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How to Decide Whether Your Kids Can Handle Tonight's Debate

The first two presidential debates were rife with mudslinging, explicit allegations of sexual assault, uncomfortable discussions about gender and race, and quick-tempered interruptions from both sides.

So with just hours to go until tonight's third and final 2016 debate, many parents across the nation are asking themselves one question: Should they let their kids watch?

In an annual survey of 2,000 kids ages 6 to 12 conducted by children's magazine Highlights in April and May of this year and released this week, 80 percent said they talk about the presidential election at home. But with rising concern over the uncensored content, some parents say they don't plan to let their kids watch tonight's debate.

"Some of the things that are said are not appropriate for children, so I wouldn't want him to hear it and repeat it or anything like that," Brooke Caserman of Cape Coral, Florida, recently told ABC Naples-Fort Myers affiliate WZVN-TV.

Others agree.

"I think the whole attacking thing that's been going on is definitely not appropriate for all ages or all age groups," Alexandra Doerschel of Fort Myers, Florida, told WZVN, a reference to the fallout from a damning video in which Donald Trump boasts of grabbing women's genitals without their consent.

Many of his critics likened the leaked "hot-mic" recording to sexual assault, but Trump, during the second debate, defended his coarse language as no more than "locker room" talk, saying he has never actually followed through.

Similarly R-rated conversations popped up during the primaries when, for example, Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio addressed penis sizes.

Common Sense Media, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in San Francisco that rates whether television shows and movies are suitable for kids and families, has called for tonight's debate moderator to keep the conversation on track and away from inappropriate topics. The constant insults and interruptions by the candidates also set a poor example for children.

"Many parents have decided not to allow their kids to watch the debates at all. That's not OK," Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer said in a statement last week. "Debates provide families with teachable moments about our democracy, from how the candidates differ on issues to why it is important to vote."

Steyer, a father of four, said he has watched the first two presidential debates with his kids, including his 12-year-old. He urged tonight's debate moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to hold the candidates accountable for their language and tone throughout the entire event.

"Kids may not have a vote, but they have the greatest stake in the election's outcome." Steyer said in a statement. "Parents shouldn't be worried that a presidential debate could be rated inappropriate for kids under 17."

With a start time of 9 p.m. ET, tonight's debate may be on too late for most children to stay up to watch. But some experts say another way of deciding whether your child is old enough to watch the debate with you is whether you give them a phone or tablet with internet access.

"I think it's OK to really tell kids we have a big fight going on in America," Nickie Haggart, a licensed clinical social worker in Fort Myers, Florida, recently told WZVN.

But Haggart said parents must be able to manage their feelings about their political views while watching the debate with kids.

"If your kids can learn from you, not hatred, but honest discussion, that's really good," she told the station. "I would just like for people to give a balanced view to their kids if their kids are old enough to understand that."
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