Help Kids Converse Politically

23 08 2016

Schoolteachers around the country are now back in school during one of the most divisive political seasons in American history. For the next three months, teachers will be trying to navigate a minefield every time a student mentions Trump, Clinton, or anything political. Parents face the same challenge at home and in the car, as news stories and political pundits on TV and radio set traps at every turn for us to fall into, while our kids watch and listen to our responses.

It’s tough enough for us adults to control our tongues in this bizarro world of inflammatory politics, where the candidates and the media outlets are leading the way with the politics of fear and outrage. It seems like we have lost all civility in our culture. Neither the candidates nor the press wants to discuss the issues  in depth anymore, unless there is an overwhelming amount of nastiness to drive ratings sky high. Just look at the debates.

In spite of this toxic political environment, I believe that we CAN talk politics in school and at home in a way that honors truth and honors people.

My personal struggle currently is in two places: as a 7th grade social studies teacher and as the parent of a high school senior who will be voting for the first time in November. So I made a little guide for myself, and I am sharing it with the hope that it may help someone else along in a similar place. This is by no means a comprehensive approach, but it’s a great place to start.


Set a Time to Talk it Out

Example: Johnny says boldly in class, “Hillary and Bill Clinton are the perfect political couple. He’s a cheater, and she’s a liar!”

To which the teacher can respond, “Hey Johnny, we can’t discuss any of that right now, but we can talk about that to some extent on Wednesday. I want you to think about how we can talk about that in a productive way Wednesday. I’ll be calling on you.”

Focus on Facts  

Speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And encourage others to do the same.

As a teacher or parent, you need to help young people see that not everything they hear or say is true. Much of it is not fact but mere opinion (which may seem true now and later be known as untrue). Yet, some of it is true, but it still needs to be backed up with some facts. And sometimes, it’s a complicated mix of half-truths, facts, and pure fiction. So let’s be a bit more like, the online fact checker. Focus on what is true. Weed out what’s not.


  •  Obama is not even a US citizen, and he’s a muslim.
  • Trump is a terrible businessman. He’s the king of bankruptcy.
  •  Hillary is going to try to take everybody’s guns away.

Ask:   Is it true? How are you so sure? Is it fact, fiction, or something in between?

Teach your kids to decipher fact from fiction and to shape opinions based on facts. Most arguments arise from conflicting opinions based on speculation and false narratives. The truth settles most arguments. However, sometimes it’s simply a bad attitude that is the real culprit.

Keep a Positive Attitude

  • Avoid Personal Attacks

First of all, we have to lead with a good example. We have to watch our words. Second, we should expect our kids to avoid ugly personal attacks on candidates or classmates.

Children need to be aware that many people feel personally attached to their candidate or party, and they will often feel extremely angry or sad if you attack them.


  • Trump is a psychopathic moron!
  • Are you insane?
  • Only a total idiot would say that!

Be sensitive to the fact that when you attack your friend’s favorite political figure, it’s going to hurt her indirectly. And when someone gets hurt, they will hurt someone else in return. Hurt people hurt people.

Instead of attacking a person, attack ideas that you disagree with. Debate ideas, not people. It’s okay to attack a thought, not a person. The difference may seem subtle, but crucial.

  • Diffuse Comments of Mass Destruction

A young teen can be the master of making a comment that is the equivalent of throwing a hand grenade. They pull the pin and lob it in the crowd. These comments are not aimed at one person but many, and chaos often ensues.


  • Democrats suck!
  • Republicans are racists!
  • Politicians are all corrupt liars!

Adults can help kids correct themselves after making inflammatory remarks. Redirect them by pointing out the untruth of these sweeping statements. Teach kids to consider their message carefully and keep the tone civil. It’s good to disagree with someone; it’s bad to insult. That’s as true for the teacher as it is for the student. Let’s all rise above the nastiness.


Teachers and students alike should be open to new ideas. Parent and kids should never stop learning. We should all respect other people and their rights to have their own opinions. Listening is the best way to both learn new things and to honor others.

Strive to understand the other side of every issue. Honor thy neighbor, even if he or she is wrong. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to be civil in the way you speak and behave with others, even your political opponents. Listen, rather than retaliate.

And remember that a political enemy is not your actual enemy. ISIS is your actual enemy. Cancer is your enemy. The truth is that you have all sorts of things in common with someone from the other side of the aisle. You love America. You believe in democracy and the rule of law. You want schools to be excellent, neighborhoods to be safe, justice to be impartial, nature to be conserved, and all sorts of other wonderful things. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that the other side must lose in order for your side to win.

Politics should not be a zero sum game. We should all be able to participate, debate, and walk away with relationships still intact. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Aim Small, America.

29 07 2016

Forget about American politics.

Make your family a little closer each day.
Do something to support your local school.
Make friends with the folks in your neighborhood.
Get a better job and do it well.
Participate in a religious community.
Donate a percentage of your time and money to charity.
That’s the only path to making America great.
Certainly, vote your conscience.
But don’t think that one vote will make a big difference.
It’s your daily life that changes the world.
Aim small.

