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Teens and Politics: Help Teenagers Process the Election Results

Regardless of our personal politics, American parents have at least one thing in common. It is our job to teach our children to be the best members they can of our beautiful democracy.

So how might parents guide their children and teenagers in processing election results that may be as surprising to them as they are to the most adults? The answer, of course, depends heavily on who the child was hoping would win.

After the Election

Young people who pulled for Donald J. Trump have much to celebrate today, but they may need guidance on how to do so appropriately. Given the intense divisions surfaced by this election, and the bullying tone that dominated at times, we may need to remind ourselves and our children that victory is best paired with humility. We can point young people to the honorable convention in sports where we celebrate the win with our team, then praise the worthiness of our opponent. Parents can use these lyrics, or let them be the tune that guides their conversations: “Our candidate won. Now we do our part to bring a divided country back together by being kind to those with whom we disagree.”

Children and teenagers who were hoping for and like many, expecting, a victory for Hillary Clinton may need help processing their feelings of surprise as well as their sense of helplessness about an outcome they are powerless to change. With regard to their surprise, we can explain that the instruments we use to take the country’s temperature didn’t work in this election as they have in the past. We will learn more in the coming days about why that is true. And we may see fewer surprises in the future.

Using the Election to Spur Action

When it comes to supporting teenagers who feel helpless, we can remind them that America is made up of both its government and its people. When the people do not agree with the priorities of the government, they can point themselves toward the work they feel needs to be done. That may mean taking on new volunteer opportunities, directing their allowances or earnings to programs they care about, or becoming involved, or deepening their involvement, in the political process for the elections ahead.

It’s no small feat to parent through changing times. When we are working to orient ourselves to the news, we may not always have right words and answers on hand for our children. At any such moment in parenting we can turn to our children and say, “That’s a really good question. It deserves a really good answer. Let me think about it and get back to you.”

Lisa Damour, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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