Talking to Kids about the Municipal Election

Happy voting day, Toronto! Many of us will hit the polls today to help improve our city by voting for the candidates we think will do the best job. But a municipal election is also an excellent opportunity to teach children about democracy in action.

Democracy 101

All schools in Canada teach democracy, but there’s nothing better than showing it. You can use the election as an example to your children by explaining everything as it happens: Why are there signs along the road? Who gets to vote? Why don’t kids get to vote? Why do you have to vote in secret? The amount of detail you put in your responses is up to you. An explanation of democracy can be as simple as “Every grown-up says who they want to lead the city, and then the person who got the most votes becomes mayor,” or as complex as you like. Remember to be enthusiastic: we’re talking about future voters, after all.

Image courtesy of blogTO.

Your Political Views

Almost every parent and teacher in this country agrees that teaching kids about democracy is good, but there’s debate about how you should express your own political opinions to them. One inevitable question is, “Who are you voting for?” And how you answer that can have a big impact.

  • “Voting is a secret, remember?”
  • “I’m voting for _.”
  • “I’m voting for _ because I agree with their ideas and I think they’ll do the best job.”
  • “I’m voting for _ because they’re the most ethical candidate: their tax policy is the best and their child-care ideas are better and…”

The first answer is probably not sufficient because it will make your child feel disconnected from the process. Engaging kids in democracy is extremely important. The second answer won’t work either, because it’s bound to be followed by, “Why?” The third answer is probably what a lot of parents have said already. Children are raised to trust certain adults (parents, teachers) unconditionally, so they easily understand the idea of supporting a candidate without defending their platform. The final answer gets a bit tricky. There is a divide between parents who think it is appropriate to encourage their children to support their political views and parents who think that kids should come from an unbiased place when they learn about politics. The latter option seems to go hand-in-hand with allowing children to form their own religious beliefs, even if they clash with the parents’.

The matter becomes more complicated when you consider that most politically engaged people can’t turn off partisan expressions. Even if you don’t have a button or sign supporting a candidate, you’ve probably already expressed your views on the issues to your kids without even knowing it. If you’ve ever spoken about child care, explained what taxes are, or complained about the TTC, you’ve likely imparted a political message. And it may seem absurd to believe something but withhold it from your child so that they can later believe it themselves. But to those parents who encourage their children to take their values, be warned: evidence suggests that politically engaged parents often produce politically engaged children – of opposing views.

Image courtesy of blogTO.

This Election

Today’s municipal election might prove especially challenging as a teachable moment. It comes in the wake of a series of scandals at City Hall, many of which are inherently difficult to talk to kids about. Explaining drug abuse is tricky already; explaining that the mayor has done it is at very best confusing. You either have to play down the danger of abusing street drugs or present the horrifying scenario that the leader of the entire city has made terrible choices. If you think your child is old enough, try explaining this as a lesson in separating personal choices from political ones. Does it matter if a candidate is married? What about their religion? Your answers will be varied and, in the case of the current mayor, there may be no correct answer. Just be sure to create an environment that encourages more questions – if only the city were like that!