A protester gestures towards RCMP officers during a demonstration outside of a Liberal Party election campaign event, in Newmarket, Ont.


‘It Was Scary’ — Kids Like My 14-Year-Old Are Seeing Mounting Anger And Violence In Politics

Sep 28, 2021

For my recent birthday, I secured a solemn promise from my teenage daughter to join me for my daily 10,000-step trek on the Leslie Street Spit — a landfill park that protrudes five kilometres into Lake Ontario.

I know it's likely the last thing on the planet that she wants to do.

I've made similar requests in the past and had them so soundly rejected that I usually no longer ask.

To be fair, over the past many pandemic months, she and her friends have avoided public transit and instead walked great distances across the city for school and social activities, sometimes 20,000 to 30,000 steps a day.

"'It's weird seeing adults behave that way. I guess elections make people scream at each other.'"

But I play the birthday card with consummate skill, positioning the walk as my only desired gift. And it is true — her first two teenage years have seen so much change in so little time that I hardly recognize her. I need to reconnect by whatever channel I can dial into. If I must leverage birthday guilt, it's guilt well expended.

On one walk, our conversation turns to the recent federal election. I'm especially interested in getting my daughter's take on it. We've always emphasized the importance of elections, ensuring that she tagged along whenever we voted. A few years back, she made an "election cake" with each quadrant iced in the colour of the four major national parties. The idea was that you could vote with your fork. My piece had red icing, but I would have chosen a different colour at other times in my life.

Early in the pandemic, Craig was shocked to hear his daughter share some conspiracy theories, but lockdown had the unexpected perk of time together to address the issue.

Adults and elections from a teen's POV

Like most kids her age, my daughter's political views are still forming. While she doesn't know all the party policies and details, she has always been sure of her political leanings. She champions women's rights, racial and sexual diversity, the environment and social equity. I ask if all kids support these issues. "Lots do," she says. "But there are still lots of kids that think, like, you must be a radical. They say they want Trump back." I wince.

"As I arrived downtown to pick my daughter up from shopping, a group of protesting adults screamed that she and her friends should take off their masks and never get the vaccine."

We had followed this election closely as a family, watching the leaders make their case and listening to the candidates at the door. Together, we saw the results unfold on election night and talked about what it would mean for our country at this critical time. But while this election delivered similar results as the last, I noticed one significant difference: anger and violence at a level that has changed the tone of Canadian politics, maybe forever.

"It was scary, seeing all those people screaming and throwing stones at the prime minister," she continues. "It's the kind of beef you see at a teen's party. It's weird seeing adults behave that way. I guess elections make people scream at each other."

The observation is telling. How could a typical 14-year-old have any other perception of democracy than what they witnessed in this past election? Cancelling a prime minister's campaign stop because organizers could not guarantee his safety is not the Canada I know. But it is the Canada that she and others her age now recognize. 

Politics in the time of COVID

It reminds me of a demonstration against masks and COVID-19 vaccinations we'd got caught up in last spring. As I arrived downtown to pick my daughter up from shopping, a group of protesting adults screamed that she and her friends should take off their masks and never get the vaccine.

Later, we waited at an intersection for several minutes as police halted traffic to let the protesters pass. It was chilling to watch hundreds of people marching in the cause of death from a disease that science had delivered the tools to prevent. 

Of course, science is now also politicized. Anti-maskers and vaxxers target our hospitals and healthcare workers. Some political parties champion personal liberty over social responsibility. As I see it, the same social poison that made our family turn off American television now infects Canada more deeply and divisively than I could have imagined.

When election signs started popping up, Joseph Wilson figured it was time to talk to his kids about politics — only to find that details can quickly get blurry.

A plea to keep communication open

I had come to accept that our democratic rights and freedoms would always be there, omnipresent as oxygen. Now I'm not sure. All over the world, the storm gathers again. And whether it's the Taliban limiting a girl's right to an education, or a Texas judge taking away a woman's right to choose — I fear for my daughter's gender and generation. What will they take away next?

"I fear for my daughter's gender and generation."

As we come to the tip of the spit on our walk and look out over the lake, so peaceful and impossibly blue under the raking September light, I say to her: "The most important thing is to keep talking to one another."

"More than ever before, we need to have measured and thoughtful conversations — not confrontations. That's what we all need to focus on. If Canadians can't do that, who can?"

We turn and start the long trek back. It's small steps. Lay the groundwork, plant the seeds and nurture an interest in politics. It's time well spent.

In the blink of an eye, kids like my daughter will be deciding Canada's direction. In the meantime, I want to take every opportunity to ensure she has the tools she'll need to make the right choices.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Read more from Craig here.

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and producer passionate about projects that explore social issues, human potential and innovation. He lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer and podcaster, and their teen daughter — his most challenging and rewarding project to date! You can catch his latest work at mediadiner.com.

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