Parents are struggling to explain the presidential debate to their children

The first time I watched a presidential debate as a young adult, I was surprised by what a far cry it was from my middle school debate class—and not in a good way. I saw almost nothing of what I'd learned about constructing a valid argument, forming a refutation, cross-examination or any other debate skill on the presidential debate stage, and I was confused. Why did I have to learn those rules and guidelines if the people competing for the highest office in the nation didn't even use them in a nationally televised debate?

That was my impression during the "normal" era of politics. This week's presidential debate dropped the bar so low we might as well call it six feet under. I'm not sure if we hit rock bottom, but it feels like we're darn close.

My two teens watched the presidential debate with me. Normally, I would have grabbed this opportunity to discuss with them the issues presented to the candidates, point out the ways politicians use language to make their policies sound good, and how they frame things to make their opponents' policies look bad. I would have walked them through an analysis of the debate, probably lamenting the lack of formal debate practices—that's nothing new—but still discussing the nuances of what made each candidate's performance weaker or stronger. I wouldn't have tried to steer their opinions of the candidates one way or the other, but allowed them to evaluate on their own.

This debate offered no such opportunities. It was a train wreck, and there's no getting around the fact that it was a train wreck because the President of the United States made it one.

And it saddens me as much as it enrages me. I want my children to be able to respect the president. Even if they disagree with his policies, even if they think he's in the wrong on various issues, I want them to be able to respect the leader of our country as a leader.

But they can't. I can't. And that sucks.


To watch the President of the United States engage in behavior that I wouldn't tolerate in a 5-year-old is humiliating and impossible to explain to my children. My husband and I have worked to instill into them the values of common courtesy and basic decency. We've taught them to carefully consider different opinions and viewpoints and to evaluate them fairly and honestly, and always treat others with respect and compassion.

They're teens and they're smart—they saw the aggression and rudeness and complete lack of decorum with their own eyes and formed their own appalled responses. But what about younger kids? The ones who are just forming their ideas about leadership and true strength and acceptable behavior—the ones for whom this man is the only presidential example they've known?

Parents have shared how some of their children reacted to the debate, and it's heartbreaking. How can we be proud of our country when the president makes children cry because he's a big ol' bully?





Those reactions are totally understandable. I'm 45 years old, and I flipped back and forth between wanting to cry and wanting to throw my TV set out the window. We are going through a huge ordeal as a nation, with a global pandemic and economic struggles and social upheaval creating a great deal of uncertainty. The last thing we need is a leader that makes our children feel unsafe simply by opening his mouth.

I know there are people who think that basic decency and reasonably good character are not necessary qualities in a president, and that nothing matters but certain issues or certain policies, but I 100% disagree. The president is the leader of our nation. The president is the individual face representing our nation among all the world's leaders. Are we really going to make the argument that literal leaders shouldn't be expected to behave with dignity—especially when the whole world is watching? Are we really going to say it's not a huge problem for the president to embarrass our nation with behavior we'd never tolerate in our own children? Really?

"This isn't normal," I had to keep telling my kids. "There's usually some interrupting and some contention in a presidential debate, but not like this. This is awful and unacceptable." I had nothing else. I've never been so embarrassed to be an American.

I guess the one silver lining is that the debate did give us the opportunity to talk about how to handle a bully, what abusive manipulation looks like, and the difficult position Chris Wallace found himself in. But the fact that a presidential debate became a discussion on bullying and abuse is the entire problem in and of itself. This is not the America I want for my children. No policy or issue is worth this humiliation.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

Empathy. Compassion. Heart-to-heart human connection. These qualities of leadership may not be flashy or loud, but they speak volumes when we see them in action.

A clip of Joe Biden is going viral because it reminds us what that kind of leadership looks like. The video shows a key moment at a memorial service for Chris Hixon, the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. Hixon had attempted to disarm the gunman who went on a shooting spree at the school, killing 17 people—including Hixon—and injuring 17 more.

Biden asked who Hixon's parents were as the clip begins, and is directed to his right. Hixon's wife introduces herself, and Biden says, "God love you." As he starts to walk away, a voice off-camera says something and Biden immediately turns around. The voice came from Hixon's son, Corey, and the moments that followed are what have people feeling all their feelings.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
Library of Congress

When we think about the era of American slavery, many of us tend to think of it as the far distant past. While slavery doesn't exist as a formal institution today, there are people living who knew formerly enslaved black Americans first-hand. In the wide arc of history, the legal enslavement of people on U.S. soil is a recent occurrence—so recent, in fact, that we have voice recordings of interviews with people who lived it.

Keep Reading Show less

The English language is constantly evolving, and the faster the world changes, the faster our vocabulary changes. Some of us grew up in an age when a "wireless router" would have been assumed to be a power tool, not a way to get your laptop (which wasn't a thing when I was a kid) connected to the internet (which also wasn't a thing when I was a kid, at least not in people's homes).

It's interesting to step back and look at how much has changed just in our own lifetimes, which is why Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler tool is so fun to play with. All you do is choose a year, and it tells you what words first appeared in print that year.

For my birth year, the words "adult-onset diabetes," "playdate," and "ATM" showed up in print for the first time, and yes, that makes me feel ridiculously old.

It's also fun to plug in the years of different people's births to see how their generational differences might impact their perspectives. For example, let's take the birth years of the oldest and youngest members of Congress:

Keep Reading Show less