How much politics should our kids be exposed to?

Ingy Deif, Tuesday 13 Mar 2012

In days where talk show conflicts, violence and prejudgments prevail: Where is the line between enriching children's political understanding and adding to their confusion? Ahram Online asks experts

Children march
Children march in the opposition stronghold of Tahrir Square in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

Contradictions, violence, and the ever-growing trend of judging and labelling people through various talk shows and debates: it all leaves grownups mentally exhausted and drained. Can you imagine where our children stand in this atmosphere of instability?

Is it age-appropriate to explain everything to young children - even if we, as adults, are pretty confused about things ourselves?

Also, where is the place for opinions versus impartiality? And how can we avoid the imposition of preconceived ideas, like what happened in some school examinations when students were asked to write about the revolution from a particular angle in favour of certain political authorities?

"I am optimistic about the psychological wellbeing of children and youth amid the current political turmoil," says Dr Hoda Zakaria, professor of Political Sociology, Zagazig University.

"Indeed, we might experience confusion, anxiety and bewilderment at times, but adults are very complicated. Children and adolescents, on the other hand, might be able to see what's right and ethical more clearly than us.

"Due to the political suppression and fear that prevailed in our society regarding freedom of expression for so long, we have been raising our children under a veil; avoiding many topics and handling others very dishonestly. These times are over and done with," she says point-blank, "and there is no way of going back.

"We have an upcoming generation that deserves better than having their parents 'protect' them from ideas or avoid tackling taboos."

With that, Dr Zakaria gives her basic recipe for speaking with our kids:

·         Everything should be exposed and explained in the simplest form.

·         Parents should shed light on the general guidelines of ethics.

·         They should reassure their children.

·         Parents should clarify now, more than ever, that differences are a must and that they must be tolerated and accepted.

In these extraordinary times where politics seems to be around every corner, it's inevitable that our kids get some exposure to what's happening around them," says Dr Radwa Said Abdel Azim, psychiatrist and creative art therapist.

"Children differ from one another, but generally their understanding of behaviours, ethics and social relations develops around the age of five. Although we always advise limiting the exposure of children to the perplexing talk show debates, where tensions tend to mount, it is very important that the parents play a direct role in filling this gap and clarifying matters and answering the little ones' inquiries regarding what's happening in politics," states Dr Abdel Azim.

The Dr Abdel Azim and Dr Zakaria reconfirm some basic precepts. Dr Abdel Azim says that parents should speak on politics "provided that certain conditions are taken into consideration," which she lays out:

·         First of all, parents should relay facts that are certain and clear.

·         Secondly, simplicity in explanation is a must in measure to each child's ability.

·         The third and most important point is to clarify without forcing the child to embrace a certain perspective or point of view.

She warns that if parents push their perspectives on their children that "we are simply depriving their intelligence of developing on their own and creating stereotypes out of their uniquely different minds."

"In our children's classes we have come to see firsthand that they are particularly interested in understanding a lot and participating more," describes Dr Azza Tohami Educational Consultant and Trainer, who has expertise in parenting skills courses, as well as raising awareness in various orphanages.

"We always tell parents that it's never too early to teach them the virtue of being able to listen to the other opinion and to implement that through family discussions in which a parent states an opinion and accepts that of his child after a reasonable discussion. That enforces the idea that it is ok and possible to be different or wrong, no matter how convinced a person is with an idea.

It's never too early to teach a child the beauty of being active and contributing to a community, which is actually what the ethics of politics is all about," the doctor asserts.

"This can be passed on by indulging as a family in charity work, helping the less fortunate in their community.

"Neither is it early to let them experience the power and responsibility of voting through various family matters. Help them realise that every voice counts so they can appreciate the responsibility of teamwork, decision making and talking about decisions. It's never too early to let a child take responsibility over a minor task and applauding their achievement.

"It's never too early to teach a child that to state an opinion and embrace an idea can be done with honesty, decency and with a calm voice."

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