CHILDREN: TV Tool Teaches Election Basics


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This article originally appeared in Issue# 44

Media coverage of the 1988 election will present many new experiences and images for young children. The first reaction of most, however, may be to turn off the television because 'there's nothing on.'

Parents who take the time to help their children tune in on the election will realize that, for once, ordinary coverage is an excellent teaching tool. Campaign ads, convention coverage and debates all provide excellent opportunities for involving youngsters in the election experience and educating them about how the political process works.

Talk with young children about what it means to vote. Hold an election to decide the dinner menu, with family members arguing for one choice or another. Many other decisions, from video selections to allocation of chores, can be put to a vote, with parents drawing parallels between family decisions and national elections.

E. B. White's classic, Stuart Little, in which Stuart pretends he is King of the World, can be used to explore the concept of leadership. Have each child pretend he or she is "Ruler of the World." Discuss the rules they make up in light of actual lawmaking and leadership concepts.

Once children understand the idea of elections, they're ready to learn about media coverage. Even young children can distinguish between rival political ads, absorb the drama of debates and appreciate the turmoil on the convention floor. They may enjoy learning to recognize frequent players, like news commentators and candidates, and symbols like the White House, the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.

The slightly older child who knows basics is ready for parental comments I the techniques of individual ads, comments on candidate messages and expectations for speeches and specials.

Children look forward to adult privileges such as learning to drive. With I help of media election coverage, they learn to be excited about voting as well. And while they learn to be good citizens they can also become aware consumer media. With television so important today's political process, it's never early to learn that they go together.

Author Bio: 

Judith Myers-Walls, PhD is associate professor of child development at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.