Sue Scheff: Political Teens




“When parents talk about politics with their kids, when they participate themselves -- this leads to a higher level of interest in politics among their children,”

– Dr. Alan Abramowitz, Political Science Professor, Emory University

Nineteen-year-old Will Kelly is pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and talking to voters.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Hartley is answering phones, making copies and filing news clips.

She is a die-hard Democrat, and he is a faithful Republican. Both teenagers have a passion for politics and for getting involved.

“To be honest,” Will says of his volunteer work, “because I care about what’s going on and it troubles me to see how so many people become apathetic with what they do have in this country – that we take so much for granted.”

“At 17, I can’t vote yet, I don’t pay taxes, but within a year I’m going to have to know enough about leaders – not only national, but local and state – to be able to say who I want running things,” says Amelia of her involvement.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, young voters are turning up in record numbers this presidential election.

One reason, experts say, their parents.

“There has been quite a bit of research that shows that when parents talk about politics with their kids, when they participate themselves, when they take their kids to vote with them, that all this leads to a higher level of interest in politics among the children,” says Dr. Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University.

It is a level of interest, Dr. Abramowitz adds, that persists over time. “Even many years later, those who were raised in families that were politically active and where the parents talked about politics remain more active themselves.”

Amelia and Will say they’ve been invigorated by the hard work of politics. And, in fact, it’s sparked an interest.

“Is there a future in politics for me?” Will ponders. “Well that’s a question I seem to ask myself a lot. We’ll have to see.”

“There are a lot of career paths I’m considering,” says Amelia, “and politics is definitely one of them.”

Tips for Parents

The polls are showing teens are lining up in record numbers to have their say in this year’s election. Consider these statistics from a recent poll by Time Magazine, among 18-29 year olds:

70% said they are paying attention to the race
53% said Barack Obama was the candidate best described as ‘inspirational’
83% said this election will have a great impact on the country
A majority (54%) say the US was wrong to go to war in Iraq
80% of young people rate the economic conditions in this country as only fair or poor
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they feel the country is headed down the wrong track

Affordable health care (62%), the Iraq War (59%), and being able to find a stable, good paying job (58%) are the top issues a majority of young people worry about the most.
More than 6.5 million young people under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses. In fact, Obama’s margin of victory in Iowa came almost entirely from voters under 25 years old. In New Hampshire, his edge among young voters was 3 to 1; in Nevada, it was 2 to 1; and in Michigan, nearly 50,000 under-30s voted "Uncommitted" because Clinton's name was the only one on the ballot.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, getting kids involved in a civics or government class is a great way to get them more interested in the elections. From the 2006 Civic and Political Health of the Nation Report, young people who report that they recently choose to take a civics or government class are more likely than other young people to say that:

they helped solve a community problem,
they can make a difference in their community,
they have volunteered recently,
they trust other people and the government,
they have made consumer decisions for ethical or political reasons,
they believe in the importance of voting, and
they are registered to vote.

Parents are also one of the greatest influences on young voters.

Start with the basics. Make sure your 18-year-old knows when and where to vote.
Getting your 18-year-old to the polls could pay big dividends. People who have been motivated to vote once are more likely to become repeat voters.

Acquire and fill out voter registration forms with your teen. If your teen meets age requirements, you should each fill out a voter registration form.

If your teen meets age requirements on Election Day, go to your polling place together to cast your ballots.

If your teen doesn’t meet age requirements for the 2008 election, but will turn 18 before the 2012 election, involve them in the current election as preparation for the next election.

Consider taking teens between 14 and 17 to the polling place with you. Even if they are not permitted inside for security reasons, the visit will demystify the voting process.

Remind your child that the November election is the result of many local primaries and that Americans are able to vote for their national, state and local leaders.

Kids who are not old enough to vote can still have an impact on elections. Encourage kids to get involved in the political process. They can go door-to-door in support of candidates or help with fundraising efforts.

It can seem daunting to research candidates, because information on the different races is not centralized in one place. Parents can share news articles with their kids. The key is to engage students with issues they will find relevant to their lives.

References
Time Magazine
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

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