The U.S. Constitution: A Smart Parent’s Guide to America’s Most Important Document


The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land and the single most important American government document. It details the duties and responsibilities of the President and members of Congress, all who have sworn to protect and defend it. And most importantly, it determines the purpose and function of the federal government, as well as its relationship to the states and to American citizens.

While the Declaration of Independence sparked the American colonists’ fight for independence from the British, it was the U.S. Constitution that laid the foundation for the new American government. Having just defeated one government, the Founding Fathers crafted this important document to explicitly limit the very government it created. They did this in order to protect your life, liberty, and property. This – along with the concepts of natural rights and negative liberties – was a radical idea that helped establish America’s place in the world as a “Shining City upon a Hill” and set the course for American exceptionalism.

Talking to Kids About the Constitution

Today, children are given a cursory explanation of the importance of the Constitution to the nation’s history and heritage, but its current and ongoing role is often underestimated – especially in most public schools. That’s why it’s important to introduce your children to the Constitution. Let them explore its language, its meaning, and its consequences by exposing them to it and encouraging them to ask questions and make connections. By making it a conversation, you engage your children, get them interested, and build respect for both the document and what it stands for.

When talking to kids about the Constitution, keep these things in mind:

  • Keep it age appropriate: As your child’s mind develops, so will his or her understanding of the Constitution. At a young age, children can understand that the document gives rules that people must follow, but they may not understand the consequences of the Bill of Rights. That’s why it’s important to keep things simple when you first expose kids to the Constitution, and let their understanding grow as they do.
  • Understand natural rights: To have a clear understanding of the Constitution, you must understand natural rights. Natural rights are fundamental, inalienable rights that cannot be given or taken away. You are born with them, as is every other human, and they stay with you until you die. These natural rights are protected by the Constitution and are an underlying principle to its development. Because of them, the Constitution created the structure for a limited government – one with specific power assigned to each branch that acts under a subsidiarity principle of using the smallest, most local division of government possible. In this way, the Constitution recognizes and protects the natural rights of its citizens, limiting interference from its government.
  • The importance of checks and balances: The Constitution separates the power of government into three different branches to ensure that no one person or group ever has too much power. To understand the Constitution and the U.S. government, it’s necessary to understand the checks and balances, so be ready to answer questions your children may have on how the system works.
  • Explore negative liberties: Much of the Constitution consists of negative liberties, which are rights to be free from interference of others. This means that the government will not prevent you doing certain things, such as practicing your religion, saying what you want, or peacefully protesting. These negative liberties mean that you are free to do them, but do not necessarily mean that you are capable of doing them or that it’s the government’s responsibility to make you capable. For instance, you have the freedom to assemble, but that does not necessarily mean that the government must provide you with the place or the means to do so. Negative liberties are often confusing to children and may take some time to explain.

What is the Constitution?

The U.S. Constitution establishes the U.S. government, enshrines the natural rights of its people, and places limits on what can and cannot be done. Less than 10,000 words in total, the Constitution is used to develop the laws that people live under and no law may be passed that contradicts the Constitution’s principles.

Sometimes called a “living” document, the Constitution is able to be changed. Other than the first 10 Amendments, often called the Bill of Rights, there have only been 17 times during the last 200 years when Amendments have been made to the Constitution.

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