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September 30, 2020

Children and Elections: Not Drawing Lines

By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

Is my ponytail too tight? For months, I’ve wondered. After a look in the mirror, I remember tensions permeating the country. My headache isn’t ponytail induced. It’s from the woman in the mirror urging: “Bringing those kids safely in and safely out of this experience is your responsibility.” Elections punctuate 2020’s pressures. Nov. 3, 2020 marks the 59th time our nation votes for president, and kids are keenly aware of parents’ dispositions toward candidates and the country’s political climate.

Melanie Brown, a mom of two (Libby, 5; Andrew, 4), has government relations in her blood. Current Director of Government Relations for Advent Health’s West Florida Division, Brown is a former contract lobbyist who’s spent her career in advocacy and government relations. More than drastically increasing workload, Brown notes, “COVID-19 has made my work a case study in the role government plays in daily life.” Times, they are a-changin’, and they are replete with opportunities for parents like Brown to engage kids in developmentally appropriate conversations about government and civic duty.

Brown advises, “Don’t talk politics with littler ears.” Rather, she models being an educated voter and unpacks kids’ observations with analogies they can grasp. “Before COVID, I took Libby with me when I voted. I used the sticker as a catalyst for conversation about what mommy was doing.” It’s not about raising kids up red or blue. When the ballot arrived by mail, Brown showed the kids and let them fill in the bubbles. On family walks, she points out campaign signs in yards and, to underscore voting’s importance, draws comparisons to elections familiar to kids: hot dog or cheeseburger?

The Browns are insistent on demonstrating open-mindedness to varying perspectives. “I ask the kids, ‘Have you thought about it this way?’” Parents ought to understand that “awareness and advocacy are about sharing information.” Our political landscape is heated, and how kids experience it, alongside parents, leaves marks. Brown is a prime example: “My mom, German, couldn’t vote. She always reminded me how lucky I am to vote.” Brown’s military dad taught respect for all commanders in chief. “Their approaches were critical to my experiences then and the ones I cultivate for my children now,” she says.

Politics serves as a metaphor for handling life. “Can we make space for opinions we don’t hold? Can we question our own beliefs?” Brown’s commitment to teaching respect over party and candidate affiliation is testament to the power of parents’ words and actions: “It’s sad reading negative commentary by keyboard warriors. I point out how hard candidates work to raise money and the effort being a public servant commands.” Key for Brown is that the kids grow up grounded in their family’s core beliefs and values while maintaining space for understanding that candidates run because they want to make an impact.

Determined to promote R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I’m going to let my ponytail down and dance with my future voters. Cue Dylan: Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand / Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command….For the times they are a-changin’.


Voting Must Knows

  • Register: Visit to submit an application online or to prefill and print a voter registration application for delivery to the supervisor of elections: registertovoteflorida.gov/home
  • Request a mail ballot: Request deadline is no later than 5 p.m. on the 10th day before the election: www.votehillsborough.org/VOTERS/Vote-By-Mail-Online-Request
  • 2020 General Election Dates: Deadline to register, Oct. 5; Early Voting, Oct. 19 – Nov. 1, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Election Day, Nov. 3, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Brown’s Book Recs

  • Woodrow: The White House Mouse
  • House Mouse, Senate Mouse

*Feature Photo by Southern Lens Photography. Brown Family – Melanie, Rob, Libby (5), and Andrew (4)

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