Everywhere they turn, our kids are hearing about impeachment. On social media, in newspapers, and in conversations the topic is ubiquitous. While children across the county grapple to make sense of this political moment, here in the nation’s capital the drama of impeachment can feel even more proximate and disorienting.
At GDS, we have used this as a teaching moment. High School students have watched the hearings in the Internet Cafe and have discussed them with classmates in history courses and in lunchtime discussions hosted by Student Voices. However, even as our children navigate this topic at school, there is great value in exploring it at home.
As parents, how do we talk to our kids about impeachment? How do we help them make sense of a moment which is both charged and important? Of course there’s no perfect playbook for having this conversation—this is only the fourth time in history that a United States President has faced formal impeachment inquiries. However, here are a few recommendations for parents to keep in mind:
Listen: Our kids pay attention to the world around them, even when they are quite young. Any conversation about impeachment should start with asking questions. What have you heard about impeachment? Where did you hear it? What do you think about it all?
Evaluate Sources: This is a great opportunity to explore media literacy with your children. Ask where they are getting their news: From friends? Teachers? Snapchat? Instagram? The newspaper? What is the value of each of these sources? How do we know if something is true or not? What is the difference between feelings and facts, opinions and informed judgements?
Discuss: Remember that this conversation doesn’t need to begin with a declaration of, “Now we’re going to talk about impeachment!” (just like a conversation about sex doesn’t need to begin with a declaration of “Now we’re going to talk about sex!”) Remember that kids often like to talk informally, whether from the back seat of the car, while making their lunch, or when getting washed up for bed. A casual start to the conversation can help create a lower barrier to entry.
Identify Values: While GDS is a non-partisan institution, we are not a values-free institution. Our founding story is one of equity and inclusion. Our mission calls us to “honor the integrity and worth of each individual.” Our statement of philosophy calls us to foster in our young people an “abhorrence of bigotry and intolerance.”
In classrooms, our students can reflect on this political moment through the lens of our School’s values. At GDS, we don’t call people names. We believe in integrity and telling the truth. We believe in understanding a range of different perspectives on an issue, and believe that there is strength in diversity.
Asking your child, “what are your values?” can be a way to honor their unique voice and perspective. It is also an opportunity to make explicit your family’s values.
Honor Civil Discourse: While our kids might find that their peers have similar views on the impeachment process, it is important for them to understand that there are a broad range of perspectives on this topic. Ask them why they think different people might have different opinions? Have they ever learned from someone who disagrees with them? How can they discuss something with someone with whom they deeply disagree, without it getting heated? What makes for a good conversation?
Many of our children aren’t seeing models of healthy civil discourse in the adult world. And yet we want them to understand why civil discourse matters and how to engage in it. Ideally they can experience healthy dialogue in their classrooms or at their dinner table, and then can carry these models into their own challenging conversations across political difference.
Mark the Moment: Our students typically understand history as something that happened in the past. Help your child recognize this moment as one that they will talk about and remember for the rest of their lives. Let them know that they are witnessing history. Share with them those moments from your own life (September 11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inauguration of America’s first African-American president) that you will always remember.
Empower: It is easy for children to feel anxiety or even despair when confronted with a world that feels fragile and chaotic. From climate change to gun violence, from political division to impeachment, it’s not unreasonable for kids to wonder, “what the heck are the grown-ups doing?” One way to combat these feelings is by helping our children to recognize their own agency. Ask your child, what do you think should happen with the impeachment hearing? How might you get involved in strengthening our democracy? What role can you play as an active citizen now? What role do you hope to play as an adult?
Our GDS Statement of Philosophy concludes with the passage, “GDS graduates leave the School with…the willingness and capacity to bring needed change to a troubled world.” We are grateful for our partnership with families to prepare our students for this essential calling.