By: Dr. Tami Silverman     

The pandemic has heightened tensions over this year’s elections, and our kids are paying attention. They listen as negative political ads blare from our TV screens and radios. They see the political rants swirling on social mediaShould we shield our children from the frequently fiery arguments? Should we engage them in discussions and debates? What happens when their friends or family members declare differing political beliefs? How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of democratic civic engagement for years to come. 

A March 2020 study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development found that children and teens worry about politics and political issues, regardless of their family’s political affiliation. This research and many child development experts suggest that talking to kids about the political process, issues, elections and related media can help. Children as young as preschool can discuss and be engaged in our political process. The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage. It is important to scaffold our responses, increasing and building the complexity of the information as kids get older.  

The challenge of teaching our kids about civic engagement is not new, and Indiana law requires that the election process be taught in schoolsOver 25 years ago, the Indiana Bar Association created the Indiana Kids’ Election. Using volunteer attorneys, this program aims to help students gain a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the many ways we may participate in our representative democracy, including voting, poll books, and “I Voted” stickersThe program’s goal is to educate and empower children with knowledge of the actual process. Most kids would think if 100 people vote for candidate X and 99 people vote for candidate Y, then candidate X wins. With the electoral college, that is not how our Presidential electoral process works, and it is very confusing.   

Not only is our system of government complicated, but public discussion of government,policy and candidates frequently focuses on divides in opinions and perspectives. This means children will inevitably encounter family, friends, teachers, coaches, and others holdingdiffering political beliefs. Experts agree about the importance of teaching kids how to respectdifferences, and of learning how to weigh the evidence supporting political positions and claimsFor many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing in part on the positive attributes of your selected candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.   

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic societyVote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share with your children your political views, while also encouraging them to develop their own. Reinforce that people may hold differing opinions about important issues, and that we can challenge claims and disagree while at the same time recognizing and respecting one another’s human dignity. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy  

Websites with kid- and teen- friendly news 

Political books and games for kids  

  • Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel 
  • Duck for President by Doreen Cronin 
  • Election Connection by Susan Ring 
  • Election Night! board game 
  • Everyone Gets a Say by Jill Twiss 
  • Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • If I Were President by Catherine Stier 
  • If You Go with Your Goat to Vote by Jan Zauzmer 
  • A Kids Book About Voting by Next Up 
  • Monopoly: House Divided board game  
  • The Next President by Kate Messner 
  • Vote!by Eileen Christelow 
  • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth 
  • A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stier 
  • V Is for Voting by Kate Farrell 

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.)   

 

 

By: Dr. Tami Silverman    

One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s many negative consequences is a drastic rise in the number of children and families suffering food insecurity. September is National Hunger Awareness Month. More than ever, we must work to find solutions and support existing ways to meet this critical, foundational need.

The lack of a nutritious, consistent food supply has significant implications for child development and well-being. Children from food-insecure households are more likely to have social and behavioral problems and developmental challenges. Past research, including a study from the National Institutes of Health, found that food insecurity affects the academic performance, body weight, and social skills of school-age children. Elementary-aged children from food-insecure families were found more likely to have lower math scores and to repeat a grade. Teenagers in food-insecure homes were more likely to have mental health issues. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children in food-insecure household had increased rates of lifetime asthma diagnosis, depressive symptoms, foregone medical care, and emergency department use.

Before Covid-19, the number of hungry children in Indiana and across the country had been declining for years. Prior to the pandemic 1 in 6 Hoosier children were food insecure. Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. Pre-pandemic child food insecurity rates ranged from 21.0% in Grant County to 11.9% in Hamilton County.

The pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to this progress. Food insecurity rates are, not surprisingly, linked with unemployment rates and income. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study predicts how changes in employment will affect food insecurity. Their study projects that a significant rise in unemployment over the year (+7.6 percentage points), and a corresponding rise in child poverty (+5.0 percentage points), would result in 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity. Feeding America’s concerns are reinforced by a new report from Save the Children and research from Northwestern University that both estimate that the current percentage of food insecure families is higher than during the Great Recession.

Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. In addition, No Kid Hungry reports that African American households face hunger at twice the rate of the national average. The higher rates of food insecurity are directly related to the racial wealth gap. Households headed by a single parent also experience food insecurity at significantly higher rates, especially when the head is female, as do households where a child or parent is disabled.

Many organizations and communities have been working to stop the pandemic from perpetuating or deepening these inequities. Food banks, schools, churches, afterschool programs, and community organizations responded quickly last spring to create new channels for food distribution. Drive-thru centers, to-go meals, and drop-off food programs were often specifically designed to address child hunger when school buildings abruptly closed. Schools remain the nation’s second-largest nutrition assistance program, after only the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Program. In 2019, 47.3% of Indiana students received free or reduced-price meals: 39.5% received free meals and 7.8% received reduced-price meals at school. In March, Congress created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (or P-EBT program) for households with children who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to receive the cash value of those meals on electronic benefits cards.

As school opening plans varied this fall, there was well-founded concern that our children could end up going hungry. In late August, Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Feeding America, the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, along with 70 national and state organizations, including Indiana Youth Institute, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend critical nationwide child nutrition program waivers, allowing schools and community organizations to continue operating summer nutrition programs, through the 2020-2021 school year. Members of Congress from both parties supported the extension, which was eventually granted. There is on-going, bi-partisan support for child food security programs, centrally SNAP and Pandemic-EBT, to be strengthened and expanded in response to the pandemic.

We all can play a role in ensuring our children and our neighbor’s children have access to the basic nutritional building blocks needed to grow and succeed. We can and should donate funds and/or food to our local food banks. We also can support the policy solutions that will prevent children from going hungry. Call your elected officials and urge them to continue to support these critical food programs. By addressing the impacts of the pandemic and by working to ensure Hoosier kids have access to adequate, healthy food year-round, we can positively affect every child’s physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and future economic productivity.

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)