One of the gifts of the last Canadian election was the engagement of youth in social issues and the political process. It may have had something to do with Justin Trudeau being younger and appealing to young people — but it may also have had something to do with open discussions around issues that are close to the hearts of our Canadian youth.
As a Child and Family Therapist I have had many opportunities to talk with young people and hear their thoughts and feelings about the world. And as a mother of 17 year old twins I have my own direct conduit to observe what is relevant to young people today.
With the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada there was a swell of political passion from young people, even those too young to vote. Justin was speaking their language — one of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.
I felt proud of our young Canadians, as this next generation of voters appeared concerned and caring about others, and wanted a political voice that reflected their values of compassion and world citizenship. The passion I witnessed in our youth warmed my heart and gave me hope for a future where our Canadian citizens would also be citizens of the world.
As a middle-aged Canadian who has always exercised my democratic right to vote, I felt grateful that the next generation was getting involved in the political process, as they are the holders of the future.
As a Parent Educator I feel proud of Canadian parents, as we must be doing something right when our youth are so engaged in this process. The youth wanted to vote, and they were excited to move into a future in which their voices mattered.
They were not afraid to engage in conversations about issues that were important to them. As a parent I felt encouraged that my own children spoke with compassion and caring for others, and that they were looking forward to the time when they were old enough to cast their vote for the future.
But then the political bomb hit, and it hit hard.
On November 8, 2016 the American election took an unexpected turn and Donald Trump was voted in as President of the United States. It was no longer a joke, it was real. Many young people had spent the long electoral process watching YouTube documentaries, reading articles on their newsfeeds, and laughing along — they never considered that the American people would actually vote Donald Trump in as President.
He was seen as the antitheses to our Prime Minister who had walked in the Gay Pride parade with his young family and welcomed refugees from Syria. For many young people, Donald Trump was just a bad joke that would soon go away, and we would just have some classic Saturday Night Live skits to remember this time by.
But the unbelievable happened. As the results began to become undeniable and there was no avoiding the dreaded outcome, I witnessed my children and their friends reaching out to ask each other in shock and asking their parents “How could this happen?”
The pain and confusion of our young people, and ourselves, began to emerge on social media channels. The themes were the same everywhere. Disbelief, anger, sadness, confusion… and of course, the worst of it all… fear. Children of all ages looked to their parents for answers, and all we could do was look on in disbelief ourselves. Our children were trying to understand how someone who was seen as a bully, and was openly racist and sexist could be elected to one of the most powerful positions in the world.
As I read the words my 17 year old daughter posted on her Facebook last night, I knew she was suffering and that I needed to find a way to help her through this confusing turn of events. This was not a joke to her; she was fearful for the future. These were some of her words, and I share them with you with her permission. I feel they reflect the fears of many young people.
“I am absolutely appalled at the results of this election, and I am thoroughly stunned. Racism and Sexism are still so present in society. I know that myself and many others thought this day to be impossible, but it is not. Donald Trump is president of the United States and I fear for the lives and rights of so many minority groups in the United States. I am stunned. I am appalled. I am mournful.”
So how do we help our children and youth make sense of something that makes no sense to us? How do we explain how a bully can win, and how do we assist them in working through their anxiety and fear?
1. Let your children talk, and express what they are feeling. Listen to them. Validate their feelings. This is not a time to pretend everything is ok. Acknowledge that this is a shock, and that many people are feeling what they feel.
2. Let your children know what your values are. Remind them that each and every person can make a difference.
3. Encourage your children to do something to help someone else. When we are feeling sad, scared or overwhelmed it helps us tremendously to help others.
4. Encourage them to look to the helpers in the world. There are people that are trying to make the world a better place for others. Talk about the leaders and helpers you admire.
5. Remind our children that they are Canadian. We have made our values of inclusion and compassion known in the world forum, and we will uphold our personal and national values. Be proud to be a Canadian, and remind our children that we value kindness and contribution.
6. Remind your children that there are boundaries in place. Although the USA is our neighbour, we do have boundaries and we are a different country with a different history.
7. Remind your children that this is still democracy. As a country the Americans have a right to choose their own President, as we have a right to choose our own politicians and processes.
8.Reassure our children that the United States has a system that has worked well for over 200 years. There are checks and balances within the system to prevent things from going too haywire.
9. Look for ways to grow compassion and empathy. This is now a call to action for all parents – to be conscious of continuing to build and grow the values that are needed in this world, now more than ever.