By Duncan Young, CEO Of Envision
As a parent of three young girls and the CEO of an Experiential Learning Company, I cannot overstate the importance of getting our children engaged in the political process and doing it early. In the midst of this heated and sometimes contentious presidential campaign, it's not uncommon for adults and children alike to get caught up in the “noise” and miss the magnitude of the moment in time. What feels like a messy political process can lead to disengagement and our democracy relies on engaged citizens.
The good news is that parents can take several steps to get our kids actively engaged in a productive and dynamic dialog around a presidential election that will lead to the life-long skills and participation.
Talk about the issues...but let kids form their own opinions.
A presidential election is an incredible moment in time for many reasons, but notably for the dynamic discussion about a wide breadth of issues in which the candidates (and the country) must engage. Around the country, teachers will be using the election as a foundation to teach the election process and even critical thinking. Parents have the unique opportunity to take advantage of rich discourse to discuss real-world issues with your kids, be it at the dinner table, in the car, or in a more active way like volunteering, seeing a rally or even while doing homework.
You don't need to be an expert on an issue to discuss it with your kids. I know that as a parent of three, I personally sometimes fall into the trap of trying to transfer knowledge to my girls when I should be helping them build thinking and communication skills by just listening and actively soliciting their opinion.
For example, instead of taking 5 minutes to lay out the pros/cons and your viewpoint of intervention in Syria, just ask them an open-ended question about what they think, and answer their questions to fill in any knowledge gaps. And don't be afraid to say "I don't know"- a guided web search with your kid can be a great way to discover the answer and form educated opinions together.
Much of what's wrong with modern political dialog is that members of one political persuasion tend to "demonize" those of a different opinion. In today's political environment there must be a winner and loser, and those who tend to fall on a different part of the political spectrum are often seen not just as having a different opinion, but of being bad people. And let's face it- the media perpetuates this trend towards polarization.
Healthy, respectful conversations that result in people "agreeing to disagree" don't really make for great ratings. But the ability to co-exist is a critical component of leadership. As parents, we can help address polarization by encouraging our kids to focus on the issues, and not the person behind the issues – we probably all need to take a lesson here, it’s harder to do than say.
Enable kids with the power of listening.
Let's face it- at some age (usually around Tweenage) a message delivered by a parent is never going to be as impactful or as well received as a message delivered by a peer.
There are fortunately a growing number of opportunities for students to get a "youth oriented" information and opinion on the election.
Of course, most newspapers today, in print or on-line, include a kids section that highlight important information around key milestone moments. Social media is a powerful tool for students, candidates and news sources alike (but obviously, social media lacks some key guardrails). There are great organizations out there like Rock the Vote who are reaching kids with star power and many more who are actively speaking to your kids.
I’m proud to say that Envision's Chase the Race 2016 is also a reliable and safe source of information for teachers, parents and students. This year we are taking 12 student reporters out to cover six different milestone political events leading up to the November 2016 presidential election (2 reporters per event.) We have produced live web broadcasts from the Iowa Caucus, the Republican Debate in Houston, the Democratic Debate in Florida, and Super Tuesday with the archives of these student reports and interviews available for you and your kids at http://chasetherace2016.com. These videos offer an authentic youth point of view on the candidates, the experience, the energy, the importance of youth involvement as well as relevant election issues.
You can also register to get Chase the Race updates, be heard via polls and social engagement and follow along with future live broadcasts from the Republican and Democratic Conventions this summer.
Emphasize the importance and ability to be heard.
Kids need to know that their voice matters. If you are reading this note your child is likely not able to vote, but youth have an important perspective that needs to be heard amid the din of this year's political dialog.
Encourage your teens to seek information and engage on social media; encourage them to talk to their friends, their friends’ parents, their teachers about the elections and their future; remind them that in just a few short years their vote will count, and that now is the time to start understanding the issues, listening and forming opinions.
I am also a huge advocate of learning by experience. Give your kids opportunities to get involved- and you will forever reap the rewards. I have personally discovered, a call to the local county office of the Republican or Democratic party will yield plenty of opportunities for volunteering and participation.
One of the original principles on which our democracy was founded was the idea of having an informed, aware populace who can effectively bear the burden of democratically electing our leaders. Education is key to this, and we all play a critical role in this education.
The Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit
Envision is honored to host thousands of top students and next generation leaders in Washington DC for our 8th consecutive Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit This program is available only to Envision alumni and select partner organizations.
As an Envisionary (Envision Alumni) we are excited to offer you the unique opportunity to have your child join us in the nation's capital from January 18-22, 2017 to participate in a global forum. Our Summit Scholars will make their voices heard while also witnessing the history and pageantry of the swearing in ceremony on the National Mall. In addition to hearing from renowned speakers like Malala Yousafzai, General Stanley McChrystal, Abby Wambach, and Former Presidential Candidates Carly Fiorina and Governor Martin O’Malley, students will collaborate to author a position paper that will reflect the youth voice on key issues facing the new president and next generation leaders like your child.
In a political process as contentious as this one, there has never been a more important time for students to engage and make their voices heard.
I hope these tips are useful. Stay engaged!
Carpe Futurum! (Seize the Future),