As we approach Election Day, weighing which candidate to support can consume our thoughts. What we as parents also should be thinking about is how to encourage our children to be involved in the election process, even though it may be years before they can cast their own ballot. But before we begin to teach our kids about voting, we should understand voting’s importance in our own lives.

“Voting matters because it’s a way to empower yourself,” says Rachel Willis, executive director of Kids Voting USA. “The government affects our daily lives, and we each need to have a voice in that and to participate in that to some degree. The easiest way to do that is to vote.”

James Muffett, president of Citizens for Traditional Values, agrees. “In America, we have this incredible opportunity to actually have a say in who the people are who are making these decisions that affect our lives.”

Deborah Patterson, a mother of four grown children who volunteers at her local elections board in Fairfax Station, Va., points out that the Bible supports the view that voting matters. “Proverbs 29:2 of how most citizens suffer when the wicked rule, but all flourish when the righteous rule. The Christian, as a result of his fellowship with God, is compelled to work for just and righteous civil government, and voting is part of that,” she says.

Patterson and Muffett both view voting as a kind of stewardship all Christians are called to do. “Our election process is not a vehicle to advance God’s kingdom,” says Muffett. “Be informed about the candidates and the issues, go to the polls and vote. Your candidate may not win, but you’ve done your best to be a good steward in that area.”

On the Good Ship Citizen

The foundation to voting is being a good citizen. By helping our children understand citizenship, we can start them on the path to being involved citizens when they grow up. Citizenship can be divided into two categories: privileges and responsibilities. Privileges include things like schools, police and fire protection, roads, utilities and the courts, which are all part of our governmental system. Responsibilities include honoring elected officials, paying taxes, obeying laws and voting.

“Voting falls into both categories,” says Muffett. “It’s one of the greatest privileges in the history of the world to have a say in who is making decisions on our behalf. It’s an obligation because when you are excluded from the conversation by not voting, you are ceding the ground to someone else who may or may not share your views.”

In addition, a good citizen respects authority and recognizes that God has instituted government for our good. “This echoes what the Apostle Paul points out in Romans 13:1-7,” says Patterson. 

Too Young to Vote

By instilling in our children respect for legitimate authority, which starts in the home and radiates out from there, we as parents are laying the foundation for good citizenship. But there are other ways we can teach them about voting that will help ensure they will exercise that right when they reach 18.

Bring voting into family life. “It can be as simple as taking a vote on what to have for dinner,” says Willis. “You make these connections for them, so they can recognize what is a democratic process.”

Read history. Learn about people such as William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr. who led lives dedicated to using—or changing—the political system for good. “These men and women had a passion, and the victories they won can introduce children to the whole subject matter,” says Muffett. 

Biographies help kids “recognize and give thanks for God’s gracious providence in bringing into the existence and preserving the United States, as well as the tremendous sacrifices of the heroes who fought to defend our liberties over the years,” adds Patterson.

Talk about the candidates and issues. Get a sample ballot and discuss those running for office with your kids. With older teens, delve more deeply into the issues and ask their opinions on who’s running. “I encourage parents to watch political debates with teens,” says Muffett. “A lot of kids don’t ever get engaged by adults about politics.”

Go campaigning. Older teens can assist political campaigns by handing out literature, manning phones and knocking on doors. “It helps engage them in a whole different world they didn’t know existed,” says Muffett.

Participate in elections. Many schools have elections for student body government, and many also hold mock elections. “Any sort of election-related activity shows them that this is a democratic process and how it works,” says Willis. 

Register to vote. For teens eligible to vote, parents can help them fill out voter registration cards. For those going off to college, walk the student through the process to vote absentee. 

Take them to the polls. Children often find the voting process fascinating. Let them look over your shoulder as you cast your ballot. Nothing beats that first-hand experience.

Lead by example. Of course, all this would be meaningless if we as parents ignore the election process. Make an effort to vote in all elections you can—from local to state to federal. Get involved in the political process where you can, by either volunteering for campaigns or educating yourself about the candidates and issues.

Voting Counts

By engaging kids of all ages in the election process, we are helping to shape the next generation of voters. “Elections are the vehicle through which we are able to influence the laws and policies enacted by our government,” reminds Patterson. 

Above all, don’t let any apathy to voting creep into your home. While we’re sometimes convinced that one vote doesn’t make a difference, there are plenty of real-world examples that show us differently. “Whenever you are tempted to think that your one vote doesn’t count, think of some of the very close elections over the course of history that have had momentous outcomes,” says Patterson.

Muffett recounts one such a story. A friend running for the Michigan state House of Representatives lost by one vote—the result of several of the candidate’s relatives not voting. “One raindrop doesn’t matter until you feel all the raindrops together,” he says. “If you don’t participate, you have no chance to make a difference.”

That’s something we need to instill in our children from the beginning—that because we live in America, we have a chance to make a difference every time we go to the polls.

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children, who love to accompany her to the polls. Visit her at www.sarahhamaker.com.

Publication date: October 30, 2012