My Kids Watched the Presidential Debate With Me & Whoa, They Totally Get It

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, third debateWith the endless stream of scandalous soundbites that have marked the 2016 election, nobody was expecting the third presidential debate to be family-friendly viewing ... but as a parent, that's exactly why I decided my kids needed to watch. Not only was this debate guaranteed to make history (as pretty much every other moment in this election has, however dubiously), but I also wanted to witness my children's reactions and gauge their understanding of the current political climate. These are strange times, after all. How are my kids really processing all the absurdity?


I should add here that my kids aren't all that little anymore -- my daughter Charlotte is 15 and my son Julian turned 11 yesterday (um, happy birthday? Here's a horrifying debate for you to watch!) -- and perhaps I would have felt differently if they were 5 or 6 years old. But as middle and high school students, they need to be aware of what's going on in the world around them; in fact, watching the debate was part of my daughter's homework. (My 23-month-old, lucky kid, was the only member of the family who got to sleep through the waking nightmare that will haunt the rest of us forever.)

So with all that in mind, we settled in to watch. My daughter also watched the first two debates, so I was pretty sure I knew what to expect from her (read: abject horror), but it was my son's first go-round with presidential debates. Would he be confused? Would he think it was funny? Would he understand the heavy issues being discussed? (Yes to all three, as it turned out.) Here are five times I was proud of their reactions to some of the debate's crazier moments:

1. When Trump Didn't Understand How Abortion Works

Okay, here's something I learned last night: No matter how open and frank you try to be with your kids, when an ignorant windbag keeps repeating nonsense about "ripping babies out of wombs" in front of your 11-year-old, you will inwardly cringe. Screw that -- you will outwardly cringe. "He's sick," muttered my daughter, shaking her head. But (up until last night), I'd never talked much with my son about abortion. "Is that really what happens?" he asked. "What does Planned Parenthood do?" Oh well, I was going to have to explain it all to him eventually anyway. On the bright side, he seemed to understand my (admittedly abridged) explanation, and Hillary's thoughtful and compassionate rebuttal certainly helped.

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2. When Trump Said Insane Things About Immigration

"I'm confused about why Trump thinks Mexico would pay for a wall," said my son. "So is everybody," I assured him. "We have to get all the bad drug lords out, SNIFF," cackled my daughter, adding, "Wait, is he implying there are GOOD drug lords?"

And then -- AND THEN -- there was the "bad hombres" comment.

"Oh. My. God. He's so racist," said my daughter, shaking her head. 

"He reminds me of Emperor Palpatine," said my son. (Yes, the guy from Star Wars. It's uncanny, right?!)

3. When Trump Was Putin's Biggest Fan

"Why does it sound like he admires Putin so much?" asked my daughter, as I wondered the same thing in my head. "I think maybe Putin IS his best friend." My son, meanwhile, dissolved into laughter over all the "puppet" talk, pausing only to offer this very astute observation: "He doesn't actually answer any questions."

4. When Hillary Shut Down Trump's Lack of Experience

If there was one moment in the debate that made both my kids practically stand up and cheer, it was this brilliant comparison (made by Hillary, of course):

"And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting The Celebrity Apprentice." 

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA," said my kids. "I can't believe he called Khloe a piglet," added my Kardashian-obsessed daughter.

"Yeah, I mean, if you look at what Hillary's done and then you look at Trump ... " my son shrugged. Indeed.

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5. When Trump Pretended to Be Someone Who Respects Women

Yes, even my 11-year-old son's jaw dropped to the floor when Trump made his ludicrous claim that no one respects women more than he does, which proves that the most cursory knowledge of Trump's behavior should be enough to make anyone understand that he's a raging and unrepentant misogynist. "How can he even say that with a straight face?" asked my daughter. "And he thinks women are accusing him because they want to be famous?? Who wants to be famous for that?"

"I think the guy [moderator Chris Wallace] is laughing at him," said my son. 

Then, of course, there was the already infamous "nasty woman" comment. 

"Oh yeah, but he respects women," said my daughter, rolling her eyes.

"Hillary didn't even say anything mean back," said my son, clearly impressed.

"That's because when they go low, we go high," I reminded him.

"I love Michelle so much," said my daughter. (Same.)

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Overall, I was relieved to find my kids responded to the debate like rational human beings who understand right from wrong and actually care about other human beings. I was relieved to find that they were in no way swayed or fooled by any of Trump's overblown rhetoric or outright lies. But I'm still so furious that my children had to witness that. I'm furious that the world they're inheriting is so fraught and fractured. 

I can only hope that by the time they're old enough to vote, the healing will have begun. In the meantime, I guess we'll all just have to get a little #nasty.



Image via MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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