This year has been unprecedented. And we can all agree that we are living in historic times. From global pandemics to social justice reform, to mental health awareness, to technological innovations, our society is shifting in fundamental ways. Many of us are spending more time at home and enjoying more interaction with our children. What better time to engage with them on topics that will certainly remain issues as they mature into adults?
I am no political expert, nor fluent in public policy. However, I vote, knowing that my vote will count for much in the upcoming election. I am a mother, I am involved in my community, and I am a citizen of the United States. For these reasons, I have begun to think about how to engage with my children (ages 5-12) about the upcoming election in helpful and constructive ways.
1. Sign up to vote and take them along. The reminders to register to vote have been almost as prevalent as the ads reminding us to complete the 2020 Census. And I am delighted that we have received so many reminders about both. Voting is the only means at everyone’s disposal to engage in the process of democracy. The right to vote is a right fought for by millions across the centuries and protected by our Constitution. Tell your kids that you are signing up to vote, show them how the process works, and then take them to the polls on election day. If you are voting by mail-in ballot (which is completely safe) or absentee, show your children the ballot, explain how you are filling it out, and allow them to ask questions. Being required to answer my children’s questions about why I was voting a certain way forced me to really examine my candidate choices.
2. Make sure they meet people who are NOT like them. Much has been already been said about the “echo chamber” effect of social media and in our culture at large. The best way to counter this phenomenon for both you and your children is to cultivate acquaintances who are not like you. Maybe they live in a different part of town? Maybe they go to church, or don’t? Maybe they don’t look like you at all? Not only are you teaching your children that everyone has a unique perspective, but also that we are all citizens of the same country. Our similarities often outweigh our differences.
3. Volunteer. Volunteering on a campaign or at the polls or at a homeless shelter or at a food bank are all ways to get to know people in your community and to be involved in their stories.
4. Read, read, read. Read a real newspaper with your kids, a print version is preferable. Holding physical pages in your hands lends weight to the news and opinions that you read. Read local newspapers to your kids so they begin to understand the issues facing you and them and their neighbors. Often, world issues like peace in the Middle East and global warming seem too difficult to tackle until you realize that change starts small. The car manufacturer in town switching more production to electric vehicles or the local power company’s pledge to put in more solar panels help you and your children realize that choices we make at the local level can have a big collective impact.
5. Watch the debates and discuss. Yes, the first one was about as enjoyable and relaxing as a root canal, but debates (or reading a candidate’s platform on their page) are an excellent way to grasp the positions of each candidate and to see them contrasted with each other. Ask your children questions about what they notice—what do they see? Which candidate is more poised and confident? What positions and policies do they hear? (These may sound like “That guy talks a lot about the police.”) Who is more well-spoken? Then ask them what they think is important? What should our elected officials be doing while in office? You may learn a lot from your kids—I have.
6. Encourage them to run for office one day…maybe by running yourself. A few years ago, one of my friends astounded me by declaring that she ran for an elected position. I had no idea she had done that. She wanted to see certain changes in her neighboring town and decided to do something about it. She did not win, but she has a much deeper understanding of the political process than I do, simply because she took the time to campaign. And she did this while working a full-time job. What’s holding you back? Is a school board position open? What about a city council seat? Even better, start with the PTA at your child’s school. Then when your daughter says she wants to be the first female President, she’ll have an idea of what it takes.
7. Stay positive. It seems impossible to do these days. So many parts of our nation are broken, so many people are hurting. Their pain is real and should not be ignored. But don’t give up, and teach your children to never give up as well. Change takes a long time. You and I may never live to see it; our children may not either. But kindness, compassion, and courage will always win the day.
Now get out there…and vote!