Engaging Young People In the Political Process
By Jessica Fehrenbacher
Our country is in transition. Everywhere we look these days, people are talking about the future of the United States and the new leadership that will soon vote into office. Now is the time to talk with young people about politics! We need to equip them with skills to maneuver through the political system as they progress through life.
How can we help young people navigate the political process? First, know your audience. Elementary school children are just learning about the political system in the United States. Parents and teachers should encourage an open dialogue with them about how our system works. Explain the breakdown of the federal government. Have discussions about the President, Vice President, Congress, Senators, Representatives, and the Supreme Court. Pull out a map of the United States. Talk about their state, how state government works, governors, and differences between state governments. Discuss the county they live in, how county government works, mayors, and elected county/city offices. Explain political parties (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green, etc.). By laying a strong foundation of knowledge about government structure and procedures, young people can then transition into more in-depth discussions and thought processes.
As young people transition into middle and high school, discussions should be encouraged. The educational environment can be an amazing place for these types of discussions. However, these discussions should have ground rules to make them positive learning experiences. The rules should include being respectful of another’s viewpoint, listening to each side of an issue, and no name calling, threats, or bullying. Young people will be exposed to the negative side of politics sooner rather than later. History and Government classes are a perfect place for these discussions, as well as club environments.
In July, the Republican National Convention will take place in Cleveland, Ohio. Likewise, the Democratic National Convention will also be held in July in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We will soon have the Republican and Democrat choices for President. From that point, the country will be moving full speed ahead until the November election.
Our young people will be exposed to viewpoints from various news sources. Help young people gather information and ideas from TV, newspapers, blogs, radio and social media. Then, encourage them to follow up and research. Political ads are a perfect example to use in a discussion of facts and how each party can distort a person, event, or detail. The best way we can prepare young people is to help them develop critical thinking and research skills and then align them with their value system. The results will be young people that are informed voters who want the best for their country.
Jessica Fehrenbacher is the Make A Difference Grants Program Manager at Youth Resources.