for Child, Adolescent & Family Studies in New York City, wrote the book “How Do I Explain This to My Kids? Parenting in the Age of Trump.” ($15.95, The New Press) The book features a collection of essays by parents who are also writers talking about what they told their children after the election. The parents are Muslims, Jews, African Americans, Latinos, women — all groups that Trump’s rhetoric attacked during the election and since.
Siegler is clearly coming from an anti-Trump bias in the book, but she has action steps for both parents who voted for him and parents who did not.
“When I wrote this book, one of the things I thought about is the presidency of Donald Trump was going to be a national disaster and parents were going to have to be the first responders,” Siegler says.
Parents have speak to their children about the things that Trump is doing that is not OK, Siegler says. All the values that you hold true and want to pass onto your children, you have to continue to pass onto your children even if the president is acting against those values, Siegler says.
Remind them it’s not OK to be a bully, and that we stand up to bullies.
It’s not OK to support people who say racial slurs or anti-Semitic slurs. It’s not OK to say them yourself or repeat them.
It’s not OK to say things or do things against women.
It’s not OK to say things against immigrants because all of us where immigrants at one point.
If you’re a parent who did vote for Trump but don’t agree with his rhetoric, you can explain to your child that you voted for him because you thought he would bring back jobs or help the economy, she says, but then remind them: “‘I voted for him, but never thought he would represent this point of view, and I don’t agree with him.'”
“Parents have to be really, really active to reassert their values,” she says. “‘Lying is wrong. We don’t believe in bullying and you are weak when you are bullying. We don’t believe in boasting and bragging; it makes you look insecure.'”
Siegler has these guidelines about how much information kids are getting about what’s going on:
Kids younger than 5: Should not be exposed to TV news. Siegler says that this is especially important because the level of language Trump is using is at about a 5-year-old level and easy for them to understand.
Kids in elementary school: Watch the news with them and discuss it, but not before bedtime.
Teenagers: They an watch on their own but set up the environment to discuss the events with them.
Sometimes, teenagers will take an opposing view than their parents because that’s part of their job of separating themselves from you. It’s important to have the debate with them. Let them defend their views while expressing your views.
“We need to love our kids no matter what their political positions are,” she says. “You don’t want to fight against it, but you can erode it in different ways.”
If kids are express their frustration about why this is happening and why people don’t do something about it, parents can give them a civics lesson.
Teach them about the three branches of the government and how they work.
Teach them about what it would take to start the impeachment process.
Remind them of the ways that we can stand up through marches, through writing our elected leaders, through volunteering, through finding like-minded people to engage in conversations with.
Just make sure that this doesn’t consume their lives. Let them be kids, do homework, hang out with friends, too.
Charlottesville also reminds us that a lot of our kids never really have been given enough history in school and might not understand what happened in the Civil War and why those statues of Confederate heroes were put up. It might be time to watch Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” (It’s on Netflix) or go to the LBJ Presidential Library to see what was happening during the Civil Rights era.
“Ask them what they think,” she says, “Don’t start an argument.”
Neo-Nazis marching and threats of nuclear war against North Korea might also make it time to explore more what happened in World War II. Find the neighbor down the street who served or start watching some documentaries about the Holocaust and the after effects of Hiroshima.
With kids starting school this month, these debates are going to seep into the hallways. As much as we want our children to be vocal about their beliefs, remind them that not everyone will agree with them. There are good people in their schools who voted differently and believe differently.
“You have to protect them,” she says. Remind them to “‘only talk to people who are like-minded, don’t get engaged in arguments. You’re not here to change people’s minds.'”
It’s also time to check your school’s policies about bullying and racial and anti-Semitic slurs. Remind them that if they hear it, even if it’s not directed to them, they should report it to an adult.