Presidential Debates: Watch With Your Kids and Teens!

Presidential Debates: Watch the Debates with Your Kids and Teens!

If you want to inspire your kids’ and teens’ interest in the presidential election and to actively participate in our democracy, start now by getting them involved in the process and watch the presidential debates together. In the pre-electronic world, American families would bring hampers of food to munch on while they listened to the candidates debate, so feel free to settle in for some debate watching with a bowl of popcorn and soft drinks for all!

Try to refrain from vehemently voicing your own opinions concerning presidential candidates and issues before the debates; let young people know you want them to think for themselves and form their own opinions. 

Informally discuss the debates with young people before you watch them, especially if this will be the first time your kids or teens have watched a presidential debate. Let them know why presidential candidates debate, and why it is so important for everyone in the country to listen to and/or watch the debates. If you need to inform yourself about presidential debates, read and share pertinent newspaper and news magazine articles with your kids and teens in the days before the debate. Never be afraid to admit to your kids that you need to seek information to educate yourself. Not only will you be a great role model, kids love to learn that adults don’t know everything! Major newspapers and news magazines now have websites that you can investigate together if you do not have subscriptions. Seek objective news sources and make sure the sources you use represent multiple perspectives. We also include a list of educational websites regarding the presidential debate for your perusal (see below).  

On the day of the debate, try to sit down for a minute with your kids and teens and make a list of things, or issues, that are important to them and you. Is a healthy environment a big issue to your kids?  Are they concerned about global warming? What do they think of their school, their educational opportunities? What is each family member’s feeling about the current war? Make sure someone has the job of sharing your family’s “things we care about” list right before you watch the debate so you can all listen to hear if the candidates address issues important to you and your kids.

Don’t watch the debate “pre-game.” Listen and/or watch the presidential debates free of pundits and so-called political experts so that all of you can think, discuss, and decide for yourselves if the candidates addressed important issues. You may want to watch the debates on C-Span or listen to them on a public radio station, to free yourself and your kids and teens from the biased opinions of the punditry class and political spin doctors.

When the debate is over, turn off the television or radio. Ask your kids and teens what they thought about the debate. Which candidate cared about issues important to you and your kids? Which candidate best communicated his or her ideas? Which candidate offered viable pragmatic solutions to important problems? Which candidate personified leadership qualities in action, tone, and bearing? Which candidate responded to questions with insight, wisdom, grace, and strength? Which candidate best articulated his or her vision for our nature’s future?  

Let your kids and teens voice their opinions before you voice your own so they feel free to think for themselves and express those thoughts with confidence. If you disagree, do not disparage or disrespect them. Yes, you may be more experienced, but they have their own unique experiences and ideas on which they base their decisions. Give them the freedom to think for themselves, and challenge them to make decisions based on matters of sound reason, not on surface personality issues. 

Ask your kids and teens if they have questions for the candidates that went unanswered. If yes, they can go to the candidates’ websites and look at their ideas and solutions concerning various issues to see if they can find the answers to their questions. If they still have questions, encourage your kids and teens to write or email the candidates the questions and concerns. Each candidate’s website has contact information and suggestions on how to contact the candidates. And, since both of the presidential candidates are U.S. Senators, your kids can contact them through their Congressional offices. 

Have a great time at the debates, and be sure to take your kids with you when you vote so they can see how it’s done. Taking the time to take them with you will let them know how important it is that everyone votes!

Great Debate Web Links:

For other suggestions on the best way to watch the presidential debates, read Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s guest blog on the Bill Moyers Journal website at:

Dr. Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She also suggests that you fact check candidates’ debate statements at the following fact check sites: is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which Jamieson directs, that aims to monitor the accuracy of major national candidates' statements and rhetoric.

Columbia Journalism Review: Campaign Desk
The journalists at CJR turn their attention to “auditing” campaign ads, speeches, and other media moments. In addition to CJR staff, a group of veteran journalists will add their perspective to the Campaign Desk's analysis.

The Fact-Checker
Run by veteran journalist Michael Dobbs, The Fact-Checker is a project of the Washington Post that publishes research evaluating and providing background and context to candidate statements and popular political stories.

Politifact and Truth-0-Meter
Politifact is an extensively cross-referenced fact-checking resource run as a joint project by the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly.

For current debate rules, times, and locations, go to the official nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates website at:

Educational sites for more information about presidential debate history:

©2012 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance