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By Amanda Thielen
This past year in politics has left me feeling queasy. The negativity, distrust, dishonesty, discrimination, and downright bullying that emerged from Donald Trump’s campaign is still giving me nightmares.
Election night came. Polls were showing a Clinton lead so clearly that I almost went to bed. I, like many, was a bit overconfident in the polls. Anxiety trumped my fatigue and I stayed up watching in tears and shock as the results flowed in.
I sat for at least an hour after I turned off the T.V. I stared at a black screen in the pitch dark thinking this cannot be real. I didn’t sleep that night-or the next -and when I finally did, I woke up thinking it had all been a bad dream.
It’s not a dream. This is real.
Regardless of my views, I have always tried to respect the differing opinions of friends, family and even many politicians. I was raised to accept and appreciate differences.
With Trump, the problem is, through his (hopefully) false promises, he has shown me that he is anything but accepting.
Trump’s perspective feels more offensive, invasive, and discriminatory than any republican candidate of the past, not to mention his unprecedented and controversially vocal presence on social media.
In less than a month, inauguration day will come. A man who has instilled feelings of fear and invalidation—a bully—will become our president.
Are we supposed to be okay with this? What are we supposed to tell our kids?
How do we teach our kids to appreciate diversity and respect the process of election when they see Trump trying to put his campaign promises into action? He sent out a clear message including (but certainly not limited to) promises of, “deporting millions of Latino immigrants, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, banning Muslim immigrants and even killing the families of Islamist terrorists.” (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016). It doesn’t end there. His remarks towards the LGBTQ community united with the mindset of his Vice Presidential pick has left many in the community feeling scared.
Not only are people afraid of Trump and his campaign promises, but also of some of the people who his words have “inspired”. According to National Public Radio (NPR) a surge in hate crimes has been observed among immigrants and minorities (2016). What kind of example is this setting for the next generation?
How is this affecting our kids? Are they scared? Are they behaving differently?
Results from a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) say all signs point to yes. The 2016 study revealed a spike in aggression and bullying among school-age children as well as an increase in fear due to Trump’s candidacy. A correlation was found among students spanning all ages, starting as young as preschool.
And thus, the “Trump Effect” was born. Is it really that surprising?
Kids are impressionable. Starting from a young age, their behavior often mimics what they see and hear. Remember when your toddler first saw you shaving and wanted to try it out? Most of us have probably taught our children presidency is a position of respect and admiration. If we don’t talk to them about it, can we blame them for following the examples set by our newly elected leader?
Particularly through countless and largely publicized Twitter rants, Trump has taught kids a lesson that it’s okay to be a bully. It’s okay to sexually harass women. It’s okay to belittle and oppress people who are different.
For younger kids, the aspect of fear is also bound to entangle with their imagination. I’ve met many kids with an imagination greater than that of Walt Disney, Tim Burton and Einstein combined. This is awesome for development. However, their imagination also sometimes requires us to check under the bed for monsters…every night…at least three times. Sometimes the smallest bit of information can get their imagination running, causing them to behave and believe in ways we never thought possible.
For better or for worse, kids believe.
That’s not to say that kids aren’t validated in fears regarding the Trump presidency. Even if you don’t consider yourself or your child to be from a diverse background, is it possible your child is harboring anxiety that their friend or a family member might get sent away? The SPLC study also revealed that students from all backgrounds feared deportation based on what they had seen and heard about Trump. For some kids, it could be a case of misinterpreting the complex information they’ve been exposed to.
I think a lot of parents have avoided addressing the topic with their kids because they don’t want to scare them, maybe even avoiding exposure to the nightly news. That might have worked when we were kids, but in the age of social media aren’t they likely going to see or hear about it elsewhere? Wouldn’t you rather it come from you?
Trump’s bullying rhetoric has had a detrimental impact on our children, and it is our job as parents to begin picking up the pieces. Reassure them that they are safe. Take extra time to teach them about the impact of bullying. Do your best to help them begin to understand and appreciate diversity while telling the truth.
Even if you don’t know where to start, your best will be far better than the information they pick up at school, on the news, or on Facebook. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it.
It doesn’t end with Trump, either. Get the conversation rolling about all types of current events. Not only will your child get accurate information and know they can talk to you honestly about their fears; these conversations will also jumpstart their knowledge of and commitment to civic and social responsibilities.
Take these tough times and reframe them into a learning experience for your kids. It’s our job to guide them towards acceptance. Maybe someday they’ll be the first generation of adults who finally elect a leader that can feel the bern.
Have you had The Trump Talk with your kids? Please share your experiences below. I’d love to hear from you!
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