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How To Talk about Politics with Young People

 In Data Drop

Discussing social and political topics can be challenging, especially in light of widespread disillusionment and polarization. Springtide asked young people what adults can do to make young people feel like they can talk about these topics with the adults in their lives.

Between December 2023 and March 2024, Springtide Research Institute asked young people in the US about their civic engagement, participation in electoral politics, and multifaceted and dynamic forms of in-person and digital community building. We surveyed 6,669 young people between the ages of 13 to 25 and interviewed 76 of them in depth to better understand their political identities and experiences. We learned that 41% of young people between the ages of 13 and 25 say that they “never” or “rarely” have conversations with adults about politics. A quarter (26%) of young people say that they feel “very uncomfortable” speaking to adults about politics.

How often do you have conversationswith adults about politics?
To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: “I feel very uncomfortable speaking to adults about politics.”

We asked young people what adults could do to make young people feel like they can talk about politics with them. Here’s what they shared with us.  

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

No Response

We asked young people what adults could do to make young people feel like they can talk about politics with them. Here’s what they shared with us.  

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

No Response

“‪By actually listening. And wanting to listen. And actually working on it. ’Cause, sometimes, like, some people like, you know, [say], ‘I really wanna do this,’ and then they don’t. So, it’s action, too. Like, listening and then putting forth the action, you know?”‬‬‬

“[When] they understand my point, and they don’t shame me for the point. Like, me and my dad have like a differing opinion about something. He respected my opinion. He’s like, ‘You can think that and that’s okay. I don’t agree with it, but it’s okay to not have the same opinion. We grew up in different time eras, [and] we’re not gonna have the same opinion.’”

“I mean, I think like they [adults] are very closed about, like, ‘Oh, you’re too young. ’ Like, ‘You don’t understand right now.’ Like, ‘I’ve been through a lot.’ So, I feel like they always have that mentality of not listening to young people. Which is fine—I know they’re wiser than us, but sometimes they’re not. . . . Well, I don’t think they are wiser than us, but they have previous knowledge from their generation, and, like, I feel like we have knowledge from our generation. So, I feel like if we can both come together and we can get to an agreement, that would be nice. Because of course I’m not gonna know what the older generation likes or what they’ve been through, but I know what my generation likes and what they’re passionate about. So, I feel like if they would be more, like, open-minded about that and, like, accepting that young people also have a voice, I feel like that would make a change.”

“I think understanding the language of today. Because I think language did also change over time. I remember talking to someone who was, I think 50, who had to, it was through text, and I remember when we met in person, he had to tell me that he had to search up certain slangs that I used or certain acronyms I used because he didn’t understand what those meant. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ like, ‘I should have, you know, been more careful with that.’ So it’s just like small things like that can create like miscommunication and misunderstandings.”

“When they’re open to listen and basically can communicate my own points back to me. When you’re like, ‘I understand you’re saying this and that and this and that. Have you thought about this point, or did you think about this?’ We’re able to learn together, as long as you’re open to listening to me. Because sometimes they block you out the second they see how young you are.”

“Listen respectfully. I get that you’re listening, but you are allowed to ask questions when you’re listening. But you can’t be like, ‘Back in my day, we did it this way. Nothing ever went wrong with it.’ Because we can obviously see that something did go wrong with it.”

“They just listen to me and treat me with respect. And I feel like, if we do disagree, it’s like a debate, basically, and we can move past it.”

“I feel like they know what they’re talking about. They’re not just talking nonsense and trying to make you understand it. Or I am close with them; I have, like, a connection that I can feel comfortable sharing with them . . . like, having a good conversation that we can either agree or disagree, and still be able to talk to each other and be friends or family members.”

“‪Get off your high horse and don’t be an a**.”‬‬‬‬‬

“Try to keep an open mind. Things aren’t always black-and-white. And you might be wrong about some things, as may I. Like, we’re all just here learning, trying to do better. Hopefully people are trying to do better. And just—that’s it. Like, nobody knows everything.”

“If they have open opinions and not, like, arguing and like, set on their opinions. I don’t wanna be arguing with adults.”

“Be very open to new ideas, ’cause . . . okay, I mean, even if you’re not willing to accept them, just be willing to sit down and have a nonaggressive conversation or something. ’Cause even online and things like that, you always see conversations get taken, and, I mean, they start off with good intentions, but then it winds up with one person yelling at each other and the other yelling back, and it just turns into a screaming match at that point.”

“Actively thinking and listening to what I’m saying. Like, maybe, saying their own experiences, things that they’ve witnessed happen and, like, maybe asking how I feel about something or trying to dig deeper into what I’m thinking.”

