I have fond Election Day memories of going to the polls to vote with my mother when I was a kid. I’d join her in a curtained voting booth. I would look up and down the ticket, guessing which switches she would flip and the candidates she’d choose. When she made her decisions, I was often given the honor of pulling down a large lever recording her final choices. Once finished, poll workers gave her a sticker saying, “I Voted.” My mother passed that to me, and I’d proudly display that sticker on my t-shirt. Today, I haven’t forgotten the conversations we’d had about the importance of voting. She told me it was a right in the United States to be taken seriously, not taken for granted. She told me about civil rights and how people had to fight for the right to vote because others tried to prevent them from having their voices heard. She raised me to look forward to the day I’d be able to cast my vote. Now I am trying to instill the importance of voting to my own teenage daughter, who will soon enough be nearing voting age.
The Youth Vote
Historically, youth voter turnout has been less than stellar. Young citizens tend to vote at lower rates than their older counterparts. But there are some signs of improvement. Between 2014 and 2018, the largest increases in voter turnout were among young people between 18 and 29. We have also seen increased youth activism. But will that translate to more young people at the polls this election? Parents can play an important role in answering that question.
Model Civic Responsibility
When adults display acts of civic engagement, it helps guide the development of “civic character” in children. When teens discover the impact of civic acts when they are younger, they may be more likely to participate in civic activities in adulthood. As parents, we must model civic responsibility – our duty as citizens. That may include voting, volunteering, protesting, giving to charity, investing in our communities, and more. Parents may advocate for causes that are political, environmental, economic, or that affect the quality of life in their community, for starters. All of these behaviors have something in common – they strengthen our stake in the societies we live in.
Young people have certain ideas about the world around them. They have thoughts about what a government should do for its citizens, what citizens should do for one another, and individual responsibilities. These are known as “civic dispositions.” These dispositions, or attitudes, may contribute to how young people want to be a part of what’s going on in their communities. They’ll need to learn “civic skills” to help them participate, whether it’s voting, volunteering, boycotting, etc. But a combination of those two things – their civic disposition and skills – are the building blocks of their civic character. And teens with a strong civic character are more likely to be confident in their ability to make the kind of changes they want to see in the world.
Why You (and Your 18+ Teen) Should Vote
Elections go beyond who will be the next president, governor, or other local officials. They affect everyday issues, including employment and wages, education, and healthcare. When you vote, you make your voice heard about the life you want for yourself and your community. And you teach your children the importance of using their voices. Whether you’re interested in a particular candidate, a ballot measure, or issues like recycling or public transportation, your vote is a chance to impact your community positively.
Understand What You’re Voting About
There is a lot to take in when it comes to the election process. The first step is to educate yourself. Read up on the candidates and the issues before you vote in any election. Know what’s going on both locally and nationally. Decide where you stand on the issues. If you’re unsure about an issue, look towards trusted media sources, teachers, or librarians to learn more.
We also can’t deny that media outlets (both social media and news) may create different realities that sometimes divide us. As adults, we must help guide and protect our children from these forces. Have honest, open discussions with your tweens and teens so they can process what they see and hear. Help them cut through the noise and ensure they don’t get turned off from participating in the democratic process. Also, guide your children to understand that people can respectfully disagree on candidates and issues but still care deeply about making the world better. Model positive engagement, and work towards a country where all voices are respected, and we don’t exist only in our bubbles.
What You Need to Know Before You Vote
It’s essential to understand how to work the voting machines. Poll workers on-site can show you if you’re unclear. Read carefully before you mark the ballots you’ll be using when you vote. If you are using absentee ballots, be sure you’ve followed the rules laid out by your state or local election boards. Only return your ballots to officially sanctioned locations, mailboxes, or drop boxes. If you have questions or are unsure, contact your Election Board offices and ask for clarifications.
If there’s a particular candidate or issue you’d like to support, your civic engagement can go further than voting. Volunteer for a campaign or a specific cause. Participate in phone banks, write postcards or letters, contribute to social media, or knock on doors and speak with people in-person. Let your teen join in and help, even if they aren’t able to vote themselves. Ask your teen if they’d like to be included in the process. For example, if you’re making phone calls to potential voters, encourage your teen to let you practice scripts for different issues with them. This will expose them to issues you care about and to other points of view.
Vote – Together
Include children in the voting process when they’re young and make voting a family moment. Younger children can fill in a circle for a candidate on a ballot, press a button on the voting machine, or place your absentee ballot in the mailbox. When your teen hits voting age – 18 – get them registered and head to the polls, and fill out your ballots together! Let them know you are proud of their actions. But don’t pressure them if they don’t want to share who or what they voted for. Voting lets you make a public statement, but for many, it’s a private act. Others in your community may not realize how important voting is or have the privilege of voting themselves. By voting, you teach your children how to build a stronger community for yourself and those around you. Wear your “I Voted” stickers with pride.
Have questions about voting? Visit iwillvote.com or call 833-336-8683