Election Season is a Chance to Learn

by Kathy Lynn  Photo: PhotoXpress.com  

We are currently involved in a very long election campaign.There will be ads, billboards, news stories and debates. No matter where you go the conversation is likely to turn to politics.

And what, you wonder, has that to do with parenting? It matters because how we vote and who we elect can have a profound impact on our society and meeting the needs of children and families. Pay attention. What are your concerns? Who will best address them? Much as it sounds hokey, the truth is that every vote counts and every election helps determine the world we will live in and leave to our children and grandchildren.

You may choose to become informed so that you can vote intelligently. You may choose to get involved with the campaign of your preferred candidate. You may choose to work on election day.

Whatever your choice, let the kids know what is happening. Our children learn by watching us. When we get involved in the electoral process and let them see our involvement they grow up knowing that they have a civic duty to pay attention, to vote, to work on a campaign and possibly to eventually run for office.

Let’s say you decide to put some time in on a campaign. You’re going to deliver lawn signs to supporters. Your 12-year-old would be a perfect partner for the task. He can help you find addresses and will love placing the signs on the lawn.

On election day, make sure your children know that you are going to vote. If possible, bring them along to the polling place.

This is also a great time to open the conversation about your political beliefs. Kids today are aware of the some of the issues, even young children know about environmental concerns. They are certainly aware of possible education issues. And teens, who are worried about jobs and eventually buying a house, are concerned about the economy.

So, you have an entry to talk to your kids about election issues.

Show them the campaign brochures that come into the house. Talk about them. Help them learn how to distinguish fact from political spin. I’m not talking about turning every evening into a civics lecture, but a casual awareness and mention can lead to some meaningful conversation.

If your children are teens, be prepared for a political argument so be clear on your stand before you start this process. The average teen will love to take you on. After all, they take you on about everything else, why not politics? And if you are a strong supporter of one party, odds are your teen will argue vociferously for the opposition. Just listen, be respectful, state your point of view and don’t panic. A lot of this argument is simply for the sake of debate.

There is also a role for schools to play in teaching kids about elections, democracy, the workings of government, campaigning and voting. A non-partisan organization at studentvote.ca will offer teachers materials to use during the campaign. The program is in full swing and there are already more than 3,000 schools registered from across the country.

I recall during one election a mother at one of my presentations was beside herself. She and her husband had been longtime supporters of the NDP. Their children knew that and had watched them work for the party. And now, here was their outspoken 15-year-old sounding off about the Conservatives. Oh, he had facts and figures and the passion that only a committed teen can exhibit.

When I saw this mother the following week she was grinning. She told me that she had learned that her son had quietly been working for the NDP candidate. So all the talk was just that, talk.

Mind you, our kids will not always choose our political path. I bet not all of you vote as your parents did. Our job is to introduce our children to the path of democracy. Teach them to pay attention and vote, but vote intelligently.

Then when they are adults and making the decisions that will impact us when we’re seniors, we are certain they are making them responsibly.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author. For more information, visit her website: parentingtoday.ca.