“I don't know. I really don’t. Like, if they’re—whether it’s, like, about politics or not—if they’re going to respond in a way that’s more of like, ‘Okay, well, how do you think about this?’ rather than them trying to, like, take the agency, and be like, ‘No, you should believe this.’”

“I think humility plays a big piece in that. Somebody who’s willing to say, ‘These are my opinions.’ And kind of welcoming other opinions. Somebody who’s open, and not—I think rigidity is that, kind of, turn off to those conversations, that ‘these are my beliefs, this is what’s right.’ That doesn’t create a space to engage in dialogue. And engage in, kind of, just a healthy conversation. Because healthy conversations can happen from different ends of any issue. It’s just a willingness to engage. And I think that’s kind of what that openness would be—what would, kind of, allow me to necessarily feel comfortable to share my viewpoints.”

“I would say, like, taking in what you have to say, giving you really great feedback, and just challenging your ideas sometimes. So, someone that, like, doesn’t dismiss your feelings, but also challenges you to think deeper about certain issues. That’s a way to tell, you know, when you’re talking to someone that wants to help you grow rather than just tear you down. Instead of just saying, ‘No, you're wrong.’”

“Being able to admit that you’re wrong or just admitting the possibility of being wrong. . . . There seems to be a common thread that older people have of feeling entitled to interrupt a younger person’s train of thought or argument. And it almost always comes, like, it feels like they need to get that thought out there to, like, put a stop to everything. But nothing makes me wanna walk away from the table more than saying, ‘Alright, I want to explain this to you. Like, are you ready to hear it?’ Then saying, ‘Yes,’ me starting, and six words in, being stopped again—just interrupted. It drives me insane. And I think it drives a lot of younger people insane, ’cause it’s infantilizing. It’s saying, ‘No, no, the thought that you are making by yourself is already wrong and I, as an adult, need to show you that you are wrong right now, and you can’t question my authority on it. I don’t see you as an equal. You are someone to interrupt and learn from me.’”

“I think that older generations are the best people to talk with about politics, honestly, ’cause they’re more informed and they’ve been in it for longer. Obviously, like, the best person for me to talk with will always be one who’s looking more at facts and statistics and less, like, getting excited by Fox News or CNN and what blah-blah-blah is saying. ’Cause sometimes old people can be like that. That’s a conversation that I’m not interested in.”

“I feel like there’s the stereotype or assumption that most older people are conservative. So, it’s kind of difficult to wanna like start talking about stuff when you think that they’re not gonna agree with you. So, I guess, maybe, making their own opinions more well-known, so you have somewhat of a more real entry point so that you’re not just making assumptions about them.”

“Honestly, just not talk about [politics] in the first place, because sometimes, when really controversial subjects come up, I feel like that’s not something I could talk to someone [about]. So, I feel like that’s something that would be, like, a hard no. But I feel like the thing to make me trust ’em is when they just don’t really talk about it to begin with.”

“They could — I guess they could be more neutral. And, like, not be biased.”

“Definitely ask questions. . . . Get to know people first or, like, getting to know what they’re gonna talk about is nice. Because then I feel more confident explaining other things, knowing that I’ve explained other stuff.”

“No, I feel like I can’t—I just don’t really bring it up.”

“If they made it feel like a safe space for me. Like, it’s not even just about the fact of disagreeing, it’s the fact of, like, the violent feeling that that gives. So if they’re like, ‘Oh, I love you no matter what; this is not something that has to change our relationship.’”

“Do their research.” 

“Just like, let me finish my thought! And then you can, like—let me finish my thought. And listen to what I’m saying. And then talk. Instead of just trying to talk over me and tell me that I’m wrong without even understanding what I’m saying.”

“I think if it was less of a kinda volatile situation, where people can just completely explode over it. If I felt more like it could be more of a calm discussion, I would be a little bit more comfortable talking about it. Whereas some people will get really, really touchy if you bring stuff up.”

“I would say building an authentic relationship is the way to go about doing that.”

“Be open to a supportive, open dialogue, for sure. Their tone, their listening skills, and kind of just their . . . the way that they’re going about it is definitely like . . . just like their body language. There’s so many ways to tell if they’re willing to talk or they’re not.”

“Definitely open-mindedness and, like, willingness to listen. ’Cause it’s very divisive right now. It’s very much, like, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ And just being able to actually have that conversation where I don’t feel like you’re just gonna come at me for not agreeing with you.”

