While the past few years have been some of the most divisive in U.S. politics, they are also years where young students have been the most engaged. With the November election day approaching, conversations about climate change, gun control, and reproductive rights are taking place. It feels impossible to avoid the buzz—and if you usually surround yourself with peers who are aligned with your personal beliefs, it feels hard to return home and get into arguments with family members who don't agree. It can be even harder when your political beliefs are brushed aside by relatives who dismiss you as young and uninformed. The truth is, the 18 to 24 age group is the most rapidly increasing demographic of voters, jumping from 20% during the 2014 midterm elections to nearly 36% during the 2018 midterms. Young people are arguably more willing to be educated, more involved, and more passionate about politics than ever before.
With the 2020 election looming, I've had to consider how to approach these delicate conversations with my own parents. I've discovered that we have differing opinions over who would make the best Democratic candidate, who can beat President Trump, and what issues are the most vital to our country’s future. If you're in the same boat as I am, it might seem impossible to stay calm, or prevent an unnecessary argument when politics surface in conversation. So I went to other college women for advice, ones who have found the secret to having open and constructive conversations with their family. Here's what I learned.
Come prepared with the facts.
It’s really easy to walk into a confrontation feeling like you have all your facts in order, only to lose everything when heated emotions surface. Impulsive outbursts can cause you to say things that are driven more by reaction and less by information. In this case, it’s incredibly important to maintain a certain level of composure rather than just lashing out. Although it may feel better to raise your voice in order to get your point across, it’s counterproductive to the message that you’re trying to convey.
It’s important to walk into any constructive conversation about politics with concrete facts on your side. You’ll feel more confident about the statements that you’re making, and your parents won’t be able to label your arguments as opinion. If you’re going to make a claim for or against any particular politician or candidate, your family is more likely to take you seriously if you can show them proof. Facts are always the best defense when you feel as though you’re being backed into a corner during a verbal sparring match. As opposed to saying, “This politician is homophobic,” use statements like: “This politician voted against the Marriage Equality Act five times, which keeps same-sex couples from enjoying the exact same rights as straight couples.” Not only will your point be clear and concise, but you might also bring new information or facts to the conversation that your family wouldn’t have known otherwise. Even if you don’t come to an amicable agreement at the end of the conversation, it will be difficult for your relatives to brush you off as uninformed.
Check the defensiveness at the door.
People can become defensive over their beliefs, it’s natural human behavior. However, when politics are involved, people become particularly defensive. Since each political party is so divided, everyone just assumes the other side is wrong. Remember that life isn’t just black and white, that there isn’t one correct answer, and just because you and your relatives disagree, neither of you are necessarily bad people for it. Madison Zaphiris, a senior from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained that her and her mom began disagreeing about politics around when President Trump became elected. “My mom has very different political views than I have,” Madison describes. “Sometimes talking about (politics) is really difficult and we’ll get into arguments, but other times it goes really well.”
Madison realized that in order to have positive political conversations with her mom, she needed to bring concrete facts to the table and make a conscious effort to not get defensive. Madison and her mom would disagree on big issues, but she noticed that when she approached the conversation in a calm and less argumentative manner, her mom was more willing to listen. “While you might not agree with what they have to say, listen to their side of the story and respond with examples stem from that,” Madison says.
Understand that it’s okay to disagree.
When you were younger, it was easier to affiliate yourself with your family's beliefs. However, as you started to grow up and spend more time away from them, you probably became more influenced by the outside world and your education, thus developing your own opinions. Keep in mind that this is perfectly normal, and that you’re not wrong for having a different set of beliefs (and vice versa). Maddie Ellis, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says it wasn’t until high school that she started to read the news and consider her personal values outside of her parents' perspective. “I realized quickly that sometimes we didn’t agree on certain values,” Maddie explains. “At first, I didn’t really know how to deal with these conversations so they usually ended with me crying.”
Maddie describes that it was hard as a teenager to process the idea of having different moral beliefs and values outside of the people that raised her, especially since she loves and respects them so much. Eventually she realized that having confidence in herself and recognizing that she wasn’t wrong for disagreeing made conversations about politics much easier. “I quickly figured out that if I wasn’t firm in what I believed in and why I believed in it, why should they listen to me or give me any credibility?” Maddie asks.
While you may never be able to change your parent’s minds about certain topics, especially when it comes to politics, it’s important to approach every conversation with mutual respect. Have some fast facts ready to go and respond constructively to the arguments they make – they might not even be biased, just poorly informed. Politics is about discourse, but it doesn’t have to turn into an all-out fight.