DENVER — Parents watching Sunday night’s presidential debate with their children faced a dilemma: Let their kids witness political history or send them to bed early to avoid an awkward conversation?
The debate started with a question from an audience member who asked whether the candidates feel they are modeling appropriate behavior for youth, noting that “the last presidential debate could’ve been rated as MA — mature audiences.”
It quickly proved to be an apt observation. The second question, from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, was about Republican nominee Donald Trump’s vulgar 2005 comments describing grabbing women’s genitals. Trump responded by calling it locker room talk, then began talking about the Islamic State group “chopping off heads” and “drowning people in steel cages.”
Elliot Fladen, who was watching the debate at a private club in Denver with his daughters Dagny, 5, and Areli, 2, quickly checked to make sure the older girl had in her earbuds.
“They’re too busy playing Minecraft and other things to pay attention,” said Fladen, 36, a Libertarian who says he’s considering voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton because he can’t imagine Trump as president. “If they wonder what’s going on, I’ll explain it to them in an appropriate way.”
Sarah Parsons Fein, 38, of Tempe, Arizona, also tried to distract her young children, who tuned in and out of the debate as it played at their home. The stay-at-home mom found some of it disturbing for her three kids, ages 3 to 9, including the discussion about Trump’s lewd comments about women.
“When they started talking about grabbing women’s genitals, I kind of wanted to do a dance in front of them, like ‘Hey, look at Mommy!” she joked.
She said she has discussed rape culture with her older children but worries about the impact if Trump gets elected.
“I’m not sure that I want my children to know that someone can say and do such terrible things and still be president,” she said.
Drew Bauer, 45, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was a little worried about letting his 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter watch the debate but felt that it was important for them to see it.
“If it was bad, then I figured it was worthwhile for them to watch — even if it was bad,” he said.
The kids stuck through most of it before they got bored and fell asleep.
The small-business owner said his children know the “PG version” of what’s recently happened and that they have asked questions, but they mostly want to know whom their dad is voting for.
Bauer and his wife are registered independents. He said he was on the fence about voting for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, but he’s decided on Clinton.
Associated Press writers Samantha Shotzbarger and Alina Hartounian contributed from Phoenix.