Tips for Talking About President Bush With Your Children

Tips for Talk­ing About Pres­i­dent Bush With Your Children

Kids, lies, and Pres­i­dent Bush
By Kat­ri­na Van­den Heuv­el, 8/9/2003

N THE EVE of the Clin­ton impeach­ment hear­ings in 1998, the Sex­u­al­i­ty Infor­ma­tion and Edu­ca­tion Coun­cil sent out “Ten Tips for Talk­ing about the Starr Report with your Children.”

“The upcom­ing impeach­ment hear­ing,” coun­cil pres­i­dent Debra Haffn­er advised, “pro­vides par­ents with a spe­cial oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk to their chil­dren about sex­u­al­i­ty issues … The ques­tion par­ents need to ask is ‘Who do I want to tell my chil­dren about this sad sit­u­a­tion?’ Anoth­er child on the play­ground? An acquain­tance on the school bus? They are unlike­ly to tell your chil­dren the facts in a clear way. And only YOU can give YOUR chil­dren YOUR values.”

It’s now 2003, and if the events of these last weeks don’t pro­vide par­ents with that spe­cial oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk to their chil­dren about the pres­i­dent and val­ues such as truth, lies, and con­se­quences, then I don’t know what does.

So, with all due cred­it to the Sex­u­al­i­ty Infor­ma­tion and Edu­ca­tion Coun­cil, here are “Tips for Talk­ing about Pres­i­dent Bush with Your Children”:

Think about your val­ues as they relate to this sit­u­a­tion. What are your fam­i­ly’s val­ues about telling the truth? What would you do if your child lied to you and when you scold­ed him or her, he or she replied: “I am not a fact-check­er.” Or added, “Isn’t it time to move on?”

Ask your chil­dren to tell you what words mean to them. Explain that words have con­se­quences and lies can come in two, six or 16 words.

Clar­i­fy facts. Give short, age-appro­pri­ate answers. Explain that shift­ing strate­gies at dam­age con­trol only lead to more unan­swered ques­tions. Make clear that even if facts are mal­leable for Pres­i­dent Bush, they’re not mal­leable in your home. Explain that even though the White House strat­e­gy may be to say what­ev­er is nec­es­sary, even if they have to admit lat­er that what they said the first time was­n’t exact­ly true, you don’t do it that way yourself.

Use these talks with your child to encour­age good deci­sion-mak­ing. Let them know that if they grow up to become pres­i­dent and lead a nation into war, the right thing to do is take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their words and acts. (This is a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to explain what the say­ing “the buck stops here” means.)

Use tele­vi­sion news as a spring­board for dis­cus­sion. How­ev­er, do not let chil­dren younger than 13 watch this cov­er­age alone. It can be ugly and dis­turb­ing for chil­dren to watch the pres­i­dent and his aides scape­goat their sub­or­di­nates with so lit­tle compunction.

Help your chil­dren under­stand the larg­er issues. Let them know that it’s not just about 16 words. You could explain that there appears to be a pat­tern of dis­hon­esty well beyond the ura­ni­um scan­dal that is extreme­ly wor­ri­some. Explain that the Amer­i­can peo­ple are enti­tled to the truth and they have a right to know if Bush, Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney or any White House offi­cials mis­rep­re­sent­ed the facts to jus­ti­fy war.

Keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open. Talk. Remem­ber that this is not a one-time or a one-way dis­cus­sion. Your chil­dren need your ongo­ing sup­port in deal­ing with their pres­i­den­t’s ten­u­ous rela­tion­ship to the truth. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this sad sit­u­a­tion is cur­rent­ly a fixed ele­ment of the polit­i­cal land­scape they are grow­ing up in.

Kat­ri­na Van­den Heuv­el is edi­tor of The Nation magazine.

This sto­ry ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 8/9/2003.
© Copy­right 2003 Globe News­pa­per Company. 

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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