As we get closer to our presidential election, television and various forms of social media are posting more and more political ads, some filled with messages of fear and hatred. Almost every newscast highlights highly emotional, often negative messages that involve name-calling and verbal slurs. These can be disturbing to many citizens who may wonder where civility has gone. They can also be very confusing to children who see and hear them.
How patriotism and politics may appear to our children
Perhaps there are has never been a more important time in history than now for parents to promote patriotism proactively in their children.
Patriotism can promote a sense of pride in what America is, what America stands for, and what it means to be a citizen of this amazing country. And the good news is there are many resources on this subject for parents to share with their children.
Museums, movies and videos: resources to learn about and celebrate patriotism pride
Most major cities have museums that honor some aspect of American history (e.g., The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian in Washington, DC). There are movies that highlight patriotism such as Saving Private Ryan, Glory, and The Patriot (note there are violent scenes in these movies making them inappropriate for younger children.) There are some wonderful old movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Yankee Doodle Dandy that school-aged children can enjoy. There is a three-minute musical video of how a bill becomes a law produced in 1976 for Schoolhouse Rocks that children and adults can enjoy together.
Parents can ask librarians for suggestions of books that highlight American history, especially with regard to patriots and patriotism.
Parents might want to check out The Smithsonian Institutes Children’s Encyclopedia of American History, published December 15, 2014. There is also the 12-volume set of Golden Books History of the United States written for school-aged children and beautifully illustrated.
There are books that highlight children in history such as Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon, and fictional books that still teach important patriotic lessons such as George Washington and the General’s Dog . There are wonderful biographies of American heroes (check out a website called Ducksters http://www.ducksters.com/biography/ for a long list of suggestions.)
How parents can encourage patriotism
Parents can encourage patriotism by regularly having discussions with their children and sharing information that promotes patriotism:
- Explain why so many people fly the American flag
- Explain what it means to love this country
- Explain what America stands for
- Help children appreciate why liberty is so precious
- Talk about the founding fathers and influential women of this country and how many people have risked and given their lives so that we can be free
- Tell stories of times from your own family describing relatives who did patriotic acts, such as serving in the military or other forms of service
- Teach children the words to patriotic songs
- Encourage children to be proud of being American citizens
The 2016 election
For many of us, these are troubling times because of the frenetic tone of this upcoming election. This is a good time to focus on why America is an amazing country built on a foundation that promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that America endeavors to offer liberty and justice for all. These are all “works in progress,” for sure, but it’s pretty impressive that these are cornerstone values our country espouses and hopefully works to accomplish.
Children need and deserve opportunities to learn about this country’s basic foundational beliefs, its history and the people who exemplify patriotism in order to inspire the next generation to understand, embrace and truly love this country.
Invitation to Reflect
- In what ways do you see yourself as a patriot? What do you value and cherish about America and your American citizenship or, if you are not yet a citizen, why you would want to become one?
- What messages do you think your children have received in this election year that might be confusing or promote a negative image of America and/or its leaders?
- What are some of the ways you are promoting and can continue to promote patriotism in your children? Remember this needs to be an ongoing focus, not just an occasional comment or discussion.
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Networ