Teens, Your Vote Matters, Too
The 18 birthday candles were still smoking when our kids, in turn, hopped behind the wheel of the old Volkswagen they shared throughout high school and headed to Town Hall. Registering to vote was a milestone as important as getting a license to drive.
Our eldest daughter campaigned while she was at American University in D.C., traveling to Michigan to knock on doors. Our youngest daughter attended a Scott Brown rally and heard him speak. We still have his campaign sign in the attic. Our eldest son, in the tragic wake of 9/11, enlisted in the Marines before earning his college degree. Our youngest son made no bones about debating political points as a teen and now a young adult, often giving teachers and friends on social media a run for their money.
The tradition continues. My grandkids hear their parents and family talking about current issues around the dinner table, conversations that include them in age-appropriate ways. Though they are a few years from entering their teens, they know who the president is, where the White House is and what Congress basically does (or is supposed do). They understand that one day they will be able to vote and participate in the process of governance.
As I read a new study from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I was reminded how important it is to include kids in the political discussion because they eventually grow up to become teens who’ll voice their views by voting.
Engaging our children in sensible and fair ways about how government works and what that means for us as Americans teaches them that they do have a voice. And one voice, as we all know, can be part of many.
Even so, surveys show that some teens are apathetic to the whole process because they believe politics is too contentious to discuss (can you blame them?) or worse, that their one vote doesn’t really count. Encouraging kids to become informed helps them not only to become inspired to take a stance on the issues that impact their lives, but also shows them how to engage in reasonable discussions that can lead to reasonable results in local, state and federal policies.
After all, the beloved language in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address heralds and embodies governing “by the people and for the people,” and our politicians are elected as conduits for our collective voices, which includes those of our teens.
Of course, as parents, we tried to impart that the right to vote is a noble and civic duty that holds meaning for others and ourselves and, most importantly, that our one vote does count. A vote brings a voice to the governing table on myriad issues, such as gun control, immigration, national security, environment, energy, reproductive rights, religion, marriage, childcare, health care, food, education, income, trade, drugs, alcohol and tobacco -- and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
I asked my niece, Kate Marinchev, a sophomore at Lunenburg High School, how she feels about the current direction in which the country’s going. Is she more optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Does she think teens can make a difference when it comes to change in rules and policies in schools, communities, state and country? Has she participated in a march, signed a petition or expressed a point of view in a school walkout?
Kate often discusses politics with her older brother, Jake, a Boston University graduate with a degree in economics. He’s in his 20s and reads a lot. She says he’s the one who got her excited about learning more.
She says she’s “personally interested in climate change, border patrol and Planned Parenthood issues and support,” because she’s most informed on those topics. Kate says she’s passionate about women’s issues addressing equality, abortion and birth control. She’s concerned that many of her peers aren’t informed on both sides of what she calls “these important debates” and that though they will be able to vote soon, they show no need or interest in exercising their right to do so.
“Twitter is definitely the place to get real info in real time and the most trustworthy and accurate,” she says. “People post on Instagram and Facebook about opinions, but Twitter is millions of news sources. There’s an explore page with the best information.”
Even so, Kate, who is focused on making good grades and after-school jobs at a local restaurant and at her mother’s art studio, says she doesn’t connect yet to any single current political figure because she is still doing her homework.
She watched the 2016 presidential election with her dad and credits him with showing her how to look at opposing sides of an issue before making conclusions.
In two years, when Kate has made a wish on her 18th birthday and the candles are still wafting in the air, she’s planning to turn the key in that car she has been saving up for and heading to Town Hall to register to vote -- a memorable milestone for any teen. Until then, she plans to stay actively informed and to search out the truth. Not an easy task in this divisive political climate, she admits.
My hope, as an aunt and as a voter, is that she’s not the only young American out there with that kind of tenacity and voice.
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https:// twitter.com/bonniejtoomey . Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .