We have both an opportunity and a responsibility as educators and parents to do all we can to help raise educated, civil beings who are ready to participate in our democracy.  

There’s a direct correlation between a functioning democracy and an educated populace.

It’s vital for us be source news carefully, discriminate between fact and opinion, and have a grasp of issues so we can vote with some modicum of wisdom. It falls on us to teach our youth to do the same. With the rise of 24-news and constantly evolving social media streams, anyone with a smart phone can share his story and opinion. Disagreements run rampant, friends are blocked or unfollowed, and rather than coming together we are becoming more and more fractured as a nation. 

Historically, elected officials have had remarkably cordial relationships. While parties disagreed, there was a modicum of decency in their interactions. Not so anymore. Many current role models increase the division between parties, increase rancor, and heighten hostilities.

Not only are students seeing many in elected office behave in unbecoming ways, they are also experiencing the damage to our country due to our country’s deteriorating relationship with other free nations around the world. It’s no wonder we have the highest rate of youth depression, student suicide, and undoubtedly the greatest sense of hopelessness we’ve ever seen.

This should weigh heavy in our hearts. Unless we can bring people together to collaborate and cooperate, we have little hope of bettering our world. 

We can educate youth on several fronts.

We need to interest our youth in the remarkable opportunities a true democracy provides. We are far from perfect, but without some level of investment on the part of the general populace, it becomes easy, in fact certain, that politicians and others in power will take advantage of the vacuum. Their paricipation in our democracy will help balance power and give them the opportunity to be heard, facilitate change, and shape their own futures.

Educate our youth on the long-term consequences of their choices. 

Students cannot be expected to vote with wisdom or understand the long-term consequences of the political choices they make without education. Given what is evident in the highest levels of our politics, there is much that education needs to address. 

  • Source news carefully 
  • Understand that certain offices hold people to a higher standard of behavior 
  • Understand the issues and have a commitment to vote based on knowledge 

Foster a moral compass of kindness in our youth. 

The values and agency they gain as they develop this compass will guide their decision to make choices that benefit their communities and society as a whole instead of just their own self-interest. 

Provide hope. 

As the pitch of our national strife increases, our youth lose hope and enthusiasm for their futures. And just as school climate impacts every student and every staff person, our national climate affects all of us as citizens. It’s easy to become jaded, which can drain away any enthusiasm for engagement. 

Provide hope to youth

The consequences of not educating our youth come at great cost.

Human nature is far more reactive to things that make us angry than to things that make us smile. That’s why we see so many angry tweets and news stories. But this aggressive behavior comes at a great cost.  Dr. Nadja Heym, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University states, “[Aggressive behaviour] has a huge impact on relationships, work performance, mental health, and health in general.”  

Psychotherapist and author Dr Aaron Balick notes with confidence that, in the internet age, “as the capacity for emotional contagion of anger has increased, certainly you see anger crossing populations much more easily.” 

All of this has a toll on our society. In our schools, this anger amps up the likelihood of bullying and harassment, changes class climate and adds to our discipline problems. Most importantly, it comes at great cost to each individual child. Bio-physiologically, being amped up all the time on hair trigger alert leaves us in a continual state of hyperarousal, which leaves us irritable, on edge, and easily provoked. 

Balick carries this a step further. “Social media sites like Twitter power up confirmation bias,” he says. “You have an opinion on one thing, your natural confirmation bias will gear you towards accepting news and stories that appeal to your opinion, and then Twitter or Facebook further encapsulates you into a filter bubble. It is arguable that this induces and increases a kind of righteous indignation that may indeed lead to a behaviour outside the social network.”  

We as a society are so tethered to our phones that the only protection any of us have from social media’s ill consequences is education and healthy view of our own self-worth. If we don’t, we all succumb to reactions of electrifying anger that so quickly rise up when we read a post that outrages us. And the more we acclimate to this hyperarousal, the more bored we become with ordinary life. Pretty soon, our anger takes on a life of its own. This is not the role model we need to portray to our students. There is a better way.

We can educate our youth on civility in politics in 7 simple ways.

So much more could be said about the power of social media to enrage and the importance of positive role models, but let it all serve as a reminder about how important it is for us to have conversations with students during this election time about civility, respect, and self-respect. This will help us all grow up to be who we want to be but also grow up in a world we’re willing to live in. Together. 

Not a single minute of conversation with youth on these issues is wasted time. The following 7 tips can help guide your conversation with youth to a productive end.

1. Start with personal reflection.

While no time in conversation with youth is wasted time, it is helpful to reflect a bit before we engage youth.

  • Take some time to reflect on what matters to you and recognize that you may need to set some of that aside during your talk for the sake of maintaining the conversation. 
  • Take a few minutes to write down three or four attitudes that are really important for you to cover. (Note that these are not specific issues, but rather mindsets or approaches that you know are important for our children to develop.)

2. Ask questions.

While kids are mostly done listening to adults by the time they finish middle school, they still listen a lot to each other. Think of some questions you could ask that will guide youth to some of your chosen targeted attitudes from a place of self discovery. Instead of telling them what you think is important for them to know, ask for examples that may be true in their lives that allow them to voice the beatitudes you want them to explore. The classroom is a terrific place to start asking these questions.

make america think again

3. Listen more than you speak.

Because change is something that tends to happen over time, it’s critical to listen more than you speak. Ask questions to explore further — the conversation is more about learning about your child or student than it is about changing their point of view. It’s far more valuable to end the conversation in a place that leaves the child wanting more rather than one that leaves the child feeling lectured, advised, or even parented. Consider this an ongoing process rather than a one time event. 

4. Help youth identify positive role models.

Although it’s clearly important to talk about any inappropriate behaviors we see displayed by politicians at this time, it is at least as important to ask questions that help the child identify some positive role models, whether it’s some elders that they admire or people from history who inspire them. It’s important that we address aspects that are negative or difficult, but equally important that we then move on to something the child can hang on to. This type of conversation gives them hope, maybe something that’s inspiring, but certainly something that leaves them willing to engage. 

5. Communicate honestly.

Think ahead of time about your physical, verbal, and attitudinal presence. We can say whatever we want to say with words, but kids are also going to read our body language. Does something said in discussion makes you angry? It’s fine to admit this. In fact, it would be an opportunity for you to model an appropriate response to anger using language like, “This is really hard for me right now. Let me step out long enough that I can process this for myself. I’d like to come back feeling more open and more relaxed so that I can listen better.”

6. Practice mindfulness intentionally.

It’s also helpful for the class or family to practice mindfulness for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night.

7. Help youth identify dependable resources.

Help kids identify all the people in their lives who care about them and all the people who are solid resources for suggestions on how to manage negativity, pessimism and some of the dismal aspects of our lives. A part of this is also to remind to ourselves that none of us has to do everything, but all of us  have to do something.