Should you involve your children in the political process?
“Politics is the best show in America. I love animals and I love politicians, and I like to watch both of ‘em at play, either back home in their native state, or after they’ve been captured and sent to a zoo, or to Washington.” – Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers
Watching the presidential debates lately, it’s easy to think Will Rogers had a point. Even though the political process can, at times, seem more like a carnival than the time-honored system by which we elect our officials and determine public policy, few can deny its importance. While the old adage suggests the topics of sex, religion and politics are best avoided in polite conversation, when it comes to talking with our kids, it’s best to tackle these challenging subjects straight on. As the presidential race heats up, it’s an ideal time to introduce our younger citizens to the world of politics, even if they’re too young to vote in the next election.
Charity Marcus is a member of the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa (LWVMT). The LWVMT website states that this nonpartisan political organization “encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.” A mother of two girls, Marcus believes it’s important to expose her daughters to the political process. “When possible, I always include or take my children to political functions that I am a part of,” she said. Charity’s daughters have attended rallies, worn campaign shirts and knocked on doors for candidates with their mother.
Marcus noted that getting kids involved in politics and the voting process at a young age is a popular topic. “We have conducted several voter registration drives at local high school ‘Back to School’ nights aiming to register high school seniors and their parents to vote…Voting is one of the most, if not the most, important responsibilities we have.”
Monte Cassino eighth-grade social studies teacher Jennifer Light would agree. “In order to prepare young people for their position as voting citizens, it is important to involve them in the political process long before the age of eighteen. Many middle school-aged students will be voting in the next presidential election and the outcome of this election will affect them into their adulthood. Understanding our political system, democracy and government are more critical today than ever before. Our students should be actively learning about civics and the political process,” Light said.
In order to engage her students, Light encouraged them to watch the presidential debates. “The vast majority found it interesting,” she noted. “They came away with lots of questions but also with a lot of insight into the candidates, how what those candidates said will affect them, and a greater appreciation of the scope of the knowledge needed to run our country. Kids are interested, but they must be taught why it matters to be involved.”
As with so many issues in parenting, it’s often what we do that matters as much, if not more, than what we say. “At a very young age, children watch what their parents are doing. If parents aren’t interested in the news, what’s happening in our government or voting, then it is probable that their children may not be involved either. Parents should lead by example,” Light said. “Before taking your children with you to vote, talk to them about issues that kids are interested in. Encourage them to read the news, put up political signs, and join a community group. Just get them involved.”
Clearly it’s not necessary for a parent to have a Ph.D. in political science in order to spark a child’s interest in the political process itself. It may be as simple as watching the debates together or discussing the relative pros and cons of the candidates at the dinner table. By becoming informed citizens ourselves, we open the door for our kids to follow. As is often the case, we may learn as much from them as they do from us. For more information on the LWVMT and its resources, visit www.lwvtulsa.org.
Julie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.