Glass: Bringing Your Kids to the Polls, and 6 Other Ways Parents Can Help Democracy by Changing America’s Culture of Not Voting
Election Day 2018 is almost upon us, and it is a sad fact that Americans don’t vote in healthy numbers — especially our younger citizens. Elections are not won simply on the policies and issues being debated. More often than not, they are won on voter turnout.
How can we get more of the population to exercise their right to vote? We can begin by purposefully teaching our children about the importance of voting — primarily, by doing it ourselves and allowing our kids to tag along.
Here are seven ways to get your kids more involved in, and aware of, elections and voting.
1 Point out other ways in which we vote
The political process may be abstract to young kids, but they actually see voting on TV and in sports all the time. Both the NBA and MLB incorporate fan voting in selecting all-star teams. Similarly, viewers vote for their favorite performers on The Voice. Using these examples, it’s not a stretch to explain how voting for president works.
2 Discuss voting
Voting should be a regular topic of family discussion, perhaps as you drive your kids to school or sit around the dinner table. Share which politicians will get your vote, which ones won’t, and what issues you care about. Ask your children who they’d vote for or what issues mean the most to them. You might also tell your kids that voting is a hard-fought right for which many people died — for example, in wars such as the American Revolution and, more recently, in the civil rights movement. Let them know that for most of history, only the men with the most land and the most powerful armies made decisions that affected everyone else.
3 Let your kids stay up to watch the returns on Election Night
I’m a believer in getting kids to bed on time, but there are exceptions: the occasional World Series broadcast, when Grandma is in town, and Election Night. Tomorrow night, pop some popcorn, sit on the couch with the kids and show them that the day when we elect our leaders is a special day — worthy of paying attention to and a cause for celebration.
Show your kids how important elections are by getting involved. You can stuff envelopes, make phone calls, canvass for a local candidate. You can encourage your kids to get involved, too. If you’d rather be nonpartisan, you can volunteer to be an election judge or poll watcher in your precinct. Democracy is a participatory activity, not a spectator sport.
5 Take your kids to the polls
On Election Day, take your kids with you to vote. Children model behavior after their parents, and by witnessing you casting your vote, your kids will see democracy in action. It will also demystify the process, and younger kids may even get a sticker.
6 Encourage your schools to make Election Day part of the curriculum
Teachers can introduce voting-oriented activities into their lesson plans. For instance, they can ask their students to vote on that day’s snack; the treat with the most votes will be served to the entire class. Children are hyper-aware of unfairness and instinctively understand that voting is the fairest way for groups to make decisions that affect everyone.
7 Make bedtime reading about voting
There are a handful of good books that can demonstrate the value of voting to your kids. For example, novelist Dave Eggers recently wrote a children’s book about civic involvement called What Can a Citizen Do?, and I am the co-author of an illustrated book that describes a dolphin pod deciding whether to leave their reef.
With these hints for engaging children in the political process, we can begin to change the culture around voting in the United States for future generations.
Russell Glass is a technology entrepreneur, a member of the board of directors of Rock the Vote and a co-author with Sean Callahan of Voting With a Porpoise, a book that helps educate children and parents about the importance of civic engagement.
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