In today’s political climate, mentors might be wondering if talking about politics with their mentee is a good idea. Let’s face it, we may have reservations about discussing politics, considering the difficulty in even bringing it up, or the fear of not explaining how politics works, in terms that our mentee’s can understand. Despite where our reservations reside, best selling author, Matthew Paul Turner, outlines five reasons why we should talk to youth about politics if they bring it up.
Children are already talking about it.
Believe it or not, your mentee may be already having conversations about politics amongst their peers. Children have ears that can pick up everything, even when you don’t want them too, but nonetheless, when it comes to politics, children may have their own opinions of key issues. As a mentor, don’t fear talking politics with your mentee if they come to you about something politically charged. According to Professor Joseph Polman of the University of Colorado-Boulder mentions that mentors should keep in mind that their mentees’ political opinion may stem from what their parents or guardians value, and mentors should respect their stance. But that shouldn’t make mentors shy away from engaging in political discussions with their mentees either. He explains that political discussions between mentors and mentees can help “[cultivate]… children as educated citizens.
Children can learn more about politics through participation.
If discussing politics may seem a mundane conversation to hold with your mentee, perhaps approach the topic by role playing. You could bring up the topic of voting on a small scale, like asking if their teacher ever made students vote on a class activity, or simulate a voting process when choosing what activity to do during your meeting with your mentee. The idea with having your mentee participate in an exercise such as voting, can open the door to discussing with them the larger impact politics carry and how personal politics can be as well.
Information can ease children’s fears and concerns about politics.
It’s important to note that children can take things literally, so informing them of what’s going on politically, may ease their fears of what’s going on around them. Mentoring expert, Jean Rhodes outlines how for some mentees “their mentors may be the only adults in their lives who acknowledge them as experts of their own experiences.” You as a mentor, may be the only person who takes the chance asking your mentee how they feel about certain politically charged issues and provide information that could help resign their fears surrounding those issues.
Children need to learn how to disagree respectfully.
If you have watched any amount of TV lately, you’ve probably come across the political ads that seem to have a overarching tone of negativity towards opposing candidates, or you may have seen political debates that carry an aggressive and attacking atmosphere. Children may very well pick up on these scenes as well. If you have the opportunity to discuss politics with your mentee, you can share your view as well, even if you disagree with your mentee’s stance. The idea is that your mentee sees in action how two people with different views on the same issue, can have an engaging and respectful conversation about it, without it turning ugly. Professor Connie Flanagan, of the University Wisconsin-Madison shares that “when mentors discuss political issues with their mentees, they can show that disagreements don’t have to divide us.” She also points out that “political discussion is a way to deepen understanding.”
Politics is more than you and me, it is about other people too.
Rhodes warns us that “when mentors are silent about sexism, racism, and inequality, they may inadvertently be communicating to mentees that this is ‘just the way things are.’” Simply put, our choice to be silent on what’s going on politically, could prolong these social injustices. It may be easier on us not to discuss these issues, but if we keep in mind that our mentees may very well be experiencing any of these social injustices, we can become more aware of the larger scale how these issues play a role in our mentees’ lives.
by Kendra Shaw
Sources used for this article:
- “5 Reasons Why You Should be Talking to Your Kid about Politics this Year,” by Matthew Paul Turner.
- “It’s Election Season: Should Mentors Talk Politics with Their Mentees,?” by Connie Flanagan and Joseph Polman.
- “Mentoring Youth in a Divided Nation,” by Jean Rhodes.
- “Talk to Kids about Politics,” by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D.