Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Tracey Tucker
There is no doubt I am a political junkie. As a mental health counselor, I am always interested in what motivates politicians and people in general. As a parent, I am interested in how we communicate and how emotions play a part in our everyday view of our world.
The other day, I had an epiphany while sharing a conversation with my daughter about politics. While I clearly have my own political leanings, it became apparent my daughter has picked up on some of them, too. I realized this as we discussed the current presidential election when my daughter shelled out an intolerant viewpoint filled with anger toward one of the candidates.
I looked at her and said, “I think it might be a good idea to go see this candidate so that you can see both candidates and understand both sides of the argument.” She immediately told me she would not see this other candidate because she knew he was bad.
After that conversation, I got to thinking about how adamant she was about her views. Quite frankly, I realized that many of the viewpoints she held reflected statements I often said in my own household. This realization got me to thinking about how our words as parents directly shape the viewpoints of our children.
Now, this is not a surprising revelation, and as parents we know we influence our children in both good and bad ways. My epiphany was not about whether we influence our children’s thoughts, but more about what we say to our children without saying the actual words. Given my daughter’s reaction to the opposing candidate, you would have thought I actually said the other side is “absolutely wrong” and “no good.” Regardless of what I said, however, what my daughter heard was that differences of any kind are not tolerated in our household and that the opposing candidate’s beliefs are so wrong he is a bad person.
In my private practice, I see kids all of the time that come in with bashed self-esteems who do not want to go to school because they feel socially isolated or rejected. These are kids that have enjoyable personalities who are bright and funny and often times extremely gifted with talents that are not immediately recognized at first glance.
These kids come into my office with a variety of stories about moments in middle school or high school that changed their view of their world. They went from happy confident kids to kids who didn’t feel they were liked or were as good as the peers they went to school with on a daily basis. These were also kids who struggled with excessive amounts of anxiety and depressed feelings every day and literally had to muster up a lot of energy just to make it to school and participate as a “normal” teenager.
Many of them report to me that they are isolated by their peers, because they are different. Unfortunately, there are always a couple of kids who belittle that difference, too. These incidents can be one-time events, or they can go on for months or even years. In some ways, these kids were told by their peers that “difference is not tolerated in this school and that their beliefs are so wrong they are bad people.” For some of these kids, the anxiety and pressure is so great they take their own life.
I have always believed that bullying can be started and prevented in the home. There is no doubt we have many opportunities to talk to our children, but we don’t do it because we think they already know the right answer. When it comes to bullying, the repetitive message needs to be heard as often as possible.
During this election season where we see one negative commercial after another and where the chatter on Facebook tends to get bitter, I think it is critically important to talk to our kids about tolerance. Sure, we are all entitled to our political leanings and that is why we vote, but we should be teaching our children that difference is OK and not indicative of a person’s character or worth as a human being. We need to be vigilant as parents that we are constantly sending consistent messages to our kids in all areas of life. We can show them we can respect and like a person’s character, but not necessarily like his/her views on a particular subject matter.
In the end, as I always tell my clients and my children, every person you meet teaches you something. It could be either something you want to take with you or something you do not want to take with you. Bullying needs to be a priority in our households, as our models in life —whether they be politicians, reality TV stars or other parents — don’t always show us the importance of accepting difference.
Frankly, I now realize my own shortcomings in helping my daughter learn to accept differences in others. Though hard to admit on some levels, my epiphany represented a great teachable moment for both myself and my daughter. As a parent, it’s OK to admit you’ve made a mistake. The key is to learn from it and teach your child in the process.
Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.