If you have been following the 2020 election cycle, you might have heard talk about young voters not being involved in politics. Young voters often feel unfamiliar with the political process and tend to become disillusioned with government. Teens, in particular, may feel overwhelmed with the idea of becoming politically engaged, especially when they have little experience with the political process. This leads to a common trend for young voters—they do not vote. While many elected officials and campaign workers have their own methods for turning out young voters, parents can play a remarkable role in helping their children develop into politically involved citizens.
A 2014 study by Oosterhoff in the Journal of Adolescent Research found that a parents' own participation and discussion of politics influence their children to follow along. Child and teen participation in civics and politics can result in better mental health outcomes and increased education, among other positive effects. As we are in a major election year with immense and long-lasting consequences, there is no better time to start teaching your children about political participation than now. The question then becomes: How can parents help young people to participate civically, and where can they start? While the development of civic engagement is a long, gradual process, there are steps you can take now to help your children understand and find ways to participate in the current election.
With that in mind, here are four ways parents can involve their children and teens in the 2020 election.
Stay informed and participate.
First and foremost, staying informed is essential. Studies have shown that a parent's own participation in civics and politics plays a major role—often one of the most impactful roles—in a child's own likelihood to engage in politics and civics. As such, informing yourself about politics is a great first step to take. Though this task can seem daunting, there are many useful resources available to help you stay informed.
Sources such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are three strong and reliable outlets to rely upon, for example. All three outlets place emphasis on being accurate and objective and have been credible news sources across decades. Each requires a subscription to regularly access articles, though such subscriptions are often reasonably priced. In addition, each of these outlets provides organized and informative election guides (e.g., The New York Times' Guide to the 2020 Election). Other sources provide a different approach, such as FiveThirtyEight, which takes a more statistical approach to politics and news.
As you continue to stay informed in the news cycle, you will find that it will be easier to start a conversation or answer questions your child may have, providing them with an example to follow of being informed on current issues. Whether your child is beginning to learn about politics or is preparing to vote for the first time, you can be a model and resource to them.
Involve your children in your voting process.
Talking to your children about the voting process is another great way to help them participate in politics and civics. Taking them with you to polling stations or having them observe when you fill out your absentee/mail-in ballot can help them see how voting works. It also helps establish an example for them to follow when they are old enough to participate in the process themselves.
Talk with your children about why you value voting and share your thought process regarding your support of specific candidates or measures. When your child is at voting age, or close to voting age, help them register to vote. If they are preparing to go to college away from home, help them either register to vote where they will be or help them request an absentee ballot if possible. These practices can help them understand what it means to vote, develop positive attitudes about voting, and help them to see why voting is a central part of one's civic duty.
Discuss civics with your children.
Studies have shown that talking to your children about current events and politics can increase their own interest in politics and civics. Dr. Oosterhoff, a professor from West Virginia University, recently found that parent-child political discussions "may be an especially important component of adolescents' civic context." His study also revealed that civics discussions between parents and their children, whether about abstract topics or current events, had a positive impact on a teen's political behaviors. In short, talking to your children about politics and civics is a simple yet powerful way to teach and establish political attitudes in teenagers.
One way this can be accomplished is by discussing a prescient political issue with your family at dinnertime. This will not only invite your children to be involved, but it can also help them learn how to participate respectfully in civil discourse. Along those lines, asking your children how they feel about an appropriate issue can help them develop their own voice and opinions and empower them to become more involved.
Talk to your children about community efforts.
Your actions can be the best and most effective teacher. As a result, children are more likely to become politically involved if their parents are involved as well. Lori D. Bougher, a researcher from Princeton University, stated that parents "provide direct models of political preference and behavior for children to imitate." Although showing can be better than telling, children may not be fully aware of their parents' activities in the community and in politics.
Sharing these experiences with your children is a key step in helping them learn how to be involved. Children benefit from knowing that their parents are politically involved and learning how it has benefitted their life and their community. Talk to them about your volunteering, whether in the political sphere or in the community. Tell them about your activism on key issues.
2020 is a major election year. With COVID-19 raging on in the United States and the recent protests and conversations surrounding racial justice in the nation, politics and civics have stepped to the forefront of many people's minds. Now is a great time to encourage your children to become involved and informed in the political sphere. Find appropriate ways, according to their age and maturity, to involve your children in political activities and discussions, ranging from local community politics to the presidential election. Look for ways you and your child can volunteer together. And remember: You can play a major role in their civic development–all it takes is your own participation and initiative.