Playground Politics: Careful what you say, children are listening

9NEWS at 6 p.m. 10/27/16.

9NEWS morning anchor Cheryl Preheim put together a thoughtful video essay for Next, after hearing election questions from her kids. The video is above, the text is below. Take a look and let us know what you think.

There is a song from the musical Into the woods that I keep thinking about as I follow this presidential campaign.

“Careful the things you say, children will listen.”

It goes on to say, “Children will look to you, to learn what to be.”

I was driving home in the minivan from carpool when my 3rd grader asked a question from the back seat.

“Mom, is it true that if Hillary Clinton is president we will have to go to school seven days a week?”

In that moment I realized that "playground politics" is a thing. Playground politics can be very much like grown up politics; which have seemed so childish at times.

Children may not always understand, or interpret it all correctly, but they are listening. More than issues, they are listening to the tension, the negativity, and the vitriol.

They repeat things they hear at the dinner table and on TV. Sometimes they repeat it accurately and sometimes just what they think they heard.

I started asking other kids what they’ve heard on the playground.

These are the responses from some 1st through 4th graders:

“I’ve heard that they are both really bad.”
“Everything I hear is really mean.”
“People say that Hillary Clinton robbed a bank.”
“Trump is a bully.”
“She steals people’s money and robs houses.”
“Trump doesn’t like anyone who isn’t like him”
“She has let people into the country who hurt people.”
“Trump says bad words and calls people names.” That boy added, “My mom doesn’t let me do that.”
“Can a real girl really become President?”


I did not hear one positive response about either candidate. It made me sad.

Granted, I’ve often been teased for being too optimistic. It is fair to get that out in the open.

But, this isn’t about “Kumbaya.” Our political system has opposing parties for a very important reason. Disagreement, debate, and really looking at difficult issues are vital for our country.  It is a foundation of our democracy.

However, I do wish children were learning more about respectful competition, civil debate in politics, and the notion that you can respect a person but disagree with them.

Isn’t that a foundation of humanity?

Based on the playground politics, it seems kids are hearing more about name calling than country building.

I do remember my family talking about politics. The first election I remember hearing about was between Ronald Regan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. There were conversations about the price of gasoline and the economy. I remember seeing stories on TV about the Iran hostage crisis.

There aren’t memories of such “meanness.”  I couldn’t tell you a bunch of bad things about either candidate.

Maybe there just weren’t as many commercials back then. There was no social media. Maybe the tone of politics has changed over time. Maybe it hasn’t. 

Perhaps playground politics is nothing new. I’m curious what other parents are hearing on their drives.

As for my experience, it was punctuated when I drove to carpool the next day. My 1st grader gasped at a mean word she noticed spray painted across a political sign.

She’s 6. It’s the first election she will remember. This isn’t the introduction to the political process I envisioned.

That song from Into the Woods is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. “Careful the things we all say. Children are listening.”

Have you noticed something similar to what Cheryl described? Tell us about it.

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