Kids seem more interested than usual in the upcoming presidential election. Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson told me that even her three- and five-year-olds know the names of both the candidates. This uptick in interest is great, because this historic election can be, as educators say, a prime “teachable” moment about citizenship and democracy for the next generation.
When Chriss Winston, my co-author, and I were researching our book How to Raise an American, adults told us that the one thing that made them most patriotic when they were children were when their parents took them with them to the polls. That encouraged us to start a campaign and develop a website to encourage all parents to take their kids to vote.
In many places, children through age 15 can go into the booth with a parent, and it is especially exciting to help pull the lever. Even if a child has to wait while a parent votes, they will better understand that voting is the most important privilege and responsibility of citizenship. I remember my aunt taking me to the polls in New York City when I was very young. I wasn’t allowed in the booth (though she tried to get me in, pointing out how very small I was). But I still remember that day.
Columnist E. J. Dionne remembers the first time he went to the polls: “It was a local election and the polling place was a garage. It seemed like a big party. Everybody greeted everybody very warmly. This election stuff seemed pretty good to a seven-year-old.” He has always taken his kids when he votes.
My friend Ken Tomlinson also recalls his dad taking him to the polls when he was very young. He told me:
My mother came from a highly political Republican family. Politics was the central focus of their lives. My father worked second shift at the local Burlington Mills factory. He loved hunting and baseball and was not particularly political, though as the year rolled on, I felt a sense of light-hearted tension as the election neared, because my Dad was threatening to vote for President Truman.
On election day, Dad said he was going to take his son to vote. We entered Oldtown precinct together, and he got a ballot and a pencil and carried me in his arms into the election both. He placed the pencil in my hand and whispered in my ear, “Son, we’re going to vote for Harry S. Truman.” Nine months later I was awakened in the middle of the night by family friends. Dad had been killed in an accident at the Mill. I have only a few memories of my father. But I can vividly recall that day at Old Town “precinct.”
Now that voting by mail is increasing, a child could watch while a parent or relative fills out a ballot. It is important to tell a child why you are voting for a certain candidate. After all, you are voting as much for that child’s future as for your own. If there are teenagers in the house, this might start a debate. But, hey, one is always disagreeing with teenagers anyway, and this is one argument that is certainly worth having.
There are plenty of other ways to get kids involved with the excitement and importance of this election. Ask them which candidates’ commercials they find most effective. Work with a get-out-the-vote group, and take them along. Have or take them to an election-night party. Sure, they may stay up late — we hope they will have to — but it is all part of the celebration of our freedom and a way to make democracy a family affair.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.