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How to Include Your Kids in the Voting Process This Year

Disposable masks with vote sticker on the front

Key Takeaways

  • Uncertainty and concern surrounding the pandemic, as well as an especially tense political climate have prompted increased engagement in the upcoming presidential election.
  • Your kids are likely asking more questions than usual, and it's important to be honest about what's going on.
  • Encouraging open conversations and civic engagement will help them feel more included in this year's voting process.

Every presidential election cycle brings a new level of energy around civic engagement, but this year's voter participation could be greater than anything we've experienced in a long time.

The increased emphasis on the importance of voting comes on the heels of an especially fraught political climate paired with the ongoing challenges of a global pandemic. Because so much is at stake, many people have been emboldened by a newfound desire to engage in community-based advocacy, donate to campaigns, and be active in the polls.

With all of this enthusiasm, it's no surprise people are choosing to include their children in the process more so than in previous elections. Kids want to know what all the hype is about, and why voting seems to be a hot topic at so many dinner conversations. Due to the unprecedented complexity of this year's election, it's important for kids to understand how the pandemic is influencing normal voting procedures.

Practice Transparency

Many parents have made a ritual out of bringing their kids along to vote with them in past elections, but the added complexities of this election cycle has lead to more questions than usual.

Divya K. Chhabra, MD

Children are not immune to a turbulent political climate and they are likely hearing tidbits of what the adults and children around them are saying. Ask your child what they know and think so far as a starting point, so you know where they are at and can dispel confusion.

— Divya K. Chhabra, MD

For those that are familiar with the long lines that often form at the polls, it's clear that civic engagement, especially during a presidential election year, and social distancing during a pandemic do not mesh well.

This has interrupted regular voting activities for many. Kids might be wondering why people aren't voting all in one day like they normally do, and it's important to be transparent about what's going on, and reassure them that there is more than one viable option for casting your vote and having it count.

Explain Changes to Voting Procedures

Still, some people may choose to bring their kids along with them to vote in person, so it's critical that parents and caregivers reiterate the importance of following public safety protocols.

Guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will help ensure that voters, poll workers, and election officials stay safe at the polls. These measures, which include wearing a mask, social distancing, and sanitization protocol, will help prevent the spread of coronavirus while still allowing constituents to come out to vote on election day.

In the days leading up to the election, early voting is another option since social distancing will increase waiting times on election day and also allow at-risk people to still cast their ballots. Just be sure to find out when your state's early voting period expires—both in person and by mail. And because voting is often a family affair, these options have been crucial in reducing the number of people in one location at a time.

Encourage Independent Investigation

Parents should also encourage their children to engage in civil activities that foster critical thinking and the formation of their own political views, instead of telling kids to follow exactly what their parents believe.

“It’s paramount to teach a child how to do their own research in order to learn how to construct their own opinions," says Divya K. Chhabra, MD, a child psychiatrist in New York. "One strategy in doing this is to allow your child to guide their civic engagement journey. For instance, there are many issues being discussed—healthcare, education, immigration, foreign relations, to name a few."

Chhabra continues, "Meet them where they're at and where they show genuine interest. Use a topic they're curious about as a starting point for exploration. This way, you are not going into the discussion with your own goal in mind, but rather, your child's.”

Communicate Social Media Pitfalls

Another concern for many parents who want to engage their kids in the voting process is the subjective echo chamber of social media or the often biased prime time news cycle. It is no secret that search results are based on not only your previous search history but also your location, making the simple act of basic research laden with bias as well.

Divya K. Chhabra, MD

Although children can't vote, they can still participate in advocacy. They can make art about voting, listen to you phone bank, do a presentation in school about voting, or practice debating themselves. Get creative!

— Divya K. Chhabra, MD

This information makes it even more important to equip your kids with not only different mediums of education but also self-efficacy and proper discernment. “This can be complicated in a world that is structured in biased power dynamics," says Chhabra. "This is why it's important that civic engagement involves developing perspective-taking skills. Rather than presenting your opinion to your child, have them look at a problem from 'different shoes' or read a news article on the same topic written by different news sources so that they use various perspectives to come to a conclusion.”

How You Can Start Slow With Your Kids

Initiating conversations with your children regarding this year's election is a great place to start. “I think it is always a good choice to start early. Children are not immune to a turbulent political climate and they are likely hearing tidbits of what the adults and children around them are saying," says Chhabra. "Ask your child what they know and think so far as a starting point, so you know where they are at and can dispel confusion. If they ask you a question, you can discuss it with them, and also provide them age-appropriate resources to learn more about the issue.” 

Once you and your family have discussed and identified the issues that resonate with you, looking into different community efforts is the way to go, either in-person or virtually. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum and the time you have available to get involved, there is something for you and your family to tap into.

In closing, Chhabra reminds us, “Although children can't vote, they can still participate in advocacy. They can make art about voting, listen to you phone bank, do a presentation in school about voting, or practice debating themselves. Get creative!”

What This Means For You

Regardless of the age of your children, there are many opportunities to get them involved in civic engagement. While COVID-19 and safety precautions are a currently a concern for many, you can feel confident in knowing that your children has opportunities to learn more about the world around them, whether or not you choose to bring them to the polls.

If buying masks for the whole family and inviting them to tag along is the way you'd like to proceed, many polling places are adhering to social distancing guidelines so you can feel safe out in public.

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Article Sources
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  1. Berman R. The Atlantic. The November Surprise. October 7, 2020.

  2. Sprunt B. NPR. 66 Million And Counting: Americans Are Breaking Early Voting Records. October 26, 2020.

  3. Gearhart S, Moe A, Zhang B. Hostile media bias on social media: Testing the effect of user comments on perceptions of news bias and credibilityHum Behav & Emerg Tech. 2020;2:140-148. doi:10.1002/hbe2.185