Prepare Your Teen to Vote
Our teen will be able to vote in the next election. Let me repeat that. OUR TEEN WILL BE ABLE TO VOTE IN THE NEXT ELECTION!!!
Give me a moment to catch my breath. Where did the time go, and how did he get so big so fast? Is he an adult now? Wasn’t he just going to Gymboree classes yesterday? And, now he is going to help determine the fate of our country?
As much as we’d like to bury our heads in the sand, the reality of this stage of our lives is here whether we want it to be or not. When my son brought up the topic of the election at dinnertime, his dad and I looked at each other with the same expression of realization that our baby is growing up. “Hey, did you know I’ll be able to vote for the next president?”
What can you do as parents to prepare your teen to vote?
If you are reading this, odds are you’re a homeschooling parent. So, you have already done a large portion of the work by instilling morals and values in your child, by being involved in character decisions, and by simply raising them to be good people.
You’ve probably spent countless hours reading together and learning about this big world and the people in it. From history to literature to field trips to unit studies, you’ve already laid a foundation for your child’s future as a squared-away adult with a varied knowledge base.
Now that they are older, 2 more things you can do to ensure ready young voters are to help them become informed and involved.
1. Informing Them
We had the opportunity to attend a welcome home for an honor flight, and my boys shook hands and talked with several WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans. Wow! What an impact this had on my young patriots. Through our homeschool studies and from these personal encounters, my kids understand that the privilege of living in the United States, and enjoying the freedoms that we enjoy, is fought and died for every day.
Apathy is really like a slap in the face not only to those who have fought so hard for these privileges, but also to those who live in countries where freedom is a far away ideal. The “right to vote” is actually a privilege that should be appreciated and actively sought to uphold. Inform your teens about the history of voting rights, and encourage them to honor the civic responsibility to choose officials who will represent them and to have a voice in government. This is reason enough to prepare your teen to vote in the next election.
According to the US Census Bureau, the eighteen to twenty-four-year-old age group had its strongest voting turn out in 1964 when about fifty percent of this group voted. The number has steadily declined, and in 2012, only thirty-eight percent in this age group voted. You know which age group had the highest percent of voting? Ages sixty-five plus.* I told my teen this fact and let it sink in for a moment.
Nothing against folks in their sixties and older—I plan to be one soon enough. But, if you are a young voter and are letting retired citizens decide on your government, your priorities and needs might be a bit different. This is hard to see at age seventeen or eighteen when you are still in the midst of finishing schooling, but think about the changes they’ll be facing within the four years that the next president will be in office: continuing education, employment, paying taxes, seeking healthcare benefits, starting a family, managing living expenses.
Things like cost of living, international trade, and the economy will become issues that our kids will find important within a few short years. Remind them that their ability to choose their local, state, and country officials will have a lasting impact on their quality of life.
Help your kids become informed about issues that affect them, and research the candidates and their stance on the issues. You’ve probably already taught persuasive writing in your language arts coursework. Remind your teens that the art of persuasion will be used in a BIG way as the election heats up, and they need to discern their way through the spin and propaganda (and mud-slinging).
Learn who your representatives are. If you possibly can, schedule a field trip to your state house, or at least to your city hall. Take a tour and arrange to meet with your congressman, senator, mayor, or other elected officials. Prepare your teens in advance to ask questions and discover more about how government works.
Your teen might want to get involved in a campaign and work through election season. There are many opportunities for young people to get involved, from attending local events to putting up signs and passing out brochures.
Show your teens where their polling place is located, and talk to them about the process of voting. Look online for a voting machine how-to. Explain what to expect when you arrive at the polling place and help them feel prepared. Even though our kids are way more tech-savvy than we are, anything new can cause nervousness. Offer to go with them to vote or encourage them to invite a friend to accompany them.
Watch the debates on television, and discuss them afterwards. My teens and I had fun watching the recent republican debate and providing couch-side commentary. Talk, talk, and talk some more—and remind them to ask you anything. If you don’t know, do some research together to discover the answer.
If you have younger kids in the house, share some books about voting with the family–even you and your teens can learn a thing or two about elections from some of the books on this list.
Finally, make sure your teen registers to vote. And if you aren’t registered, do it together!
*Source: US Census Bureau Current Population Survey, 2012