Make your corner of America great.


Responsibility Matters

24 07 2016

When a 16-year-old boy crashes his dad’s car and is arrested for driving while intoxicated, who is responsible?

When a 10-year-old boy is morbidly obese from an addiction to food, who is responsible?

When an infant girl is diagnosed with a genetic disease, who is responsible?

The questions are simple, but the answers are complicated.



noun   re·spon·si·bil·i·ty  \  ri-ˌspän(t)-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ 
  • : the state of being the person who caused something to happen

  • : a duty or task that you are required or expected to do

  • : something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.


Blame is one thing. Full responsibility is another. Let’s start with blame.

  • Who is the person or group that deserves the most blame?
  • Who else directly contributed to this problem?
  • Who or what indirectly contributed to the problem?
  • Was there any culpable negligence involved?

In the movie, The Big Short, we learned about who was to blame for the housing and banking crisis that kicked off the Great Recession of 2007-2009. You remember that little thing that nearly dismantled the American economy? Most likely, you or someone you care about was deeply hurt by that economic crisis. Millions of innocent people lost something major: job, home, retirement money, savings, home equity, credit rating, etc. And every American felt the stress of it all. The movie went to great lengths to explain who was to blame, and in the end, the fingerprints of blame were found throughout the economic world: some big banks, lots of mortgage brokers, the SEC, the ratings agencies, hedge fund managers, and even some legislators, reporters, and consumers. There was no single bad guy with a black hat or swastika to blame, but rather there were systems of corruption that created wealth for a few with accountability to none. And it was their systems that caused a meltdown in the economy.


The one thing they all had in common was a lack of responsibility. So many were behaving irresponsibly. Sure, some admitted some level of blame, but nobody stepped forward to fix the problem until it was far too late.

Identifying the cause(s) of a problem is one thing: Who did it? How did it happen? But it’s another level of responsibility to fix the problem. That is real responsibility. Who cleans up the mess? Who will work and pay for restoration?

Blame vs. Restoration

Read the rest of this entry »

Thank You & Help Me

26 06 2016

“Thank you.”


These are the best prayers. Simple. Versatile. Powerful.

There are no better ways to relate to God than these tiny sentences. Whether whispered in earnest or shouted in excitement, nothing works better in attempting to communicate with the divine.

“Thank you” and “Help me, please” are also the best ways to relate to other people. Universally, people like other people who are grateful and humble. It’s not mere politeness. When you thank someone or ask for their help, you are connecting with them and affirming them, and they are very likely to reciprocate. It’s the spark and the fuel of real relationships.

Simple. Real. Honest.



Start your day with thanks and an awareness of God and others. Then teach the children in your life to do the same. It will yield health, happiness, and a better world. Remember that you must do it first, for children are much better at following your actions than your words.

–  What can I be particularly thankful for today?

–  What is something that I normally take for granted that is worthy of thanks?

–  What is something I need special help with today?

–  How can I show appreciation to someone today?



Character Matters Sooner Than Later

15 02 2016

Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.

Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.

If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:

“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time. Read the rest of this entry »

(Un)Happy Holidays

30 12 2015

The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc.

For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.

For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives.  Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating Our Families Online

14 12 2015

DSC05328 copyMy boy had a great soccer season this year as a junior; the kid can flat-out run, and he loves to fight for the ball. He was voted by his teammates as Hardest Worker on the team and will be a captain next year. More importantly, he’s an A student and is enjoying his teachers. He loves to play electric guitar, and he’s really funny when you get to know him. He’s a renaissance man. He makes us proud in the way he goes about his business every day.

IMG_4381And then there’s my girl. She’s pretty special too. Everybody loves her, and that’s not an overstatement. She loves her high school classmates, and they love her. She gets high fives and hugs all day long. She smiles as much as anyone I know and loves to tell jokes to anyone who will listen. All of her teachers adore her; even the school’s security guard says she brightens his every day. She is kind, loves to share, and totally digs just being herself, especially when she is playing in the marching band or doing her thing in theater class.
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.06.31 AM

My wife deserves the credit for those two. She’s the real brains of the operation at home. She genuinely cares for people, and they sense that immediately. I wish I had her way with people. Plus, she’s smart and incredibly hardworking. It doesn’t hurt that she’s naturally pretty. She doesn’t need any makeup or a hairdo to look great. I think it’s her smile that’s so attractive. Or maybe it’s her ability to talk with anyone about anything in such a way that they feel important. I marvel at her.

Too much? I would think so, if I were reading this from someone else. At times, I hate when people humble-brag like this.

It’s that time of year when our mailbox is full everyday of glowing family photos and newsletters. Facebook is aglow with beautiful pictures and sentiments of family bliss. Everywhere you go, there are people you know, walking in a Winter Wonderland of happiness and family togetherness. It’s just too much sometimes.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: