Up until a few years ago, Abigail Reed’s politics were in line with those of her parents. She understood their point of view, and she followed it. Then Reed, a recent high school graduate from Indianapolis who is headed to college in a few weeks, started thinking for herself. She started having conversations with people with different ideas and doing her own research. What resulted was a jump to the other side of the ideological aisle. Her new political stance is not a popular one at the Reed house; it has caused periods of both friction and strained silence.
The political disconnect between Reed and her family is hardly unique; increasingly, kids around the country are becoming—as they might describe it—woke. The long-held assumption has been that a child’s politics are inherited from their parents, but a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2015 questions that notion. Researchers found that of the parent-child relationships surveyed, more than half of the children failed to correctly perceive and/or adopt the politics of their parents.
A political disconnect has put an end to many Facebook friendships, especially in recent years. But it doesn’t have to ruin family relationships—if everyone works at treating each other with respect.
Remember it’s natural for them to separate
Before you pull your hair out in frustration at your independently minded dependent, remind yourself that pushing your buttons is just part of a kid’s job.
“The [role] of the adolescent is to figure these kinds of things out for themselves and separate from parents in a different way,” says Ashley Herndon, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Disagreeing and searching are all a part of maturing. While growth and evolving are all natural, it’s also natural to take all this “growth” as a slam to you and your parenting. The good news is, it’s only a slam if you choose to see it that way.
“It’s easy to think your kids are doing this just not to be you,” Herndon says. On the other hand, “it could just be that the values you poured into them are representing differently than you would have thought.”
Before you assume your kids are rebelling against your politics to spite you, flip the script and ask yourself: Is this rejection or actually an unexpected expression of how you raised them to be?
Don’t dismiss them because of their age
Just because your child is young, that doesn’t automatically make their beliefs wrong, says Darlene Moorman, member of the Ohio Student Association and communications staffer for The Alliance for Youth Action.
“It’s important to respect the experience and voices of young people,” Moorman says. You should not discriminate against them just because of their age.
As recent events have shown, the youth of today are absorbing news and viewpoints from all walks of life. While they have logged fewer trips around the sun, that doesn’t mean they are standing still, Herndon says.
“When we talk about trust and respect, you can’t say ‘I am dismissing you because you haven’t had the same [amount of experience] as me,’” Herndon says, though she admits that can be difficult. “It takes a lot to be open to the idea that this person needs the time to get to where you are now,” she says.
Set some boundaries
Opening a dialogue is important, but setting some boundaries is even more so. Work with your teen to identify the political topics that are on the table and those that are off limits. While you don’t want a house of silence, part of setting boundaries might include acknowledging some topics are better off avoided.
“If you are open, evolved and want to discuss, let’s set boundaries,” Herndon says. “Maybe you can’t talk about politics at all, and maybe you only talk about [lighter matters].”
Whatever boundaries you set, the key is recognizing your stopping points and your comfort levels for engagement. And try to avoid becoming defensive.
“When someone younger than you calls you out, it can elicit a defensive response,” Moorman says.
Before you blow your top and file those emancipation papers, Herndon recommends asking yourself why you are feeling so agitated. Is it because you don’t think your child has all the facts? Is it because you struggle being around people who don’t believe the same things as you? Or are you simply settled into your perspective?
The answer may surprise you, and it may cause you to rethink your next move.
Negotiate a truce
Navigating a complex relationship and being supportive of your political rogue at the same time can feel isolating, but remember you are not alone. Others in your social circle may be managing the same challenges right now.
“Activate your network,” Herndon suggests. “Friends, someone at church, people who will challenge and support you as you discuss issues with parenting your child.”
For now, Abigail Reed and her family have agreed to not talk about politics while at home.
“I am interested in seeing other people’s views,” Reed says. “But it leads to a lot of ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ I think in the long run, just not talking to my parents about politics is better.”
Concessions such as those being made by Reed family’s are not the same thing as admitting defeat; think of them more like a truce. You may not always agree, and you are surely not going in tandem into the ballot box, but you can at least appreciate the fact that you’ve raised a strong, independent thinker.
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