2016 – the year politics and democracy changed. If anyone had told me at the start of the year that we’d experience a Brexit saga (oh, what a saga it is turned out to be) and that a property tycoon with no political experience would be within touching distance of becoming the next POTUS, I would have laughed in your face. Very loudly.
But with all the surrealism and confusion, on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve realised we must use the period of time to engage children in the issue of democracy.
Yes, you can have ‘family meetings’ to vote for which film to watch or what topping to get on a pizza. Pretty sufficient for a child, right? At the end of the day, they’ll probably be happy with either outcome, so no skin off anyone’s nose. But is that really a lesson?
What about when they’ve voiced their opinion and ‘done the right thing’ but things don’t go their way? What about when they see a parent, a family member, a commentator on TV is truly set back, shocked, angry and even upset at the outcome of a vote? Do we teach them to just give up, because they didn’t get their way? This is where the democracy talk really comes into its own.
I often like to say, ‘democracy is a chance to have your say, not a guarantee you’ll have your way’. Never has this phrase been so true.
The Brexit result fueled lots of anger, and every time my son hears Trump’s name, there’s usually some kind of negative story attached and it’s up to me to explain why these people are still ‘winning’.
My God, does it make me wonder if children might just lose all faith in democracy altogether when he hears people’s reactions to these victories. It might make many people want to give up, but as parents we have to remind our kids just how important it is to have the right to vote. Our western, first world freedoms often make us slightly complacent about voting because the differences between outcomes aren’t always life-changing, but we must remember that not everyone lives in a nation that lets people express their opinions.
We have the right to share our views and influence the direction our country takes through our democratic system. In fact, if we don’t like the system, we still have the right to debate it, challenge it and try to make changes by encouraging people to make a stand together and vote.
Children need to know that sometimes not everyone will agree with you. In fact, there will be occasions where that group is larger than yours so they will ‘win’. What’s great about democracy is the opportunity, not necessarily the result.
I read far too many articles about how young people have become distanced and disenfranchised from the political system – not just in the UK – and this is worrying. We should use this period of time as an opportunity to stir up more political passion in them than ever before. Ask them what they don’t like about the current political state, but also, what they think can be changed. We need them to stand up and attempt to change things. If they think politicians are ‘all the same’, then let’s encourage them to be the difference, rather than pleading ignorance. Be the change they want to see in the world….If now isn’t the time to teach this lesson, then I don’t know when is.
While debates, complaints, protests and strikes don’t always get the desired outcome, they are a step forward. They can be powerful weapon in making your voice and opinion heard. They can be liberating. A chance to engage in a conversation for better understanding of each other’s views and maybe persuade them to accept your view. Because sometimes just one extra voice or vote can tip the balance.
So whilst we wait to witness the clear up of the mess that is 2016 and ask ourselves if all this stuff really happened, let’s not forget to remind our children, democracy is good and that their one vote is always better than no vote at all.
This blog post first appeared on HuffingtonPostUK