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Dear Republican Candidates: Children Are Listening

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 3/03/2016 Ken Schneck, PhD
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I've been thinking a lot lately about the dinners of my childhood.

My family was one of those nutty units that used to eat dinner together every night. The six of us crowded around that dark glass round circle and sat on the white-cushioned, dark Lucite chairs that perfectly matched both the table and the early 1980s.

The seating arrangement was set in stone. I do not remember the process by which positions were assigned to Schnecks but you would never sit anywhere other than the chair you sat in the night before and the years before that. There were no consequences to sitting in someone else's seat; it simply would never occur to you to do so.

My chair--between my mother and my oldest sister--was the best seat in the house because I could see right into the living room. And on rare occasions, when the television was left on, it was directly in my line of sight. As the youngest child who couldn't always follow the dinner conversation, those rare occasions were pure escapism, even if that escapism was always into the wonderful world of local news.

New York City NBC-affiliate anchor Sue Simmons was like a member of the family as she detailed reports of national import, local crime and whatever the Yankees and Mets were doing on any given day. My parents never had to explain a particular story as, even if it was beyond my understanding, it always felt appropriately presented.

Flashforward to 2016.

I don't have any children yet. But I have always been 100% excited at the prospect. I will often look at a situation and think, "How would I explain that to my fictitious-but-someday-real-child?" And most of the time, I figure it out.

But watching the Republican presidential candidates? I have no flipping clue how I would frame their words to my precocious-but-always-respectful child who overheard them on the local news.

To be clear, the Democrats have certainly been going after each other. But I know how to explain to a child why Bernie Sanders accuses Hillary Clinton of taking corporate money and why Hillary Clinton accuses Bernie Sanders of being a one issue candidate.

How do I explain to a child that Marco Rubio was intimating that Donald Trump has a small penis?

How do you explain to a child that Donald Trump was mimicking and mocking a reporter with a disability?

How do I explain to a child the countless occasions when candidates call each other liars and con-men and frauds and bullies and racists, all when those very same individuals are running for the position of American president that children are taught in school to revere?

As a college professor and qualitative researcher who constantly hunts for answers to define the unknown, I put together a representative focus group consisting of demographically appropriate subjects in an information-yielding process that falls in line with Institutional Review Board standards.

And, by that, I mean that I called my 12-year-old niece Lindsay and asked her what she thought.

I queried what she has seen on television and she replied, "With the candidates this year, the main debates are not on the USA and how it should be better. They're focusing more on teasing each other and making each other look bad." I asked her what the process should look like and she answered, "We should have a president who campaigns to show us what they will put on the table for America." And, finally, I asked her what would happen if she exhibited the Republican candidates' behavior in her middle school to which she quickly said, "I would be in detention."

I then disbanded the focus group and promised her that I would visit soon with baked goods in hand.

I want to believe that if we substitute the audience at the next debate with 12 year-olds, the Republican candidates would behave differently. I want to believe that if candidates knew every stump speech would be broadcast in elementary schools, the Republican candidates would behave differently. I want to believe that if his own 12-year-old were in the room, each Republican candidate would behave differently.

Republican candidates, know that children are listening. You might not see them. But they are listening. Please let that affect the words you are putting out there. Otherwise, those very same 12-year-olds will someday give you detention. 

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