We may think we’re unique as South Africans, but nations across the world, throughout all the ages, have had leaders they didn’t agree with much. The question is, how much of this do we allow to filter through to our children? And in what way?
If we teach our children to be honest, then we should be straight up with them too. But how much you share, and in what way, is critical.
How much can they handle?
We wouldn’t talk about sex, drugs and violence in front of a 4-year-old, not least to avoid awkward questions. We wouldn’t (or try not to) swear in front of our children. So perhaps we should also think twice before discussing a leader’s shortcomings with a young child.
A 4-year-old makes sense of the world through his own experiences. To him, a president may be the same as a mom or dad of the country, someone who makes the rules and decides what is good for everyone.
If you then trash talk or belittle the president in front of little ones, their concept of respect for and trust in authority may be violated and it could cause insecurities.
So at this age, simply answer any questions with facts and try to protect them from negative news and emotions so they don’t become fearful or mistrustful.
With older children – and you would know when your child is ready – it is completely fair to discuss current affairs, appropriate to their stage of development, with them and in front of them. We don’t want our kids to grow up in a bubble, the way many of us did in the Apartheid era.
Our kids absolutely have to learn to ask questions, to look at the world critically, and to not just accept status quo. We’ve seen with the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and again last year with #feesmustfall how powerful the youth’s voice can be to affect change.
Also read: Children of the revolution: #feesmustfall
But they need to be informed. Help them to delve into our history and the injustices of the past and present, and to learn about political systems.
Voice your opinion, but make it clear that they’re free to form their own. Encourage them to base their opinions on facts and reason, not just on what they hear other people (or you) say. And help them to get their opinions across in a calm way, always respecting others’ opinions too. This is a critical skill all of us should acquire.
If your child simply isn’t interested, leave the long debates but don’t neglect to teach them about our country’s past.
Also read: So who are Zuma's 22 children?
Tearing down vs building up
Whatever our opinion of the person, if we believe in democracy, we have to respect the Office of President. Much as your child would have to respect their principal at school, even if they don’t particularly like them. And if there’s a major injustice or problem at school, we do have systems in place to address that.
So when we discuss politics at home, it’s important that we define our own family values carefully. What exactly is it that we disagree with? Is it the person, the party or its values? Does that mean everyone in government or that political party or race are the same?
What can we as a family do to help build this country, or are we going to sit back and criticise? And let’s eat a bit of humble pie. Can we lead a country? Do we always keep our promises? Have we ever said or done something we wish we could take back later?
Yes we expect more from our leaders and we should insist on higher standards. But trash-talking and breaking people down won’t build a country up.
So how do we talk about Mr President in front of our kids? Do we falsely build him up and pretend he can do no wrong? Or do we dismiss him, belittle him, or call him names? We wouldn't want our children to treat others this way on the playground, and neither should we.
It’s critical that we model good citizenship and behaviour to our children and teach them BOTH manners and critical thinking, instead of just resorting to empty rhetoric, emotional outbursts and cheap jokes.
How do you talk about the government, politics and President Zuma in front of your kids? Let us know at email@example.com.