I know: it’s painful this time around. I used to do this political and policy stuff for a living and even I’ve become cynical. Congress has become a national joke, each side thinks the other is the devil’s spawn, “compromise” is the new f-bomb and we have people who’ve been elected to serve in our government with the express purpose of obstructing that government. And I won’t even mention You-Know-Who, leading or running second in the GOP polls. (Why, people? Why? You know this isn’t just a reality TV show, right? It’s not, “the last uber-narcissist standing on the island—or in front of the camera—wins the country.”)
This is not my usual, biennial exhortation to participate in the civic life of the community in which you live by voting—although that will be important when your state’s primary or caucus day rolls around, as well as in November 2016. Rather, I’d like to highlight an aspect of civic engagement that may not have meant quite as much a few years ago as it does now.
It’s common in political life to refer, fondly and perhaps with a bit of levity, to all of our children as “future voters.” But it struck me recently as I considered nearly fourteen-year-old “Jack” and ten-year-old “Emmie” that the future is no longer very far away. Neither of my kids will be old enough to vote in November 2016, but Jack will vote in the following presidential election, and Emmie will vote in the one after that. When they do vote, I want them to be educated enough about this country, their government and the electoral process to take their votes seriously.
I’ve brought my kids into the voting booth with me since they were small because I wanted them to see that voting matters. I knew they didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but that was okay, because they were little and I could explain everything in simple terms. But now they’re listening to me and my husband discuss the candidates and the parties, watching me turn red as I yell at the television (okay, that’s perhaps not always the best model of behavior), and noticing that we read articles, discuss policies when the candidates do and make a point of watching at least some of the debates.
And they’re beginning to take an interest.
My kids couldn’t tell you who all of the candidates are—can anyone?—but they know or at least have heard of most of them. Jack especially knows the ones who are in the lead, the ones who have the best chance, the ones who are the most ridiculous, the ones for whom my husband and I have the most respect. Both kids ask questions concerning process and substance. Both kids have voluntarily watched parts of the most recent debates because we’ve made a point of watching.
(On that last point: Really, GOP? You scheduled tonight’s debate against the World Series? Are you actually hoping for rock-bottom viewership? Jack won’t be watching this debate, that’s for sure.)
I know it’s hard. I know sometimes when these politicians talk, regardless of party, you want to bang their heads together, or exile them all to Mars, or at least ban every sight, every mention of them in your home. The whole thing is just so unpleasant in so many ways.
But it’s important. There’s an election coming up about the future of our country, our world. And if you’re a parent of a teen or a tween, you’ve got future voters in your home who will be taking their cues from you regarding how much importance they should place on their vote and how much attention they should pay to elections and the world in which they live. Let them know that this stuff matters.
Maybe we can even change something in the process. (We can hope, right?)