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How to talk to your kids about the power of voting

Today’s youth can’t become their parents, and trust me, they don’t want to. Technology and social media have changed our kids’ lives into something completely different from our own. As parents and citizens of the world, we should instead teach our children to be true to themselves. They need to stand up for the principles and values that they care about and exercise the rights that our forefathers fought for — and that includes voting.

Nowadays, it can feel like your vote doesn’t matter.

We’re all busy. We often feel tired of politics. The constant partisan fighting featured on the news can seem worse than teenage high school drama at times. Many of us (myself included) live in a bubble where most of our friends and family feel the same way about the issues, so we don’t think we need to hit the polls. Quite frankly, many people who are registered voters don’t even bother to vote. There are plenty of excuses, but here’s the thing: Elections and voting define our democracy.

[Read: Modeling Civility at Home.]

Yet only 50 percent of eligible young people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 election. If every eligible person voted, then we might have a better understanding of what our youth dream for their futures. If young people don’t vote, how can this nation govern based on their values, desires and principles going forward? In our society, an 18-year-old has the same power to make his or her political preferences known as a 59-year-old. And arguably, they have more at stake.

Here are three ways to teach your children about the power of voting:

1. Point out when celebrities encourage their fans to be politically active.

Let’s face it: Kids (and even adults) love celebrities and social media. Musicians, athletes, people who have crazy talent, those who take risks, and those who speak to us. Our kids are always “on” and absorbing information from all over the internet, whether it’s about something mindless or more serious.

Celebrities often talk politics and encourage young people to vote. So hop on social media with your child and take a look at what issues their favorite celebs and athletes are speaking out about, and then have an age-appropriate conversation about it. Share your family’s values with your child as well as other perspectives. Then ask what they think. Remember to be quiet and listen. Our kids need to be heard!

Research shows celebrities’ youth-focused efforts to “get out the vote” have an impact on the number of kids who hit the polls. And, in general, when people our kids look up to get engaged politically, it can increase the likelihood children will as well.

Talk to your kids, and find out what resonates with them. Talk about the influence of celebrities — and peers. Dive into the issues together, and show them that you value their opinion. You might be surprised at how informed they are — one of the upsides of being hyper-connected all the time.

[Read: Politics and the Anxious Child.]

2. Get your children involved in other ways.

As parents, we have to model those attributes we want to see in our children, and that includes political activism. If our homes are our children’s first and most influential classrooms, well then, let’s get to work! Our kids need to see us vote. They need to see us go to the polling place. They need to see us caring about issues that are important to us. We need to have thoughtful conversations and explain our reasons for voting.

In life, sometimes we do the right thing because others are watching, and that’s OK. We should put that kind of pressure on ourselves to teach our kids that voting is not just a good thing to do, but something we must do. After all, actions speak louder than words, and our kids are watching. Show them how to get involved, even if they aren’t 18 yet.

Whether or not they’re old enough to vote, they may still be able to get involved with fundraising, canvas and go door to door to educate people about issues that matter to them, which can have a powerful impact. One of the biggest things they can do is encourage their parents, grandparents and fellow citizens to vote. They can go to their temples, churches, schools or soccer games to tell their communities and loved ones to vote. They can push others to register to vote.

Kids can explain to others that — if they truly care about the world they’re creating, building and leaving behind for young people — they’ve got to get out and vote. Coming from a kid, that’s a powerful message.

3. Talk about the importance of speaking up.

We can’t all be natural born leaders or activists, and that’s OK. But we can all teach our kids to speak up in ways that feel comfortable to them, just as we should in ways that feel comfortable to us. Maybe it’s through voting for candidates who support your values or starting a club based on your beliefs within your community, or helping your kids start a club at their school. Whatever it is, we need to discuss with our kids the importance of finding what matters to them, even if those things change over time. We should show them how to use their values as a launch pad for decisions, like who to elect to govern their community and country.

Our kids are seeing the headlines and watching TV. Recently, they’ve witnessed examples of the importance of speaking up and sharing your truth no matter what the outcome may be like in the #MeToo movement and the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It’s a duty and responsibility that we often take for granted in the U.S.

Governments where the people are in charge — where leaders have to answer to the people — are historically more humane and compassionate than other systems. The ability to have a say in how we’re governed — to shape our own futures rather than being dictated to — is a privilege to be treasured. Remind your kids how long and hard women and African-Americans fought for the right to vote. We must use that right to promote democracy and keep fighting for change.

[See: Showing Kids How to Find Strength in Adversity.]

There are so many ways that you can teach your children about the power of voting. Show them that you value when others speak up. Model being an engaged participant in our political universe. Talk about the issues as they arise on the news and social media. Tell them about all the ways they can get involved and move the political process forward.

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How to Talk to Your Kids About the Power of Voting originally appeared on usnews.com



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