It may seem like teens are all about MTV, partying and music concerts, but they have a natural curiosity about everything in the world. That’s why you can use current events to talk to them not just about President Obama, but leaders of other countries.
Well, you might think, before we get to that, what about local leaders, county and state government, senators, representatives — all that’s a lot to learn. How can you get a kid interested in who the head of state of Serbia is? But it’s not learning things in order, maps or charts, although you can certainly use maps, photos and newspaper articles if you have a mind to. You can also just talk about whoever is in the news in general conversation. You can talk about the Serbian President or any other world leader in ways that make them real people. My usual approach is why the leader is in the news, how old he or she is and if that’s younger or older than President Obama. In the case of the current President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, we talked about his American education. He graduated from Leonia High School in New Jersey in 1972 and, according to Wikipedia, speaks English with an American accent. We checked that out to see if he has a New Jersey American accent.
The object of this exercise is not to get the kids to memorize the world leaders like memorizing the list of U.S. Presidents or state capitals. One aspect is to make them feel comfortable talking about current events. Sometimes they are doing or have done a project in school and may know more about a particular country than you do. I also like to think that when they get in their twenties, even if they don’t remember every little thing we talked about, when they do hear the names of leaders of other countries on TV, it will ring a bell and they won’t tune out so easily as if they had never heard of leaders like Dmitry Medvedev (Russia), Cristina E. Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina), Pál Schmitt (Hungary) and Tarja Halonen (Finland) .
Some 140 foreign leaders coming to New York for the 65th annual meeting of the General Assembly this week presents some great stuff to talk about and look at. The U.N website is always a good tool. I was looking at the U.N. Live webcast earlier, and called my 16 year old daughter over to take a look at Prince Albert II of Monaco and the Serbian President. I showed her the photos of the Serbian President, Boris Tadić, and prime minister on Wikipedia first. She immediately made a connection with Serbia that she may never have had a reason to bring up otherwise — there’s a new student in her school from Serbia. We looked at the U.N. Live Webcast and she told me about meeting the Serbian boy. Next I showed her Prince Albert on the webcast. She already knows who he is from prior conversations about his parents, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III.
Last week, Hillary Clinton’s visit to the mid-East presented the opportunity to talk about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they met in Egypt for mid-East peace talks. I mentioned that Mubarak became President of Egypt when Ronald Reagan was the US President and asked my daughter if she knew all the U.S. presidents since then. She was very proud that she knew them all and without any hints.
I don’t talk about this topic 24/7 and I don’t generally bombard the kids with it, although with all eyes on the U.N. and the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad due to appear on Larry King Live Wednesday, there will naturally be more talks about world leaders this week.
Some resources I use in support of this endeavor are Wikipedia’s list of current world leaders and Planet Rulers.com. I also make a today’s birthday list for the Fikkle Fame blog everyday. It is generally composed of American entertainers and sports figure but I include people currently in office and other interesting people from various parts of the world. It’s on my computer in the morning before they leave for school and it is also how the kids know that Dmitry Medvedev is 4 years younger than Barack Obama.
CIA: World Factbook
U.S. Dept. of State:Travel Advisories