No doubt the year 2012 will be a hot one for politics – it’s the year we elect a new president or keep the current one in office. Also, Congressional, local and state seats will be up for grabs. It’s difficult enough for parents to take time to be politically active let alone raise grown children to be civically engaged. Here are ten tips parents can use to raise children to become aware of politics and its role in our daily lives:
1. Take them to the polls. Especially for parents of infants, toddlers and small children who may be off from school on Election Day, actually schlepping the kids down to the voting booth is a real way to show them the value and importance of voting. For people of color, in particular, who have had a history of disenfranchisement, it is doubly important for them to share with their children the empowerment of exercising the right to vote.
2. Organize a family field trip to the State House. For school-aged children, a visit to the local town hall, state house or the US Capitol – if you are near DC, especially – is an excellent way to help them visualize the lessons they are learning in school about the role of government and their roles as citizens.
3. Encourage them to write their local representative. When I was in the 8th grade, as a class project, I wrote then freshman Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and invited her to come to my school to address our student body. I was very excited to get an immediate response from her with a photo and a bio which outlined all of the various committees she was assigned to. To this day, I wonder if that was part of the reason I have become so interested in politics. In any event, it was a worthwhile activity which helped me realize the connection between those who are voted into office and their responsibility to the citizens and constituents they are elected to serve.
4. Take your kids to a political rally. Right now, those in Iowa are attending town hall and community meetings to meet the 2012 GOP nominee contenders. In the months leading up to each state primary and next November’s general election, there will be many political rallies and other events. Often times, they are family friendly. Children in middle school and high school may best be able to appreciate the experience of people united over the electoral process by attending a rally.
5. Register them when they turn 18 years old. I was an election volunteer during the 2008 presidential elections and was very happy to see a woman take her 18 year old daughter to vote for the first time! There are plenty people who do not vote at all even with their right, but doing it when first qualified could mean the difference between an apathetic non-voter or a voter for life!
6. Encourage them to volunteer to register voters. Even though your middle or high school-aged kids are unable to register to vote, they can still be part of the process by using mandatory volunteer and service hours which many school systems require.
7. Encourage them to use their Social Media activities for good. Let the young people in your household know that even though they may not be eligible to vote yet, they could certainly encourage friends and family members they interact to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
8. Nurture your budding leader. Whenever there is an opportunity for your child who may have shown to you s/he is a budding leader, encourage him or her to run for office, on the very local local level of course. Your kid would appreciate that the same type of work it takes to get classmates to vote for him/her as a candidate is a micro-version of what goes on in elections for higher offices.
9. Let them volunteer. If there is a civic issue that impacts your community, talk to your child about it and about different ways to help. If you realize your child is inclined to or is interested, encourage him to lead an effort to hold a canned food drive or some other fundraising effort for the cause. It’s a great way stoke an early interest in being a leader.
10. Involve them in your Civic activities. If you, as a parent are involved in any civic activity or volunteer effort, find a way to include your children. It helps them realize their role in society is bigger than the confines of their world and existence. It’s a great lesson for helping them be less selfish and aware of the fact they have obligations to others around them to behave civically and help others too at times.