Country singer Jason Aldean and his wife, Brittany, caused a stir last week after the latter posted photos of their two young children, aged 2 and 3, wearing "Hidin' From Biden" T-shirts in a jab at President Joe Biden. Aldean later defended his wife's posts after a commenter called the family's anti-Biden stance "delusional."
"We will teach our kids what we think is right and what we think is best for their future," the singer fired back on social media. "If you think what is happening right now is 'great' for the future of our kids and grandkids, u are delusional!"
Related video: Brittany Aldean and kids wear anti-Joe Biden shirts on Instagram
While Aldean isn't backing down on his political views — days later calling out California Gov. Gavin Newsom over the state's COVID-19 vaccination mandates for schoolchildren old enough to get the shot —some critics are questioning whether it's appropriate for his children to be enlisted to promote those views. Further, some ask, is it hypocritical to cringe at a toddler in an anti-Biden shirt while then marveling at an infant in a Ruth Bader Ginsburg onesie, or dressed up as Bernie Sanders for Halloween?
According to licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, there's a lot of nuance involved when it comes to introducing children to political affairs — especially at a time when shows like Sesame Street are hosting discussions on racism and protests are often packed with kids carrying signs or looking on from their parent's shoulders.
"It’s important and appropriate for parents to model their values and teach their children about their beliefs, principles, ethics, etc.," Beurkens tells Yahoo Life. "Parents shouldn’t avoid having discussions about important issues and stances — racism, sexism, etc. — in front of their children."
But she stresses that this be done in a "developmentally appropriate way."
She explains, "Adults need to bear in mind their child’s ability to comprehend the information, how the child may experience adult behavior and reactions around these subjects and how the child may be impacted by it."
By that token, dressing a baby up as RBG or Donald Trump — or, like the Aldeans, in a "Hidin' From Biden" T-shirt" — "isn't really an issue," Beurkens says, because "it's obviously a reflection of the parent’s values and the child is not developmentally at a level where they could understand or have an opinion."
Insisting that your 8-year-old share a political slogan, however, goes against their ability to make their own choices.
"Once kids are old enough to understand issues, learn from a variety of resources and have their own opinions, parents need to respect those and not force children to believe or behave exactly the same as they do," says Beurkens.
That's not to say that parents should use their small children to broadcast their own potentially divisive views.
"Dressing a younger child in a potentially polarizing costume could be an issue depending on the reactions they may receive," she notes. "Those reactions from other children and adults could be very disconcerting and anxiety-provoking, and parents need to really consider this. Am I having my 5-year-old dress up as XYZ person because I think it’s healthy and somehow benefitting or empowering them? Or am I doing it because I want attention [or] I want people to think a certain way about me as the parent? Typically these decisions are all about the parent, and the child’s experience or potential needs around this are left out of the equation."
And while it's commonplace to see baby slings and strollers at protests, parents should consider how the atmosphere of a political event may impact a young child. One child may feel empowered by marching in support of a cause they believe in, while another could be overwhelmed.
"[Consider] whether the child is at a developmental level where they can understand what’s happening, what they might see and be exposed to and how it may impact them longer term," Beurkens advises. "There is a big difference between bringing a 5-year-old to a calm, peaceful, community candlelight vigil to bring attention to an issue, and bringing a 5-year-old to a crowded protest with angry adults screaming things and holding up posters with hostile language and images. It's not so much the values or stances that are the issue — it’s what else kids may be exposed to in the process. And it’s very much about the child’s age and developmental ability to make sense of what they are exposed to."
Getting kids interested in and excited about civics and the important issues of the day is vital, but Beurkens stresses that those conservations should be kept civil.
"When teaching kids about issues you believe are important, it’s best to keep the focus on the issue itself and not focused on hate and anger toward people who think differently," Beurkens says. "In other words, we can teach children what we think is right or important, without also teaching them to hate and behave badly toward people who think differently...
"We can teach kids what we believe is right, and at the same time model healthy, appropriate, mature behavior. Acting in immature, aggressive, reactive ways teaches children that it’s OK to behave that way. It teaches them that you can and should treat people with different views poorly, and ultimately it’s not teaching any kind of healthy values at all."
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