While the rest of us seem to be fixated on the top of the ticket in this November’s election (it’s important to remember that there are other races to consider), the American Academy of Pediatrics is sticking to the issues:

“Children can’t vote, but we can,” said AAP CEO/Executive Director Karen Remley, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP, in a communication to all AAP members. “Casting a ballot with children in mind is a small act that can make a big difference in the future of our children and our country.”

One in five children lives in poverty, one in five lives in a household where food is scarce, and seven children and teenagers die from gun violence every day. The Academy’s #VoteKids campaign urges elected leaders to support programs and policies that advance children’s health and keep families and communities safe, healthy and strong.

 

The AAP’s stance to endorse evidence-based policies instead of individual candidates is wise. Both presidential candidates are highly popular among their ideological supporters and highly unpopular among those who aren’t neutral about the whole situation. There seems to be very little middle ground — few “undecided’s” — this time around.

One question I love asking kids and teens in election years is, “So… who ya gonna vote for?” Of course they’re too young to vote; I know that the answer (at least for preteens) will probably reflect exactly how their parents are going to vote rather than what they personally think. But that’s not the reason why I’m asking the question. Instead, I want to know what they are hearing, and from whom they are hearing it. Occasionally, there will be kids who are either surprised or completely uninterested in my question and react with a blank stare. Sometimes the answers are serious; more often they are hilarious! This cycle, however, there doesn’t seem to be much to laugh about. I’ve been wondering what kids are thinking about this election, which is — I know this is an extreme understatement — unprecedented in its abundance of selfishness and lack of class. A report from the well-known advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center used an online, non-scientific teacher survey to look at schoolchildren’s reactions to the election process during last spring’s primaries:

Every four years, teachers in the United States use the presidential election to impart valuable lessons to students about the electoral process, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship.

But, for students and teachers alike, this year’s primary season is starkly different from any in recent memory. The results of an online survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance suggest that the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.

It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.

Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.

 

It got so bad, in fact, that some teachers who were surveyed didn’t want to bring up the subject of the election to their students at all for fear of triggering stress reactions. Among the lowlights reported by the teachers in the survey:

— More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.

— More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.

— More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.

— More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

 

As the summer of 2016 winds down, we find ourselves in a most unhealthy situation. The short-term impact of what children are witnessing is fairly obvious: children are watching and listening — and it’s affecting them negatively. What is the long-term impact? No one knows, of course. But still, this pediatrician (and father and citizen) sits here worried. Very worried.

“So… who ya gonna vote for?”

I’m almost afraid to ask.