Wed October 31, 2012

Crying Fort Collins Girl Isn’t Alone. How the Election is Emotional for Kids

A YouTube clip shot in Fort Collins has gone viral on the Internet. It features four-year-old Abbie Evans crying, saying she’s tired of election coverage. The video has struck a chord with adults who also can’t wait to see the election come to a close. But it got us pondering this question: What effect does the non-stop political marathon have on young children?

Listen to what Abbie's mom, Elizabeth, has to say about the viral YouTube video

Abbie’s, mom, Elizabeth says she was listening to NPR on the way to the store when Abbie broke down. Elizabeth’s taken her daughter to political rallies and watched presidential debates with her daughter, all with the hope of creating a well-informed citizen.

“I want her to be involved in the process and understand that it’s an awesome right to be able to choose who will be the president,” says Elizabeth. “It’s just a shame that we dwell on harsh facets of more general issues.”

…and this election has brought some real whoppers. Start with a rather long run-up to the Republican presidential nomination. Then add in congressional races from candidates like Todd Akin, whose senatorial campaign in Missouri has brought up what Elizabeth calls the “r-word.” Then add in emotional and negative political ads that in swing states like Colorado can be overwhelming even for adults.

“Part of what happens is parents just are assuming that their child isn’t paying attention because it’s not made for them. And it is true they don’t understand it,” says Sandra Calvert, who heads up the Children’s Digital Media Center based at Georgetown University.

Calvert says there is such a thing as background media exposure, where children consume programming that’s not targeted at them. But if they happen to catch a negative TV or radio ad, they can pick up on the emotion, but not understand the entire context.

“They’re picking up on the tones; it’s distressing, and that it causes them to feel uncomfortable,” she says.

Calvert says parents should talk to their children about what they’re hearing. Maybe even consider shifting media consumption to after kids have gone to sleep.

And last but not least: mute the political commercials. But we probably didn’t have to tell you to do that.