Election 2016: What does your child think?

Original Blog Post by SMU DRCM Prof. Angela Mitakidis

In the current election climate filled with presidential debates, related talk shows and political commentaries flooding our TV screens, what are our children picking up from our reactions, our language, our expressions?

angela-mitakidiswebAt the age of 4, my daughter was role playing on my cellphone, pretending to call her best friend. She proceeded to tell her: “I’m so sorry, Demi, but I’m going to have to cancel our coffee date for tomorrow… I have to take the kids to the doctor… I’ll call you to arrange another time. Ok, great, thanks for understanding. Chat soon, bye”. It was like I was hearing myself speak! (My son did the same with both me and my husband).  As cute as that was, it also served to confirm the abundance of research showing that children observe parents from a very young age to the extent that they can mimic their language and behaviors with astounding precision.

In an article published in Parents Magazine[1], it is suggested that children imitate parents from as young as toddler age as a bonding mechanism, because children draw their parents’ attention and praise when they mimic them. In order to draw more attention and praise, children will continue to imitate. Furthermore, imitation is also regarded as a “stepping-stone to independence”. As children learn to imitate, they become empowered with the discovery of newfound abilities – to mimic what they see, and garner a response. Eventually, over time and with repetition, imitations become self- motivated role modeling behaviors.

Dr. Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist, says that our experiences during infancy influence how the brain develops, how we learn to calm our emotions, and how we relate to others. He explains that the relationships we have with our caregivers at a young age directly shape who we become.”[2]

My children are now 16 and 19, and they still watch my husband and I closely. In the current election climate filled with presidential debates, related talk shows and political commentaries flooding our TV screens, what are our children picking up from our reactions, our language, our expressions? We notice that our children regularly glance at us, gauging our reactions. Research shows that role modeling continues well into adolescence, and even though teens are becoming more independent, they still require and seek out their parents, more so for role modeling and mentoring. How are we doing as mentors?

I had the privilege of working in Singapore with Dr. John Ng (author, mediator, leadership consultant)[3] and am reminded of his work on this subject. He says children do what they see, not what we say – raising great children starts with an understanding of ourselves first. He emphasizes the importance of examining our own values and managing our own ‘hot buttons’ first.[4]

Some of the values we hold dear, and wish to effectively impart to our children could be, for example, our moral compass, our sense of patriotism, equality, faith, the importance of human dignity, mutual respect, tolerance in diversity, charity and the list goes on. Are the values we are telling our children to follow congruent with the values we are displaying for them? If we are saying one thing and displaying another, are we confusing our children? A good question for a parent to ask is “how is my behavior right now reinforcing the values I’m teaching my children to imitate?”.

Continue reading Election 2016: What does your child think?

SMU DRCM Prof. Tom Hartsell on How To Talk Politics Without Blowing Your Lid

D Magazine by S. Holland Murphy

Originally Posted: October 14, 2016

There’s a deep political divide among my Facebook friends: On one side, the conservative suburbanites whom I grew up with, and, on the other, the liberal artists and urbanites I have befriended since college. The election is bringing out the worst in all of them, and the dogmatic social media posts have now hit a fever pitch.

It may be bringing out the worst in me, as well. I’ve never been a fan of political discussions—the result of being raised by a lawyer whose sport of choice is heated debate—but this week’s political theatrics compelled me to leave an incendiary comment on a relative’s Facebook post, and I started to wonder whether some of my relationships could survive this election cycle.

All of this led me to email Tom Hartsell, a lawyer and mediator who teaches in the Department of Dispute Resolution and Counseling at SMU. I asked him if he had any thoughts on how I could make it to November 8th without having to sever ties with people I otherwise love and respect. He wrote back with an essay about his own experience. It’s worth sharing:

“Like most Americans I can’t wait for the presidential election to be over with.  My spouse and I have been coexisting on opposite sides of the political divide since we got married over 20 years ago. Every four years the tension begins to ramp up around the presidential election.  What we have learned is that we do best when we avoid discussion of the election and candidates. We spent years debating and arguing and trying to persuade and change each other’s views without success.

The old saying love the person, abhor the sin is applicable, but in a marriage it is best not to let on how much you abhor your spouse’s chosen candidate. For the sake of the greater good—the relationship—we had to agree to disagree and discontinue political debate. 

As an educator and professional involved in conflict resolution for most of my professional career, you would think I would have had more success in navigating political disagreements with my spouse and keep them from becoming contentious. My spouse and I were unable to keep our emotions from getting hijacked which caused bad feelings. In other words, we would get nasty with each other. Not the kind of heat you want in the marital bed. Fortunately, time has given us perspective. Guess what America, the country survives whoever gets to set up shop in the oval office. The emotional upset political disagreements generated was physically draining for my spouse and I, and would temporarily blind us as to how we truly felt about each other. 

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