Political Ads and Kids Don’t Mix
“Is he really going to destroy the middle class?”
“So, that guy is saying the other guy ruined thousands of lives and doesn’t care!”
“He approved of that message?”
One of the perils of watching TV during a presidential election year is dodging the barrage of constant negative ads. Usually, I turn the channel when an ad airs, but I’m not always quick on the trigger. Sometimes, I’ll change a channel only to find the alternate channel is running an ad, too. We don’t watch a lot of live TV, but we do watch the news. Political ads litter these time slots. I just want to see a weather forecast. Instead, I see forecasts of doom if the other guy wins.
My kids have seen ads from both presidential candidates, leaving them confused, worried, and even angry at times. This is the opposite way I want them to dip their toes into civic life. Thoughtful political discourse is healthy. Learning about our system of government is critically important. I don’t want to shield my kids from these lessons or from important issues.
However, imagine an 8-year-old soaking in every word of an ad, believing if Candidate X or President Y is elected, the world will cease to exist. Grandma won’t get to go to the doctor, dad will lose his job to someone overseas, the middle class will morph into peasants and his future will be bleak, bleak, bleak. If this evil candidate ends up winning, the child will recall all of the horrific calamities which are sure to befall. Will the sun rise on November 7th? Who can be sure? Kids don’t need that type of stress. Candidate X is now President X (or President Y is still President Y). Brace yourselves for war, economic depression, misery.
When those perils don’t bloom into reality, a worried child will become a jaded child—fooled, annoyed, cynical. They learn the truth. Adults wearing ties on TV lie—and lie hard—just to get a job? Yes, son, they do.
I’m jaded too. I don’t remember many negative ads from my childhood. I barely remember ads at all, unless they involved breakfast cereal, board games or Monchichi Monchichi, so soft and cuddle-y! I recall a person coming to our front door to talk to my mom about a candidate for state senate. He gave a flat, yellow sponge to her. When she ran it under water, the candidate’s name puffed up and appeared like magic. It sat under our sink for years. Did he win? Did he change our state for the better? For the worse? I have no idea, but I admire that campaign tactic.
There is nothing scary about a sponge unfurling under a stream of water. He didn’t try to frighten anyone into a vote. I imagine he stated his case and moved on to the neighbor’s house, where a sponge bearing his name lived under another suburban sink. I never worried about an election’s morning-after. Oh, Ronald Reagan won? Can I have orange juice?
The sun was going to rise, no matter who won. It did. It does.
I don’t want my kids to doubt this, ever. Thankfully, we live in an age where we can get news, weather, sports, and entertainment from sources where televised political ads don’t lie and lurk. I will vote with my remote, clicking off. I will vote in a little booth on November 6th with my kids forefront in my mind. I need to keep them there now, too, and if that means embargoing TV to avoid avalanching messages of dire times ahead, I must. We can still talk about our country and the issues it faces without being spurred to do it by depressing vignettes of furrowed brows and decrepit factories. We can talk about why we like a certain candidate over the other. But being mindful how we talk about the other side means if our guy loses, our kids won’t feel crushingly pessimistic.
When was the last time you saw a mindful, respectful political ad?
I’ll be over here, humming the Monchichi theme song, waiting for your answer.