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Passions run high around this year’s presidential election, on both sides. And not just among adults, but among kids.
Kids, even little ones, hear what’s going on in the news. At school, their friends will often repeat what they hear from their parents. Many understand the election will have an effect on them. And they have their own thoughts and feelings about all of it.
But hardly any school-age kids are old enough to vote.
So how can parents start good conversations with their kids about how they can contribute to the election, even without casting a ballot?
Kids of all ages, says Eileen Hunt Botting, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Notre Dame, can start with a simple step: “talk to other people about it!”
For Elementary age kids, Botting says, parents can start by encouraging their kids to ask adults questions: “Why do you vote? What do you vote for? What are the best qualities of a candidate for president?” Questions like these, Botting points out, encourage people to “think hard about what they believe in. They will have to give reasons for their voting and choices and other political actions.” And by asking people to express their thoughts about the election, Botting says, even young kids can have an influence on it.
Middle school kids, says Botting, can get down to the brass tacks of our basic government: “read the U.S. Constitution and debate its ideas with their teachers, family, and fellow students.” The Constitution, Botting points out, is short and readable, and contains the seeds of all our contemporary political institutions, including the presidency and the electoral college. And by engaging with it, students can “inspire others to attain the same knowledge.”
With high school students, Botting says, “the sky’s the limit! Teen power to influence other people through social media is vast, beyond anything that young adults of the past ever had.” Kids have probably always had an impact on their parents’ political views, Botting says. “But today’s teens can impact not only parents but also adults, including strangers, through public dialogue and debate via the Internet.”
And if kids are wondering if any kid ever really affected history, Botting points to Joan of Arc. She led the French in battle against the British in 1429, which had a profound effect on the history of both countries. And she did it all when she was about seventeen – still not old enough to vote.—by Carey Wallace