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What is the State of the Union—and why should parents watch it?

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President Biden will present the State of the Union Address to Congress, and globally via live stream, on Tuesday, March 1 at 7pm ET. But honestly, isn’t it just a long, boring speech? What’s to be gained from watching it?

What is it?

The State of the Union (sometimes shortened to SOTU) is a message delivered each year by the president to report to Congress on the current condition of the country. Presidents talk about the major issues facing Americans, outline potential solutions, and offer their proposals for laws and policies that could address the problems the nation is facing. They also discuss accomplishments and new initiatives that many Americans might not even know about. 

Why should parents watch?

Whether you consider yourself to be a “political” person or not, parenting is political. 

Families face a lot of challenges, like the high cost of child care, overwhelming levels of child poverty and food insecurity, and a lack of paid family leave, to name a few. Leaders can propose and pass legislation to address these problems and improve families’ lives in very real, tangible ways—and you don’t have to look far for examples. The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan, for example, provided direct relief in monthly checks from an expanded Child Tax Credit, which lifted 3 million children out of poverty last year. Once those checks stopped due to a lack of support from Republican lawmakers and Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, almost 60 percent of families reported they’re now struggling financially and unable to afford food. This is the kind of solution that presidents often talk about in the State of the Union to help the American public understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

Politics and policies and speeches might not be anyone’s favorite things, but they have a huge impact on our lives, and on the lives of our kids. The best way to ensure you’re informed about the issues and the policies that could benefit your family is to tune in to what’s going on politically—and if you find it stressful to “tune in” to politics on a regular basis, the SOTU can be a great summary of events and issues to keep yourself informed.

How can you involve kids?

The annual State of the Union Address is history in the making, and can be a great way for kids to learn about government and be inspired to find ways to enact meaningful change in their own lives. As the event unfolds, you can spark conversations with kids of any age using questions like:

  • What do you think makes a speech successful? Is it the content, the tone of voice, body language like making eye contact, the energy level of the speaker, etc?
  • Pretend you were giving a State of the School speech. What issues would you point out are happening at your school? What solutions might you suggest to fix those problems?
  • Watch the short video below, which gives a kid-friendly overview of what to expect leading up to and during the speech, who attends, and where everyone generally sits:

As Biden speaks, ask your child to notice reactions in the crowd. Who claps, and who doesn’t? What kinds of statements spark applause, or other reactions?

  • The president often highlights the stories of real Americans in his speech to illustrate why his proposals are needed. What kinds of stories does Biden tell, and what does that tell you about his priorities?

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.