At the close of our presidential election, many of us are left with questions about how to talk about what children have seen and heard during the political campaign and how we can explain the outcome to them. In this Media Moment, I share my thoughts and reflections and welcome you to do the same. My hope is that you will find comfort and a sense of community as our country progresses under new political leadership, whether we agree with it or not.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
What the World Needs Now
We find ourselves at the end of an historic presidential election. It is historic not only because the first woman nominee of a major party faced the first nominee who has never held elective office, but historic because for more than a year, the campaign coverage has come at us 24/7 from many different media sources on screens to which we were constantly exposed. Hyperconnectivity changed the experience of a political campaign for all of us (and especially for children who have much greater access than ever before) – and may even have changed the election outcome.
With the growing popularity of social media, many of us found ourselves following each utterance, tweet and rumor delivered with little to no editing by journalists sitting at the same desks with the candidates’ “spin doctors”. Thoughtful political analysis, unverified reports, outright fake news, and late night comedy shows were interspersed on our screens. Driven by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), curiosity, and more than a little anxiety about where this “reality TV” would lead, we all watched and listened, but had little time to reflect on and discuss what we saw and heard because we were watching the next “news flash”. Overwhelmed by the volume, we sought out what we believed and social media’s filter bubbles prioritized what we liked – reinforcing our preconceptions and prejudices at the expense of the truth.
Many of our children feel disoriented by Trump’s election victory. They laughed at Saturday Night Live and (more nervously) at video of a presidential candidate making fun of the disabled, bragging about assaulting women, and asserting he would deport their friends. But they laughed with the confidence that someone who was espousing and living values that they have been taught are selfish, bigoted and hateful would never be accepted by the bighearted, generous America they knew. They were wrong and his win has upended their universe.
It is now our job to right it. We need to let our children know that the rules have not changed. As Americans, but more importantly as humans, we must reinforce children’s understanding that the heartbreakingly hard-earned beauty of the American experiment, what makes us the “golden door” sought by so many, is that we are all “other”, there is no “us” and “them”. A media-savvy exploitation of that false dichotomy has resulted in a primal scream of frustration and anger from those who felt that they had been excluded, their voices had not been heard, they had been neglected as “other.” The rules of our children’s universe have not changed, but the game of life has gotten harder. We must recognize, respect, and embrace all those who have felt disenfranchised, reaching out to them as fellow citizens but never accepting or succumbing to divisiveness and hatred even as they espouse it.
How did we get to this place? And how do we help our children move forward? We must educate our children, and all of our citizens, in two ways:
- We need to teach critical thinking. Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, founded the public education system because he realized that literacy was essential to good citizenship. We still teach reading and writing text, but have yet to effectively teach children to decode, reflect on, and respond thoughtfully to the videos, social media, tweets, and texts that we are now bombarded with and with which we bombard others. We are not good at determining what is real from what is not real, what is true to the beliefs on which our nation was founded and what is self-centered nationalism. We choose to be entertained, rather than empowered. We consume the sensationalistic and simplistic without thoughtful reflection on the larger implications and long-term consequences. We need to respect ourselves and others enough to be good citizens, and we must demand our public figures respect us enough to be honest.
- We need to teach social-emotional skills. Empathy for others is inborn in all children and we must demonstrate and reinforce it, in our homes and in our schools, rather than simply teaching our children to compete and win at any cost. While healthy competition will always be a part of our lives, teaching children that they must be better than everyone else will simultaneously make them feel insecure, because no one can be the best at everything they do, and erode their respect for others, seeking weaknesses to exploit, rather than strengths with which to collaborate and synergize. America is not the product of one or a few exceptional people, America has been built by all of us together, leaning on each other when their strengths bolstered our limitations, and offering a hand up when they stumbled. Each of our “otherness” has enriched our country, our culture, and our lives. By modeling kindness and understanding, by teaching cooperation, negotiation and conflict resolution, not just in the classroom, but on the playing field, the workplace, and in politics, we are building in our children the foundation for a more productive and just society of the future.
Our reality is not determined by a single vote, a single election, and a single government, but by every little thing we do each day, with and for each other. We can, and must, build the world that we want to live in and that we want to pass on. We must reassure our children that their friends who speak a different language, worship a different God, or have a different skin color are still their friends – and we must stand up to make that safe and normal for them. We must challenge our children and ourselves to live the lives we want to live. As Speaker of the House, Thomas, “Tip” O’Neill Jr. said, “All politics is local.” While we have little control of what is happening at the highest levels of power in our country, we can empower our children to make their worlds better by exercising critical thinking and by treating others as they themselves want to be treated. We are and we will be stronger together than we can ever be apart; united we stand, divided we fall.
~ The Mediatrician