When I was growing up in New York in the 1980s, our criteria for choosing friends had nothing to do with our parents’ political affiliations. There was a distinct separation between our world and them. I have never asked the children in my neighborhood what they think of President Ronald Reagan and they have never asked me. Our parents may turn their eyes to the mention of a family whose opinion was different from theirs, or express their dislike towards adults, but they never bring us into it.
I have seen a change in my political language within my house, and I have changed it among my friends. We never asked our children whether the parents of their friends were Republicans or Democrats.
For our part, we almost never brought politics before us, to the extent that we also had partial affiliation. We chose our friends based on questions such as: Debbie Gibson or Tiffany? Run-DMC or LL Cool J? John Stamos or Ralph Macchio? Yankee or Mets? We never asked, Reagan or Mondale?
I was personally raised in a conservative household but I never focused on politics until I went to college and started thinking for myself. When my father played Rush Limborg’s talk show on the car radio, when he looked out of the window looking at the signs on the Cross Bronx Expressway, as he did. I paid no attention to his political life, and I certainly did not repeat him on the playground.
Yet, for my children, politics struggles – and defines them – everywhere they turn.
When my nine-year-old daughter made a new friend at the pool this summer, she left me in the joy of sharing the exciting news. But when she left, my teenage son warned, “You know, they’re Trumpers.”
It’s not just my teenagers warning me to get away from “Trumpers”. Hardly a day passes through the homes of my 10- and 12-year-old daughters, a political comment on their lips. When I ask my daughters about school, my 10-year-old daughter tells me about the comic she and her friends are producing during the holiday, but also to the boy who spent his snack time. The African American friend was shouted “Blue Lives Matter”, and the children who have Trump 2020 shouted slogans on class Google Meats as their profile picture.
There is no doubt that some of this politicization comes from outside sources, such as those he grew up with in a 24/7 media environment, in which every party has news of Hara in his palm. Or a culture that does not mention advertisements, football games, and award shows take on political dimensions. It is not surprising that a national passion of politics will penetrate the classroom and into the playground.
But there is also no doubt that as the country has become more polarized, parents have contributed to the environment that our children now find themselves in – and need to stop. When we give our children Donald Trump’s hat or Joe Biden-Kamala Harris mask, we are politicizing them. When we take them to political rallies, we return them to the playground with a clear message that creates an instant division.
During the Trump era, I have seen my political language change within my home, and I have changed it among my friends. We never asked our children whether the parents of their friends were Republicans or Democrats. We never gave them promotional material.
We grew them with our morals and values, but we kept our political world separate. But now, if we raise our children from a house with a Trump or Biden sign, we immediately comment on it. We often express our acceptance or disapproval for our children without even knowing the parents of our friends and what their beliefs really are.
As the political climate in this country reached a boiling point during the Trump era, I think a lot of us felt an obligation to take a stand and state our views clearly. But leaving our borders, we have inadvertently sent our children as our messengers to the world.
While my older boys talked about Barack Obama when he was running for the presidency, it was out of excitement when an African American arrived in the country. In my first campaign, the only mention I heard of rival McCain was honorable. And I never heard of Obama vs. Mitt Romney. I don’t think they even knew who Romney was.
But now, our children feel pressured to choose a side. They are suddenly worried when they find out that a new friend from the pool is from the “enemy” camp, when the enemy camp was also not present.
My 12-year-old told me that during a morning meeting on the day of Biden’s inauguration, a boy shared that he no longer felt hopeful with Trump, that he was afraid of what his life would be now. In return, she shared that she finally feels hopeful again with Biden in charge.
Why have we dragged our children into our political battle suddenly, when they have not even tried to know their opinion? Why are we talking with them about the current political scenario? Why are we letting them take their fight to the playground?
Do we want our children to see the children standing in front of them in school and wonder, Trump or Biden? Or do we want to surprise them, Gryffindor or Slytherin? Shouldn’t they just be free to be children, free to evaluate each other’s characters based on their own experiences, not their parents? Are we so blind our anger at each other that we have forgotten to separate the world from our children?
Maybe if our children leave our political beliefs with us at home, they will discover a common interest in Harry Potter, the “Black Panther,” anime, or Billy Ellish. Maybe instead of shouting “Blue Lives Matter” at a classmate of color, that child will ask him for help with a math problem. And then the child probably won’t feel attacked and won’t need to remind his classmates that his life means as much to them.