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Modern Parenthood

How do you raise well-informed kids?

A seasoned political correspondent shares how she has approached the tricky subject of politics and other hard news with her kids, turning them into educated citizens who can vote on their own without mom looking over their shoulder. 

By Staff writer / January 28, 2014

In this 2008 file image, young volunteers prepare to head out and canvass a neighborhood – encouraging voters to pick Obama.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/FILE

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I wish I could say that I embarked on parenthood with a clear game plan for how to raise well-informed kids who care about the world, their neighborhood, and what the president has to say in his next State of the Union address.

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Staff writer

Linda Feldmann is a staff writer for the Monitor based in Washington.

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But I didn’t, my Helicopter Mom status notwithstanding. And then life intervened. When my kids were 3 and 5, I became a single mom, and for the rest of their childhood was their primary parent. I was (and still am) working full time for the Monitor, and just getting dinner on the table in a reasonably timely fashion was good enough.

I don’t recall putting “Let’s discuss the front page of today’s Washington Post” on the menu. But I do recall a vague thought process. I would center conversations on what they were interested in – their school day, their activities, their friends – and let them bring up something in the news they might be wondering about, if they wanted. 

I’m also a big believer in leading by example. You want your kids to read the paper? Then read the paper yourself. Listen to NPR in the car on the way to school. Watch presidential debates together. (They might get bored, but they’ll remember that you thought it was interesting.) Let them see you reading the New Yorker or the Economist or that terrific new book about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

When something jaw-dropping happens – like 9/11 – that’s an obvious time to drill down on making sure they know what happened, how it affects them, and that they’re safe. On Sept. 11, 2001, my kids were in fourth and sixth grades at a DC public elementary school about three miles from the White House. They had friends with parents who worked at the Pentagon, and fortunately no one they knew lost a loved one.

But 9/11 is an extreme example. Most Washington news isn’t all that interesting to kids – except for elections. Politics is kind of like sports: There are winners and losers, “good guys” and “bad guys,” and if there’s a family “team,” kids will almost surely pick up on that, even if you’re not putting out a yard sign. I remember chanting on the playground in 1968, “Nixon’s the one, Humphrey is a bum!” I couldn’t have told you anything about Richard Nixon’s policy ideas, but somehow I was certain he should be our next president.

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