“I think the most important thing that trusted adults have to know to help create responsible civic-mindedness in young adults is being vulnerable themselves. Like, not enforcing language that makes ’em sound like they know better because they’re older. But more so, like, ‘Hey, these are the lived experiences that I’ve had that led me to think about these issues this way.’ I respect that.”

“Listen more, speak less. ’Cause whenever I just try to bring up anything to any other person, they automatically hit me with: ‘Why do you believe that?’ Or they’re like, ‘Oh no, this is better than what you’re thinking. What you’re thinking is crazy. Why would you think this?’”

“Just, like, being able to be open—and validating somebody else’s perspective, even if they don’t feel the same way.”

“Just, like, listen. And also be willing to have others listen to you. I think you’ll learn so much, and those conversations are really helpful and, like, positive in making a difference.”

“It starts off with just having a common interest, like every other friendship, and just gradually expanding to talking about more important things.”

“I think people that I feel safe talking to are people that are very bold, and say things. . . . So many of the faculty at school who I don’t feel super safe talking about this stuff with are people that are very soft and ‘whatever you think is fine.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, that means that if I come to you and I tell you something, first of all, I’m never gonna know what you believe, ’cause you won’t tell me. And secondly, you’re not gonna call me out on my BS if I say something wrong and horrible. You’re just gonna say, ‘Oh interesting. I support you.’ And I’m like, don’t support me if I’m wrong!‬ ‪I feel safest when I know that people will call me out and push me to think. And I can push back. People that would say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense. That’s a bad idea.’ And I could say, ‘No it’s not. It’s a good idea and here’s why.’ And we can have that conversation. It’s not that I just wanna be shut down, but I think I trust people who will be transparent and honest about what they think and not just try and make me feel good.‬”‬‬‬‬‬

“I probably would not strike a conversation about politics with any older person I met. I’d have to know them for a bit or, like, they’d have to be wearing like a pin, and I’d be like, ‘Oh okay, that’s a rainbow flag. This might be a safe space.’”

“We wanna be heard. Like, that’s the biggest thing. We talk past each other—other generations. And it’s unhelpful. No one’s getting anywhere.”

“Be willing to listen. And just try to put aside your preconceived biases and just be an active listener. I feel like people listen so they can talk, but they’re not, like, actively listening, and, like, trying to learn. So I would just say: be a better listener, I guess.”

“Just, like, if they took the time to actually, like, listen and talk. Listen! Because they talk a lot, and they, like, get on their . . . what is it called? Soapbox. So, just listen. And I’m not saying that we [young people] don’t, because we also talk and we rant a lot. But, yeah.”

“It’s so individualized, down to your circumstance. Maybe just sitting your child down and trying to talk them through it. But if you don’t even have a father or mother figure in your life, that might be difficult on its own. So, I don’t know if I have any recommendations, per se.”

“I feel like a lot of people are, like, kind of nervous to open up to someone they aren’t comfortable with about opinions on, like, controversial topics. But for me personally, I am okay with opening up to anybody if they are curious.”

“I just think that I would want that person to understand that, like, we’ve had different life experiences. And so, because of that, we’ve lived through different things. And we will probably live to see different things. . . . Also, understanding that your views won’t be fundamentally changed is important to me. So, I would definitely, like, honor a conversation with an older person on politics. It’s not, like, a red zone or something for me. I just don’t think I would—[that] that would ever happen. Like, I feel like older people are always reluctant to talk to younger people, because there’s, like, that perspective of, like, ‘Oh,’ you know, ‘they won’t understand,’ or, like, ‘Oh,’ you know, ‘these issues aren’t important.’”

“I think just knowing the fact that my parents are trying to be understanding. So, like, if they don’t—even if they don’t understand, they’ll be like, “Okay, help me understand what I’m not getting right.’ And like, ‘How am I seeing this wrong?’ Like, ‘What do you think? What is your value, your position on this?’ And even though they don’t necessarily agree with it, sometimes they’ll be like, ‘Okay, I could see why you or somebody else would think that.’ And that’s, like, informative, because they’re learning from it as well. So again, it’s that openness to—not just, like, discussion—but just to learn, I guess, from us, as well.”

“Well, just, like, actively listening. And it’s not just disagreeing, disagreeing, disagreeing. It’s, I feel like it can [be] more like an educational conversation where you’re both learning from each other. You’re both actively listening—listening to what you have to say, asking questions. It is not just, like, a dismissive conversation, where they’re just trying to argue back-and-forth what your point is.”

Note: All names listed above are pseudonyms. See question wording, survey responses in the Topline Survey Results and review methodology here.

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