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Talking with Kids About Political Ads

The Political Pitch

During an election year, you and your kids won't be able to escape the politcal ads on TV and the radio.

But before you tune the candidates out, try using them as a way to teach your children some media smarts. By talking about the ads, you can help your kids sort through the truth and distortion in political advertising. The ads can serve as a springboard for discussions about important political and social issues in our lives.

Stumped before you start? Here's what you can say to get your conversations off the ground.

Separating Fact from Fiction

  • Ask your kids how a particular commercial makes them feel. What impression does it give them of the candidate?
  • Talk about how the camera shots, setting, music, and people in the spot were intentionally chosen to send messages to voters about the candidate. For example, ask your kids if the music sounds friendly or "stately." Then discuss how that changes a candidate's image.
  • Encourage your kids to notice the race and ethnicity of people in the spot. If they're all of one race, consider why the people making the ad chose to do that. (You can also talk about the age and gender of the people.)
  • Discuss the advertisement's message. Tell your kids how it compares and contrasts with the record of what a candidate has actually done.
  • If a candidate is engaging in negative campaign spots, share your feelings about negative campaigning with your kids. Tell them whether you believe the information in the spot is true.
  • Talk to your kids about the power of charisma. Help them realize that just because candidates have a nice smile or are attractive doesn't mean they're a good candidate.
  • Share the social issues you care about most with your kids. For example, consider where a candidate stands on universal health care. Do his or her opinions on taxes, poverty, or the environment match yours?
Your younger kids might not be able to understand the finer points of your political concerns, but having these conversations when they're at an early age sends important messages to them. They'll learn that you are interested in who is running the government, and also see that you don't take political advertising at face value.

For older kids, learning to think critically about what's being fed to them by campaign strategists will help them read between the lines when they're ready to cast their first vote.

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