I’ve been told more than once that I am opinionated. I struggle with that descriptive every time I hear it, because isn’t everyone opinionated? Don’t we all have views and thoughts and ideas and leanings?
How does one actually go about not having an opinion on something? It’s like when someone tells you, “Don’t think about a giant purple elephant.” You can’t help but think of a giant purple elephant, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. So unless you’re completely unaware of an issue—say, whether or not twerking should be an Olympic sport or water chestnuts are the food version of hell—it seems to me that forming opinions is an unavoidable, involuntary act.
Now that we have finally reached 2016, the year in which we Americans will elect our next President, I find myself with opinions coming out my ears. I have opinions on all of the candidates whose names I can remember (there are so many!) and opinions on all of the issues I can wrap my brain around (the debt ceiling still eludes me).
The problem with all these opinions is that I struggle to keep them contained. I live in Minnesota, where we all politely try to avoid making each other angry or uncomfortable, but that’s not the reason I hold back. The reason I work to keep my political opinions to myself is that I don’t want to turn my kids into Mini-Mes. (Sorry about the spelling there—I’m not familiar with the plural form of Mini-Me, so you get what you get.)
I screwed up this morning when I clicked on a news article in the Washington Post about the USA Freedom Kids, a group of five young girls who dance and sing to demonstrate their patriotism and earn a little cash. The article included a video from their recent performance at a Donald Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida. At the rally, three of the Freedom Kids (apparently 40% of the group had conflicts that day) donned shiny American flag ensembles and danced and lip-synced to a song about our country staying strong so our enemies don’t crush us and how we should never apologize for our freedom. They also managed to sneak in a line about “President Trump.”
When he heard the video, my 7-year-old leaned over to watch and said, “Ooh, I like the music.” I was so horrified, I completely forgot to stop and think before saying, “No, this music is bad. It’s really, really bad.” My response left no room for argument.
“Yeah, the song is bad. You’re right, Mom,” my son agreed, doing a total 180. “It’s horrible.” Confusion flitted across his face. “Wait, why is it bad?”
I didn’t know how to answer him. As I read through the lyrics of the song, I saw that they weren’t necessarily bad. We all want to live in a strong country, and freedom and liberty are nice, positive sentiments in their pure form. But my son is just learning the basic definitions of those words in second grade, so he has no idea how they’ve been used in the past, or how certain presidential candidates are manipulating them to fit their agendas. Should I have told him that freedom and liberty are wonderful when they apply to everybody, but terrible when they are used as justification for racist, hateful policies? Yeah, I don’t think he would have understood that answer. To be honest, the whole concept still baffles me a little.
So here’s what I said: “It’s a bad song because those girls are singing about a man who is not a good person, who doesn’t deserve to be our president.”
Well, that’s not better. Now I’ve not only told my kid that his music taste is incorrect, I’ve also told him another human being is unequivocally bad. And though it’s important to me that he knows my opinions, it is also important to me that my son forms his own. Just like it’s important to me that those Freedom Kids are allowed to form their own opinions about strength, liberty, and men like Donald Trump. I find it hard to believe those kids can do that when they’re being paid to parade around in the colors of the flag, saluting and singing nuanced songs they can’t possibly understand.
The group’s manager, Jeff Popick, (who also happens to be the father of one of the girls) bragged about how he contacted multiple presidential candidates, and Trump’s was the only campaign to hire the Freedom Kids. That begs a few questions—does Mr. Popick even know what Donald Trump stands for? Does he agree with it? Would he have let the Freedom Kids sing and dance for any candidate, as long as they got paid? And most important: Do these girls have any idea what they’re doing?
It’s hard to find a balance between educating our kids about politics and telling them what to think. It’s also hard to include them in the political process without turning them into precious little mascots for the candidates. A recent article in NPR raises questions about the legitimacy of the “kid questioners” that frequently turn up at Hilary Clinton’s events. I don’t know if the kids are “plants,” as some critics suggest, but many of the questions seem to have been coached or crafted by parents. And I get it—we all understand the urge to help our kids sound savvy and smart. But if we’re going to get them involved in politics, I believe we should be getting them involved on their own terms. I’d rather my 7-year-old asked his own question about Clinton’s pets than asking a question I’d suggested about plans for “connecting mental health problems and guns.”
But let’s be real for a second: You will NEVER catch me telling my kids that we should give Donald Trump a chance and that he probably has a lot of good ideas if we’re just willing to listen. I will not pretend my own views are anything other than what they are. If my kids want to know what I think, I’ll tell them what I think.
And then I’ll do my best to ask, “But more importantly, what do you think?”