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Children / Consumer / Motherhood

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.

It will.

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.

Author: gretchen

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  1. Kids are smart and one of mine even commented about the political ads: “It’s like they’re saying just what we want to hear so people will like them.”


    Counting down the days for the election for the sole reason I can’t wait for those ads to be over, not to mention the barrage of politically-inspired Facebook posts from my friends. But that is a different complaint entirely.

  2. It’s times like these that I’m glad we have a DVR and that our schedule is such that Claire sees little, if any TV. She never sees it live, only recorded…and it’s usually shows that were recorded well before the barrage hit and on a channel that sees few political ads anyway. Go, Mythbusters! 😉

  3. My kids, 8 and 12, have asked why do the candidates just talk bad about the other guy in the ads instead of talking about what’s great about themselves. From the mouths of babes.

    Gee, what would it be like if campaign ads discussed what the candidate had done and what they want to do? Hmmm…There’s a great deal of muddling of the messages going on.

    I too prefer the Monchichi song!

  4. I agree somewhat but on the other hand I want my child to understand how politics really is right now. It really is hard and misleading, it really is difficult to wade through the information. It’s an opportunity to talk about how we should treat others, and see when that doesn’t happen. There are good people on each side and we have to still choose what we feel is the right one, and not choosing is still a choice.
    I have no more reservation about my child seeing political ads than I do for him seeing McDonald’s adds that try to convince him that their food is good and natural, or clothing ads that tell him he won’t be popular if he doesn’t look right. If there is one thing on television that I would keep away from him, it would be the News. Repeated looping video of humans harming other humans on a daily basis is so much worse than the mud slinging that the candidates are doing.
    I think it’s just another teaching opportunity. And hopefully we can teach them that they can create a world that opponents respect each other.

  5. My 5-year old (who recently started KG) asked when I was watching the RNC, “mommy, why are they talking bad about OMAMA?” Yes, she calls him that still. He was elected when she was 2 and as we look through the scrapbook, she sees pictures of her as a 20-month old holding signs for HOPE AND CHANGE. I did not know what to say (this was when Huckabee was speaking) but said “that is how politics is – both sides do that to win.” She said, and I quote, “I don’t think I like that very much.” I posted this on facebook too because what kids say really should be heard and/or read by both sides.

    All the mud slinging makes my head spin but sadly, we live in a society where the lowest common denominator enjoys the mud slinging. After all, Look at our popular reality TV (which I also do not care for). You can’t tell me that the stuff on TV that our kids see us watching is any better than the political ads. I am with Cathy, I’d rather them see what the process is because it is nasty but it is like that because of the audience it caters to – the American public at large and I again quote one twitter follower who stated, “Michele’s speech sucked- she didn’t get dirty.” Which is precisely why I liked it. She did not attack, only talked about her and her husband and NOT A SINGLE ATTACK. But the American public as a whole thought it lacked something… um… could it be that it lacked nastiness, mud slinging? It was too positive because it did not attack the other side. SAD, HUH? I do not think the candidates are 100% to blame for how our political process is – the average voter, the lowest common denominator of our society shares the blame because it is who they catering to. Where there is DEMAND, there will be SUPPLY.

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