Encouraging Civic Engagement in Our Kids

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My parents were very private about their political opinions when I was growing up with my siblings, and with that privacy came a gaping hole in political discussion. In fact, whenever someone started talking about presidential candidates during an election year, my dad pretty quickly shut the conversation down. This did not lead me to acquire many tools for talking about, let alone forming and asserting my own political opinions as I came of voting age myself.

The vast majority of San Antonians seem to be avoiding conversation around politics, too. We are currently undergoing a mayoral runoff election. Did you know that? An incredible 87% of registered voters in San Antonio did NOT vote in the May 4th municipal election. And we only have 783,066 registered voters in San Antonio city limits. We have a population of approximately 1.5 million. Read more about the recent election at Texas Public Radio.

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We tell our kids (and ourselves) things like, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and “Every voice matters,” but I’m a strong believer that we need to practice what we preach, too. If talking about politics is new to your family, here are some things you can do to encourage your kids to become civically minded citizens.

Discuss current events.

The easiest entry to discussing politics is talking about the news. I don’t mean sitting down and binge-watching CNN or exposing your children to only negative stories about our world.Instead, turn on the radio from time to time, or have the newspaper delivered to your house. I subscribe to the Sunday paper, and my kids see me reading the news and are naturally curious about what’s going on in our world. Coupled with listening to NPR, this leads to them asking questions and having family discussions about the world around us.

Inform yourself.

If politics, local or national, intimidate you, let alone knowing how to discuss them with your kids, then find resources to help empower yourself with knowledge. There are a number of nonpartisan resources where you can learn more about local and national candidates, where and how to vote, and any other questions you might have. Some of those resources include:

Get involved with local organizations.

Does your family have a shared passion like dogs, the arts, or the LGBTQ community? Find a local organization aligned with your interests and get behind them. Volunteer, go to their events, engage with them online. Getting involved in your community is a great way to translate conversations into actions (i.e., show versus tell) that teach your kids how to become civically engaged citizens. SA2020 is a great resource for researching organizations your family can get involved with.

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Take your kids to the polls with you.

I admittedly waited until the last minute to cast my vote in the initial municipal election on May 8th. I also had a bajillion other things to do with my kids that day, including a five-hour, one-on-one birthday date with my son. But I insisted on taking my son with me to the polls before we ventured off on our Saturday afternoon. He whined and complained that it would take too long, but I dragged him along anyway. And you know what? There was no line, and I was in and out in about three minutes. And I got to show my son that voting was a priority for me.

Taking our kids to the polls with us, involving them in discussions about politics and the world around us, and informing ourselves are all simple yet effective ways we can both demonstrate and encourage our kids to be engaged citizens as they grow up. Here’s to planting the seeds for the next generation of Americans who know the value of speaking up and using their voice for good.