Getting teenagers to vote

Most of us take the act of voting very seriously. This country was founded by people who fled political and religious oppression, and their solution was to create a democratic system by the people and for the people. This means that every person’s vote counts, and as a responsible adult, you want to elect leaders that are going to take our country in the right direction. Of course, this isn’t always an easy undertaking since politicians are prone to making promises they can’t keep. And some just lie through their teeth (although the 24/7 media blitzkrieg is making this more and more difficult for them to get away with). In any case, you no doubt want to instill in your teenagers the great privilege and weighty responsibility that comes with being of legal voting age. But first you have to convince them that voting is a good idea to begin with.

The problem, in a sense, is that you want your teens to make an informed decision. Anyone can catch a couple of TV ads (paid for by special interest groups, no doubt) and cast a vote based on misinformation. But you don’t want to raise those kinds of voters. You want your kids to take the process seriously, learn about the issues involved and what’s at stake, and study ballot measures to ensure that they understand what they’re agreeing to when they head into that booth with their ballot in hand. Unfortunately, explaining it in this way can make it sound like work. So how can you get your teens involved to the point that they actually want to participate?

For starters, you can find ways to relate the election to their immediate lives. For example, most teens that are eligible to vote will soon be heading off to college (if they haven’t already). With tuition and other expenses on the rise, many will take out loans. But what happens when they graduate? Will there be jobs waiting for them? What if they can’t pay back their loans? Will their credit be irrevocably damaged? They may have more immediate concerns, as well. Will further budget cuts cause colleges to limit admissions? And will they be able to stay on your health care plan for the duration of their time in school? Sometimes all it takes to interest your teens in an issue is putting it on a level that affects them. They may not care about an attack on the American embassy in Libya or about our debt ceiling, but when the results of the election hit closer to home they’re likely to take more of an interest.

Another option is to turn it into something fun. If your teens like to argue, channel their natural inclinations towards a healthier outlet by hosting debate nights. You could start by sitting down to watch the presidential debates, for example, and then have the kids take their own positions on certain issues and talk through what they think about them. This is not only a good way to help them become more informed, but it could also get them fired up to vote. Now, you may be keen to pin Barack Obama or Mitt Romney buttons on your kids in order to influence them to pick your candidate of choice. But if you want to produce responsible voters you need to make them decide for themselves. So while you should certainly discuss political issues, you might want to steer clear of imposing your own opinions and instead take the time to listen to what the young voters in your household have to say.


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