It is 2000, I’ve just turned 18, and I’m excited to vote in my first presidential election. It’s Gore and Bush, in it until the very end. I watch the debates, register early, and read up on the issues. I ready myself for November. It feels momentous.
I’d grown up in a house talking politics – always a one-sided discussion. They were tried and true red, through and through. But my grandparents were all blue – democratic hardliners who survived the Depression and refused to call Reagan anything but “that actor.” There was no safe subject between the generations.
Regardless of party lines, however, they all taught me to care. It never occurred to me not to cast my vote.
This notion of not voting is arising more and more among current young voters. Only 55.7 percent of the eligible voting populous showed up to the polls in the 2016 presidential election. That’s a sad statistic for the present and a daunting one for the future of our country.
But there are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.
1 | Talk about the issues
Don’t hesitate to talk taxes and health care and women’s rights in front of your kids. Let them hear both sides of every issue. Do they wonder why they always have to go to the dentist, the pediatrician, and the eye doctor before the first of the year? Explain high deductibles and why they matter.
Is there a filibuster in the Senate? Let your kids watch them squirm and fall asleep in their seats like children. Is your state primarily Republican or Democrat? Tell them why this matters. The more you talk about it, the more they know it needs to be talked about. This isn’t just stuff for government class. This should be part of the fabric of everyday life.
2 | Make it historic
My parents never took me along when they voted. They always went while I was in school. But when my son was seven months old, I strapped him to my chest and took him to the polls in 2012. We both got “I Voted” stickers.
Voting should be a celebration, a historic act of freedom that we don’t let pass by without a sense of importance. To vote is to execute your democratic right to freedom. It puts action behind words and should be something to commemorate.
3 | Encourage empathy
A recent program called Fast Track, originally created to help at-risk kids succeed in school, had a positive side effect. By encouraging social skills, specifically empathy, it created better voters. Of the adults who were in the Fast Track program as children, 7.3 percent of them turned up at the polls as adults.
John Holbein, the Brigham Young University professor in charge of the study, explained in a recent article in New York Magazine that “here are people experiencing various things in their lives: various hardships, various difficulties, various obstacles in their lives. gave the ability to see that and say, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about that?’”
If kids don’t care about what happens to anyone else, they won’t care about the big issues. Teaching your children to notice and invest in the people around them teaches them to care about the world at large.
4 | Promote perseverance
School, work, relationships, health – all the most important things in life require dedication and personal investment. The same goes for active citizenship.
Encouraging your kids to stick to the hard things – the new sport, the rough patch in math, or the after-school job – will also build the perseverance that will get them to keep fighting for the issues that matter most in their country. Being a good citizen means putting in the time to stay informed, to stay involved, and to stay in the ring just as long as the guys on the other side of the issue.
It is a great thing to give voice in politics and to participate in the checks and balances of the system. As parents, we can help our kids while they are still young to feel that they have a voice and to want to share it because it matters.