In a country’s political season, every member of society is affected – including children. From the commercials on TV to social media campaigns to posters around the country, there is so much information for children to absorb. Nevertheless, children are often left out of the discussion on politics because they are not mature enough to comprehend the complexities of politics and are not eligible to vote.
Although not engaging children politically is understandable, a political season is a good time to help your children understand how the government in society functions. You have to do so in a child-friendly way, of course. This is because many children are generally not interested in political issues since it’s not a priority for them, however if this is not checked, it might lead to future political apathy. It is important, therefore, to teach your child about the political system as this is needed in raising a well-rounded child who is an informed and engaged citizen.
At What Age Should You Start Teaching Your Child about Politics?
Children these days are very intelligent and inquisitive. Research into the political knowledge of children ages 5 – 11 in the U.S. shows that from 5 years old, children are capable of understanding more complex topics than we give them credit for. Similarly, a political strategist with preschool-aged children expressed how she gets hard-hitting political questions from her children and she has had to devise a means to answer them.
To answer the question, there is no one specific age at which you should teach your child politics. The appropriate time varies depending on your child and his/her developmental stage. Nevertheless, it is generally good to introduce the branches of government, democracy, and civic responsibility to children at a young age, as this will help to lay the foundation for a deeper understanding of these topics as they get older. Your child can begin to understand politics from age 4 or even less.
Talking to Your Child about Politics
One way to begin to talk to your child about politics is by teaching him/her about the branches of government in a country and how they work together to ensure that a country is well-governed and citizens are safe. Doing this can help you raise a politically enthusiastic child and will make your child appreciate the vital role of the government.
In this article, we list out the branches of government using the Nigerian government as a case study. We also highlight the functions of each branch in a way that is easy for you to explain to your child. Before you explain the branches, it helps to give your child an overview of the meaning of government.
What Does Government Mean?
Government refers to a group of people who have the power to lead members of a country, state or community. The people in government are also called politicians.
Some things to tell your children about the government include the following:
In a country like Nigeria, there are three levels of government: the Federal, State and Local governments. The federal government governs the affairs of the whole country and is led by the President. The state government governs the affairs of the state and is led by the Governor. The local government governs the affairs of small communities in a state and the leader is called the Local Government Chairman.
During elections, members of the three levels of government are chosen by the citizens of the country because Nigeria practices a democratic system of government.
The local government chairman is elected to make the community that he leads better; the state governor is elected to make his state better and peaceful; the federal government is elected to develop the country, protect its citizens and protect the country from external forces.
The government of a country also consists of three branches.
The Branches of Government
In a country like Nigeria, each of the three branches of government has its powers and responsibilities and the three work together to make sure the government is effective and citizens’ rights are protected. The three branches are the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary.
The Legislative Branch of Government:
- This branch of government is responsible for making laws for peace, order and good governance in a country.
- The main body of the legislative branch in Nigeria is the National Assembly, which is made up of two parts: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
- The Senators and Representatives are elected by the people of a country to represent them and their interests in the government.
- In Nigeria, there are 109 members in the Senate including the speaker. 3 people from each of the 36 states in Nigeria represent the interests of their people.
- There are 360 members in the House of Representatives and they are elected from the constituencies in each state of Nigeria.
- The legislators make laws by passing a private or public bill that will favour individuals or corporations. The bill becomes a law when most members of the legislators agree to it and the president signs it.
- The legislators also have the power to remove a president of a country if the president acts against the law, but the majority of its members must agree for the removal to take place.
The Executive Branch of Government:
- The executive branch of government is responsible for enforcing the laws of a country. Members of the executive carry out the laws in a country.
- The members of the executive branch are the President, the Vice President, Cabinet members, and federal agencies.
- The executive branch is headed by the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the military. He is duly elected by the citizens of the country during an election.
- The President can stay as the leader for either one or two terms. One term is made up of four years. If the citizens vote him back as President after the first term, then he stays for two terms, except in cases of impeachment.
- The cabinet members of the executive branch are appointed by the president to lead the ministries in a country. They are called ministers.
- The ministries in a country are government corporations that are responsible for catering for the welfare of the citizens and country, e.g., education, media, agriculture, transportation etc. There are 24 federal ministries in Nigeria.
- The executive branch is needed for the smooth running of society.
The Judicial Branch of Government:
- This branch of government is responsible for interpreting the laws in a country and ensuring that they are followed.
- The main body of the judicial branch is the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the country. Other courts in the judicial branch include the Court of Appeals, the High Courts, and trial courts like the Magistrate, Customary, Sharia and other specialized courts.
- The Judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
- The Judges interpret the Constitution and laws, and they make decisions that affect the country as a whole.
- The judicial branch protects the basic rights of the people in a country by upholding the laws of the country.
- When someone disobeys the law or breaches the right of another citizen, the judiciary is responsible for punishing the offenders.
By highlighting these functions of the branches of government to your children, you have already created a picture of how the government works in society and the importance of the government in a country. It can also stir in your child the desire to one-day contest and be an active member of the government.
Even if your child does not have much interest in politics, it is good to encourage your child to be an active citizen by helping to develop society and voting for a candidate with the right leadership qualities during elections.
As a parent, bear in mind that your child will keep learning about politics and government throughout his/her life, not just from you. Your child will learn about politics from school, books, the media etc.
As your child grows and matures, his/her understanding of politics, governance, branches of government and political concepts would deepen, and your child’s critical thinking skills will be honed through engaging in discussions and debates. You just have to lay a foundation for political interest and participation in future.
It is also germane that you enrol your child in a school where children are made to understand governance. Doing so would not only make teaching your child about politics to be easy but also help your child to become a responsible global citizen who performs his or her civic responsibilities.