Raising Politically Engaged Kids
Posted February 12th, 2008 by Mitali Perkins
By the time the next President is in the third year of his or her term, my teenagers will be eligible for the draft. Believe me, we're watching the candidates' closely when it comes to their views on war -- and arguing about them. If your family's anything like ours, you're probably talking campaign, election, and issues around the dinner table, too.
It can be challenging to discuss politics across generations without someone melting down (usually you) or tuning out (usually them). Here are six tips for parents as we try and inspire our young adults to a lifetime of activism.
Tips 1-5: Habits For Good Conversations
Be teachable. A conversation isn't about one person sharing knowledge and information with another. That's better known as a lecture (or so I've been told). Listen to teens, allowing them and others to inform your opinions.
Be honorable. It's okay to take issue with a candidate's positions, but disparaging his or her character is a definite turnoff to teens and twenty-somethings. To everyone, in fact.
Be flexible. Your candidate isn't Jesus. Teens appreciate hearing how we disagree with the person we support. Give them the grace to do the same, and don't take differing opinions personally. Endorsing your candidate's opponent doesn't mean a young person is repudiating your authority. Although it might.
Be controversial. Surprise and provoke them once in a while by saying something radical, starting with "I totally disagree with _____" or "I 100% agree that ____."
Be passionate. Caring deeply about an election is contagious. Young people who watch us thinking deeply and talking freely about our opinions will be more likely to do the same. And they'll be more likely to vote now and in the future if they remember us faithfully trekking to the ballot box during primaries and elections.
Tip 6: Stories For Great Transformations
Last but not least, be literate. Why not inspire your teen to activism through the power of story? Through Readergirlz, our 5000-member on-line forum at MySpace and Facebook, we're seeing teens make the connection between great stories and world-changing action. As Woodrow Wilson used to say, the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
For readers, suggest a novel about politics, like Ellen Emerson White's riveting books about a girl whose mother becomes President, and First Boy by Newbery Honor author Gary Schmidt. Or visit sparrowblog.com, where the main character of my novels, fictional First Daughter Sparrow Righton, is blogging about the real First Kid wannabes. Elizabeth Edwards and Josh Romney have both left notes for Sparrow - why don't you try it, too? Sparrow always answers back.
If stories about life in the political limelight don't interest your teen, offer one about an issue that might speak to his or her heart. Try Patricia McCormack's Sold, for example, which personalizes the plight of human trafficking. Then call or email the candidates' campaign teams to find out whether he or she has taken a stand on that particular issue. To start, check out Hilary Clinton's views about trafficking here, written when she was First Lady.
If your son or daughter cares about AIDS or poverty, consider Ana's Story by Jenna Bush, and visit the ONE site to see what the candidates have to say about global want. If he or she is concerned about terrorism, read Paula Jolin's In the Name of God, a novel about a Syrian girl who considers becoming a suicide bomber. Then google news sites together to discover what the candidates have said about terrorism and about Islam.
Not all great stories come to us via the pages of a book, and you may not have a teen who likes to read. Politically-oriented films abound for family movie nights, ranging from funny to classic, or featuring a President as the central character. If your teen's curious about life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, here's a list of stories about the White House made for both the big and small screens .
If our dream is to raise lifelong activists, we can use this election to jumpstart healthy conversations at home. We can connect our children to great stories that change minds, hearts, and lives. And of course, last but not least, we have to remember the age-old practice of parental modeling and head out to vote in every election, rain or shine.
Mitali Perkins (http://www.mitaliperkins.com) studied Political Science at Stanford University and Public Policy at UC Berkeley. She's a Readergirlz diva and the author of two novels about a candidate's daughter, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). Her main character, Sameera Righton, described by Publishers Weekly as "an intelligent, witty and prepossessed heroine," is keeping track of the hype around the REAL First Kid wannabes at www.sparrowblog.com. To learn more about the novels, visit firstdaughterbooks.com.