Parenting in the Age of Trump: 6 Approaches to Teaching Our Kids a Better Way
Early in the morning of Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, my pregnant spouse, Katie, and I learned that Donald Trump would be our next president. We just stared at each other in the dark, puzzled. As the news sank in and the sun came up, I remember thinking two distinct thoughts.
First, I was genuinely sad that this cruel man would become the leader of our country in the same year our first child was to be born. I recognize this is kind of silly, but at the time, it felt wrong on a cosmic level. Second, I was angry that Trump’s election, which I wasn’t even sure he wanted to happen, would further feed his already out-of-control ego.
At the time, I was also in the process of reconstructing my Christian faith, and one of the only things I knew for sure about Christianity, which Trump also claims as his religion, is that we’re all called—at the very least—to de-elevate our ego.
Today, our little guy is 2 years old, and we have another child due to arrive this summer. I’m hopeful that America will come to its senses and elect somebody with a moral compass to lead us forward. I would love for Trump to have faded substantially from public view and influence before my kids actually know what’s going on in the world.
However, it’s clear that he has already done lasting damage to our country. Trump’s lack of compassion toward others—the awful insults, the racism, the sexism, the dehumanization of others—has had far-reaching ripple effects. In the high school in my town, a suburb of Boston, spray-painted swastikas and the words “Gas the Jews” have appeared at various places throughout the campus, and according to the Boston Globe, there have also been “racist slurs targeting black people [written] in a stairwell and a bathroom.”
Additionally, one study—and I’m sure there are more to come—shows that “in 2017, both teasing and bullying were significantly higher in schools located in districts that had voted for Donald Trump compared with districts that had voted for Hillary Clinton.” Awful, but not surprising.
Here’s the bottom line: As parents, we have work to do—individually and collectively. Below, I’ve outlined six approaches to teaching our kids a better way. My hope is that if we all do this work together, we can counteract the negative effects of the Trump Era, and therefore make this world the kind of place that is more hospitable to our children and our children’s children.
(1) Explicitly teach how to discern right from wrong. We all understand how important it is to teach our kids to make good decisions. I think practicing discernment is helpful here. Discernment is the ability to judge well, and it requires a certain level of wisdom. So, if we want our kids to discern right from wrong, then it’s our job as parents to share our wisdom with our kids—especially our process of making difficult decisions. How did we arrive at our conclusions? When did we make poor decisions and what did we learn from the consequences? We also have to insist that truth exists, and sometimes it’s necessary to work hard to bring it into the light for others to see, too.
(2) Expose and fight narcissism. Oh, man. This one is so crucial. And for me it hits super close to home, which probably explains why I have such a hard time with America feeding Trump’s ego. I have been the victim of a narcissistic family member, and I know how much harm a person can do because of their selfishness, entitlement, lack of empathy, and need to feel powerful.
Narcissism is dangerous. Narcissists, like our commander-in-chief, hurt people—often because they have some deep, relatively unexplored hurt from their own upbringing, which is definitely sad. But we still have to call it out when we see it. Let’s define narcissism for our kids, and let’s show our kids wherever and whenever it crops up around us. We can fight narcissism by helping instill in our kids a strong sense of self-worth, and of belovedness, by showing them how to reflect the belovedness of others back to them.
(3) Teach media literacy. One of the many ironies of Trump’s rhetoric is the absurd way he rails against “fake news” while lying through his teeth every day. Give us a break, dude. We know what you’re doing. Let’s make sure our kids do, too. Many schools explicitly teach media literacy, but either way, it’s important for our kids to know how to find good information. Share with them how to find a variety of different news sources, find basic biographical information about who wrote the articles they’re reading, and determine what is fact and what is opinion. (That line is already blurry, and seems to be getting even blurrier.)
Helping them understand how to evaluate information has the added benefit of making them better at discernment. They become stronger critical thinkers, and they gain wisdom that will be infinitely helpful to them in the years to come.
(4) Encourage them to be upstanders, not bystanders. What should our kids say and do when they see someone insulting (which, of course, includes Trump’s infamous name-calling) or threatening someone else? We can help them make the right kinds of decisions, in the moment, when we help them think about these kinds of situations ahead of time.
Also, in my experience as a teacher of social-emotional health, I’ve found that role-playing is enormously helpful here. When kids are given certain hypothetical scenarios that they are likely to encounter, they can practice making decisions in the moment that are most likely to lead to effective defense of the person being harmed. Part of the reason why Trump is president is because too many people were bystanders— they decided not to vote despite seeing how Trump hurt people in the present and in the past. In response, let’s raise a generation of upstanders, like those amazing teens from Parkland.
(5) Teach them to practice forgiveness. I just finished reading Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Forgiving, and it’s full of wisdom. My biggest takeaway is that when we forgive others for the hurt they’ve caused, we create space within ourselves for profound transformation. Tutu writes, “Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another—when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship—our suffering begins to transform.”
It’s clear that Donald Trump has been hurt, and he hasn’t allowed himself to do the difficult work of forgiving. But the good news is that each of us is capable of doing so, and the even better news is that it’s incredibly liberating. We don’t have to walk around everyday feeling resentful. When we forgive, we heal. Because on the other side of hurt is the recognition of our shared humanity: we all harm others, and we can all learn from our mistakes. Clearly, our country needs more of this recognition.
(6) Teach them to love our enemies. I saved the toughest for last. Loving enemies is almost impossibly difficult, and I would argue it’s inextricably linked to forgiving. Despite how we feel at our most hostile, we are indeed capable of loving our enemies. To our kids, this might sound like crazy talk, but if we’ve figured out how to find love for an enemy—just one, even—then we’re prepared to talk them through how it’s done and why it’s important. Like forgiving, loving our enemies allows us to remove the weight our enemies have on our consciousness.
You know what I’m talking about, right? When we are hostile toward someone, or they’re hostile to us, we often can’t stop thinking about them. They haunt us. But when we do the inner work of finding love for them and recognizing our shared humanity, then we’re able to create love in the world where it didn’t exist before. In this way, loving is a creative act. Our kids need to know this. At a time when love—real, honest, vulnerable, other-centered love—is in short supply, this is a radical act. And it’s exactly what we all need to enter into a new and better age.