By the time they reach 15, most kids are already well acquainted with the basic operation of a car. When it is time to actually learn to drive, they essentially take what they already know from observing their parents and put it into practice. We make sure our kids are ready to use their driver’s licenses as soon as they get them.
But what do we do to prepare them to use their voter registration card?
Registering to vote is as important a milestone as learning to drive. Too often, though, it seems we parents treat voting as a bridge to cross when we come to it. Normalizing voting for kids could actually be far less painful than teaching them to drive and can start earlier. In that spirit, here are five ways I’m raising enthusiastic and responsible voters:
1. I take them to the polls with me.
Polling places are generally family-friendly and depending on when you go, there may not even be a line. My children were each born during election years, and bringing them as babies with me when I cast my votes are memories I will always cherish. They don’t remember those first trips of course, but now that they are older, they are able to observe democracy in action and ask questions about the process. The “I Voted” sticker is a nice touch, too. What kid isn’t jazzed about a sticker?
2. I show them sample ballots.
Sample ballots are generally available online from the Oklahoma State Election Board two weeks before every election. My kids see all the campaign signs around town, but a sample ballot gives them a true sense of what offices and issues are at stake. (It’s also an easy guide for researching candidates). As they get older, I will be able to give more in-depth explanations, but for now, sometimes it’s okay to just let them have fun coloring in the boxes.
3. I tie current events to voting.
A lot of what happens in the news can be linked to voting. When the Teacher Walkout was happening, my husband and I talked with our daughter about why her teachers were going to the Capitol. We explained that because we voted for the lawmakers, we had the power to raise our concerns to them. If you are comfortable talking with your children about current events, news stories are excellent opportunities to explain how your vote affects certain issues.
4. I encourage critical thinking.
While my kids are usually not paying close attention to campaign ads or televised debates, I still have plenty of chances to teach them critical thinking. It is not uncommon for them to declare that they want a certain toy immediately after seeing a commercial for it. Many times I ask them why they really want it. Sometimes it leads to a conversation about how advertisements are designed to make us believe that we need things so we’ll buy them, but not necessarily tell us the whole truth. I even use their sibling squabbles to get them to explore their emotions, and get to the heart of why they are responding in a certain way. (When I have the patience for it, of course. If I’m too tired, shutting down an argument with “Stop fighting!” is the best I can do).
5. I’m excited about voting myself!
You know how excited your kids get about something when they see how excited you are? I try to let them hear me say things like “We get to vote today!” and see me snapping a selfie with my “I Voted” sticker. They may not fully understand how important it is now, but over time I hope the excitement will rub off. By priming my kids to look forward to voting, I believe they might just send off their voter registration applications with the same enthusiasm with which they pick up their driver’s licenses.