Election Day was already a week ago, but it’s always a good time to think about engaging with children and students about their civic duty. Research shows that voting is as much a habit as it is a privilege or a responsibility. Eligible voters who vote in their first three elections are more likely to remain lifelong voters, according to the New York Times.
The United States is an advanced democracy, and one in which parents have a major influence in forming their children’s voting habits. Partisan leanings aside, the act of going to polling stations with our parents on election day itself (or sending in ballots beforehand) is something that positively influences us as citizens. As an example, Dr. Perri Klass, the author of the New York Times article, said, “In fact, if you look at the American Academy of Pediatrics website for parental advice, you will be told, ‘Children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.’” Voting routines are not necessarily the same thing as annual physical exams or making daily healthy decisions to eat right and getting exercise, but they are a building block for children to make empowering, healthy decisions that will last them a lifetime.
Although American citizens may not be old enough to vote until they are 18 years old, children can still observe how adults in their lives approach national and local elections from a young age. One good way to teach children about voting at elementary schools where they are often doubled as polling stations every four years. In some of these elementary schools, young children can accompany their parents in these polling booths. Dr. Klass wrote that civic engagement as part of a family’s daily life - talking about politics at dinner or actively participating in student government - cements habits that stay with students as they grow up and become eligible for elections as young adults.
Our most recent election exposed many fault lines in the country, and has been one of the more divisive ones in recent memory. Yet the health of the voting public depends on voters who will return to the polls to vote about the issues that they care about the most, and to pass this behavior to their children. Parents may have mixed feelings about exposing their children to politics at a young age, but there is no denying that parents have a major influence in their children’s future by teaching them to voice their beliefs on the ballots at a young age.