Should you let your child watch the third presidential debate?

Posted October 16

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, on October 9, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Rick Wilking (Deseret Photo)

The second presidential debate last Sunday night wasn’t one that could be described as family-friendly.

That’s because the debate, as well as events before and after, centered around topics that caused a panic among parents, who were worried about letting their children watch the event, according to the Associated Press.

These concerns may only grow as the third debate looms, scheduled at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Looking back at last Sunday’s event, though, shows that the substance may have been too much for children to handle.

Even before the event began, Donald Trump hosted a Facebook Live event that included Bill Clinton rape accusers talking about their problems with the former president and his wife, nominee Hillary Clinton. The event received widespread media coverage.

Then, just 90 minutes later, the first question at Sunday’s debate centered on the idea that the first debate had been a little too mature, with the questioner saying that "the last presidential debate could've been rated as MA — mature audiences,” AP reported.

But the questions for mature audiences didn’t end there. Moderator Anderson Cooper proceeded to ask Donald Trump about a newly released video of the GOP nominee making lewd comments about women that seemed to trivialize sexual assault. Trump said at Sunday’s debate that the video just showed him engaging in “locker room talk,” adding that he lives in the real world, one where the Islamic State terrorist group is "chopping off heads" and "drowning people in steel cages."

These sorts of topics and soundbytes have worried parents, according to the AP. Sarah Parsons Fein, 38, of Tempe, Arizona, said she tried to distract her children from watching the debate.

"When they started talking about grabbing women's genitals, I kind of wanted to do a dance in front of them, like 'Hey, look at Mommy!" she told the AP.

She said the reality isn’t as funny as doing a little dance. When the candidates discuss rape culture, real problems could arise.

"I'm not sure that I want my children to know that someone can say and do such terrible things and still be president,” Fein said.

John Furjanic, the single father of a 9-year-old, told CNN that he didn’t want his daughter to watch the debate because he didn’t want his daughter to mimic the potential leaders of the free world.

"I lack the ability to control what comes out of the candidate's mouth, and my daughter lacks the emotional maturity to understand grown-ups acting like misbehaved teenagers cutting down the other candidates," Furjanic said, according to CNN. "I don't want to allow my child to be influenced by bad adult behavior, and I don't want to take the time to explain away the poor, pouting and mean conduct."

Meanwhile, Drew Bauer, 45, of Scottsdale, Arizona, wanted his children to see the debate, hoping its mature nature would offer his children insight into the ongoing election, helping them see the dark side of the American election.

"If it was bad, then I figured it was worthwhile for them to watch — even if it was bad," he said.

These worries come at a time when the majority of children want to learn more about the election. Research from Nickelodeon — which hosts “Kids Pick the President,” an event where young Nickelodeon fans are asked to vote for a potential president of the United States every year — found that 67 percent of youngsters between the ages of 8 and 13 want to be involved in this year’s presidential election. About 1 in 3 children said in the research study that terrorism is the top issue for them, followed by equal rights and issues surrounding crime and violence.

Kids will begin voting in the Nickelodeon election on Oct. 28 — 11 days before America’s real election occurs. Pundits may want to keep their eyes on youth voting trends, since, as I wrote about last June, these children have chosen correctly six out of the last seven presidential candidates through this promotion.

"I think it's incredibly important to understand the electoral process," Marie Stroughter, co-founder and host of African-American Conservatives, told CNN.

Similarly, Avital Norman Nathman, who has a 9-year-old son, told CNN that she only wants her child to watch the debate if there’s something valuable he can learn from it. Rather than focus on the personal issues that Clinton and Trump have brought out, Nathman hopes her child focuses on the policy issues.

"If it has (my son) asking questions about how our economy works, seeing what the candidates say about racial injustice, learning about the U.S.'s role on a global scale, then I am happy to allow him to watch and, of course, watch with him," she said, according to CNN.

She added, "Anything that encourages and promotes a child's investment and interest on a civic level is A-OK with me.”

Resources exist to help parents teach their children lessons from the debate. US Weekly encouraged a 7-year-old child to watch Sunday’s event, letting the youngster ask questions about the candidates and politics. These questions may serve as a valuable teaching tool for parents who want their children to learn more about the political landscape without exposing them to the actual debate event.

Parents who wish to let their children become more involved in politics may also want to send them over to Nickelodeon’s website, where there are a number of videos about the election, the presidential candidates and how the government functions.

Once again, lessons prove important. Brian Kaylor, a former instructor at James Madison University and author of "Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics,” told the Deseret News' Lois Collins that all parents should look to teach their youngsters valuable lessons through the election cycle.

"Whether we want to or not, we need to talk about the election with our children because they're hearing about it anyway," he said. "My goal is to use it to spark teaching moments about how to treat others with civility and respect. When candidates resort to name-calling, we talk about how that's not the way to treat people. When candidates interrupt and yell at each other, we talk about how to listen. I'm not concerned with teaching issues to him at this point. I'm trying to teach him how to treat others with respect and dignity."

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.


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