You can understand the impulse that led Chelsea Clinton to tweet a “cute” anecdote about her 4-year-old son celebrating this week’s inauguration of Joe Biden. Certainly Hillary Clinton’s daughter has plenty of reasons to cheer the ignominious exit from politics of the man who spent half a decade vilifying her mother and encouraging his supporters to cheer for her imprisonment (or worse). That doesn’t mean she should have done it — and you shouldn’t do it with your own kids, either.
Obviously the children of politicians and celebrities don’t deserve to be attacked, critiqued, put under the microscope by the public or the media — whether we’re talking about Barron Trump, Claudia Conway, or even Chelsea Clinton herself, whose treatment by right-wing media when she was a child ranks high on the chart of The Most Terrible Things Rush Limbaugh Has Said (it’s a really big chart).
Clinton seems to realise this — she defended Barron after a conservative media outlet criticised the then-president’s Very Tall tween son for dressing like… a tween — so she can also realise that she shouldn’t use her own kids as a mouthpiece for expressing her personal politics. Because that’s exactly what she’s doing: Little Aidan’s quip may strike his mum as particularly share-worthy, but she should have texted the story to her mum instead, and given her child — who, as a 4-year-old, has no political opinions about anything other than his right to on-demand snacks — some goddamn privacy.
Kids aren’t political
Speaking of the Clintons, I was around 11 during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. All my life, my parents had been staunch Republicans (instead of music, I grew up listening to conservative radio in the car). My primary interests at the time involved collecting back issues of Nintendo Power, and my policy opinions were, shall we say, unformed. My assessment of the Clinton-Gore ticket was wholly shaped by what I heard my parents say, so I have them to thank for the mortifying memory of going to a sleepover at a friend’s house and telling his Clinton-supporting parents that Al Gore was an idiot because he only cared about the spotted owl (political controversies used to be so quaint).
I remember my friend’s parents kindly humouring me, but in retrospect, I’m also pretty sure they first paused to consider what a little arsehole I was being (or ragged on me after I went home; it’s cool, I deserved it). Mind you, this was back when political arguments used to be about substantive issues like fiscal policy and the environment, and not questions of whether the other party is made up of baby-killing vampire pedophiles. Chelsea Clinton’s son isn’t celebrating Joe Biden’s first day in office because he is excited about his policy platform, he’s doing it because he knows that his mum is happy Joe Biden is now president — and praising Biden is probably a great way to get some positive attention from her.
We’re all subject to our animal natures, especially when we have malleable little child brains, which is why it is important to be careful about how you discuss politics to and around your kids. It’s affirming to hear your PreK-aged child ask “why does Donald Trump want to destroy America?” (to use a totally hypothetical example that definitely did not happen to me), but that doesn’t mean he understands the implications of what he’s asking (and thank god for that).
“Yep, he’s my son [blushing smiley emoji]!” Clinton tweeted — and yes, he literally is, and you probably haven’t sat him down to discuss the finer points of the GOP’s stance on abortion rights. Talk to your kids about your values, take them to protests, make activism a family affair, sure — but make sure you are practicing what you preach, and not training them to repeat sound bites.
Talking to our kids about politics has never felt as tricky as it has during the past couple of years. With political divisiveness at an all-time high, it can be hard to walk that fine line between raising kids who are aware of what’s happening in the world around them...Read more
Don’t assume your kids will believe the same things as you
Studies (like this one cited in The Atlantic) have suggested that children raised with strong beliefs are more likely to rebel against them when they grow up, so you certainly can’t take what they say as kids at face value. Consider the famed 1961 Bobo doll study, referenced in the aforementioned Atlantic piece, which revealed that children would carry out aggressive behaviour toward a stuffed toy if they saw adults doing the same first.
To return to my own youthful political commentary: I didn’t really give two hoots about Al Gore’s owl obsession, but I was talking to grownups, and I wanted to sound grownup, so I just repeated some vaguely political stuff I’d overheard at home. Nearly 30 years later, my actual opinions are, shall we say, quite different than those of my parents, and I would not appreciate learning that my dad had been widely sharing my commentary with his circle of friends, let alone the entire world via the social media that did not yet exist (I suppose he could’ve used the CB radio he inexplicably kept in the car throughout my childhood).
I’m generally against sharing too much about my kids on social media (a topic Lifehacker has covered quite extensively) and endeavour never to do so in a public post. You never know when something is going to go viral, and it’s our job to protect our kids from such undue public scrutiny. Because…
Hours after he was born, my son’s image was all over the internet. Some of the posts were by relatives, while others were by friends wishing to share in our joy. Not one photo out there had my consent to be published.Read more
They might be embarrassed
I chose Clinton’s example to open this post because she really should know better, but there’s another from the recent tumultuous political season that makes the point even better: That mum who shared the extremely cringe story of her daughter exclaiming “Ruthkanda forever!” and striking a pose from a Marvel movie immediately after she learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. While I’m sure the mum had the best intentions in sharing that story with the world, the internet’s reaction to it — impassioned support mixed with mocking derision and leavened with outright vitriol — was entirely predictable. And while I don’t think we know exactly how the girl in question feels about the attention, I feel confident that she didn’t say it in the hopes it would help her mum rack up social media cred (assuming she said it at all).
imagine growing up to find out your mom tweeted a lie about you saying Ruthkanda Forever for no reason
— ????????♀️ (@romanroyco) September 19, 2020
If I had to place a bet, little Ruthkanda indeed will not be happy the first time someone googles her in high school and puts two and two together. Her mum should have kept that story in the family. Don’t make the same mistake.