Every year around election time, people write to us in frustration about all the mudslinging and negativity in political campaign ads. If you're in a state where there's a hotly contested race, you know you can't turn on the radio or TV set without hearing an accusation or claim. As adults, we might understand the highly selective nature of propaganda and "spin," but helping our kids get savvy is something else entirely.
Here are some tips to help you discuss political ads with your kids:
See whether your kids can figure out who paid for the ad and why. The sponsors of the ads must be listed.
How does the ad advance one candidate’s position? By presenting beliefs? Or by tearing down the opposition? You might point out to your kids that ads come in two flavors -- positive and negative. Which do they think is more effective and why?
What facts does the ad use Does your child believe them? How can he or she tell what's true? (Here’s where we recommend going to Factcheck.org to verify or ascertain the facts.)
What images does the ad use and why? Pictures of the World Trade Center, footage of hardened criminals, portraits of endangered environments, animals, and babies are used as emotional shorthands. They produce positive or negative feelings simply by association.
Does the ad talk about issues or character? Some ads attack a political record, others target individuals’ characters. You might ask your kids if they think the latter is fair and which one they find more effective.
Ask whether these ads make it more or less likely for your children to want to vote and participate in their civic lives. This may be the only way you can counteract negative ad fatigue. We want our kids to be good citizens, and that involves being an informed voter. Offer your own opinions, but also show them other independent sources of information about a candidate’s record or platform.