21 Jan POLITICS, PARENTING TEENAGERS, AND THE BOOK THAT SAVED THE DAY
“Where did you hear that word?” is a question most of us ask our children moments after they become verbal. We realize quickly we aren’t raising children; we’re raising parrots. So, most of us attempt to temper how and what we say.
My wife and I decided early on not to speak negatively of people in front of the kids. If you had asked me a few months ago if we had followed through, I would have told you that for the most part, yes. Our kids, for the most part, have followed suit.
Then came COVID/virtual learning/election season. During all of this craziness, I have to admit, there are times I’ve behaved in ways that lead me to say: “Who are you, and where did that come from? Pull it together, brother!” Then there is the scarier, subtler monster that leaks out of me in a way I don’t even notice until I do it—a mumbled comment here, a chuckle at the expense of others, even making comments that add negativity to an otherwise benign conversation.
The slippery slope I was on came to my attention when, for several days in a row, my 15-year-old daughter started sending me TikTok videos that validated how I was thinking and feeling politically. At first, the videos made me laugh and on some level, I was pleased my daughter had the same views as me. Then I started to wonder, how did she know that I would like these? She seemed to be trying to bond with me over TikToK, which isn’t unusual for us. We have bonded over videos of people falling down since the birth of TikTok. We talk about almost everything as a family, but surely my iron-clad rule had kept me from voicing my political views in a negative, hurtful way.
The fact my daughter thought I would love these videos revealed to me I had not been handling my words, tone, and face as well as I had thought.
My daughter was living in an echo chamber not just on her phone, but in her home.
It was glaringly obvious I was breaking one of our key parenting rules. Without consulting my wife, I considered maybe it was time I loosened our rule of not speaking negatively about others to accommodate her maturity and age. I’m a leader. She is a leader. And for good or for bad, politics is leadership. So, how could I explain to her how to speak about our political leaders in constructive ways? Almost on cue, I was handed a gift. My friend and co-worker, Sarah Anderson, gave me a pre-released copy of her book, The Space Between Us: How Jesus Teaches Us to Live Together When Religion and Politics Pull Us Apart. Sarah is a brilliant writer and thinker who grew up in a political family in Washington, D.C. The book goes deep on every level, but there is a stream of refreshing kindness that runs throughout.
I think we can all agree the world needs kindness now more than ever. We need it. We want it. We need it for the same reason Mr. Rogers is now cool. We need it for the same reason, 74-year-old Dolly Parton is more famous than ever. We need it for the same reason the series, Ted Lasso is killing it on Apple TV. We crave people who love people even if . . . this is the important part . . . they are different. I won’t spoil the book for you, but it’s a must-read if you want to love well despite—and even because of—all the political chaos. And it is a must-read if you want to help your teenagers do the same.
After reading the book, I came to my daughter and repented. Then, we sat down together as a family to watch an interview she did with Andy Stanley. I wanted my daughter to see and hear from Sarah, who I knew she would resonate with, and more importantly, see as a role model. Because I believe Sarah may just be the Mr. Rogers, Dolly, and Ted Lasso of the political world. Overstating? I think not. People are thirsty for kindness. I’m thirsty for kindness.
My prayer: God, I blew it on this one. But You redeem things, moments, people, parents . . . me. Help me to love my daughter in a way, and to live in a way, that echoes the things that make You smile as my Father and hers.
Here are a few questions I pirated from Sarah’s book and my conversation with my daughter that might get your teenager talking about the often unkind world of politics.
- Do you ever think about politics? If so, what do you think?
- Why do you think people are so divided when it comes to politics?
- Do you think it is possible to change someone’s mind? If so, how?
- Why do you think it is important to learn from people who think differently than you?
- How can we be loving and respectful of people we KNOW are wrong?