Teens Engaged by the Presidential Election

Mary, the “mom”

My thirteen-year-old daughter recently observed that she and her friends are much more aware of the current presidential election than she remembered being four years ago. She follows the news and the polls and watched the debate. She wondered whether this increased level of interest was just because they were older (although her sister who is four years younger is pretty aware), or perhaps a result of a Social Studies teacher they all had in seventh grade who really brought politics to life. While I’m sure both of those points are relevant, I think this election has everyone a bit more engaged than in recent years.

First, there’s the historic composition of the tickets – the first African American man to be the presidential nominee of a major party the first woman to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee. As many have pointed out, whichever party wins, this election makes history. Second, I think, is the theme of “Change”. This is a concept teens can really relate to. Finally, I think it’s the way the internet has changed how the candidates interact with the public. The campaigns both have Facebook and MySpace pages and appear regularly on YouTube, a surefire way to reach young audiences.

I think it’s wonderful that these young teens are following the election and educating themselves about the issues. My daughter won’t be quite old enough to vote in the next presidential election, but if she stays this engaged, by the time she is old enough to vote, she should be quite an educated voter.

So, Rach, are you into this election? “Dad”, are your daughters following it closely? What about the rest of you, do you find your kids more engaged in the political process than in the past?

Rach, the “teen”

I’m pretty invested in this election. I credit this to the fact that I am old enough to vote. I voted in the primaries, and I plan to vote in the presidential election. The last election, the one in ‘04 (when I was 13), had little effect on me. I had no real feelings about the whole thing. It seemed silly that young teens would be so invested in something that essentially had no effect on them at all.

The thing is, when I was thirteen, I was forming strong opinions on things that didn’t seem political to me at the time. I thought politics was all economy and oil prices and attacks on our country. I think being politically involved as a young teen is awesome, as long as your political opinions and views are your own. And not a mirror of what your parents, or what your society says.

Anyway, now that I can vote, I am much more interested, because I’m realizing that this really effects me. My health, my education, and my human rights are all on the line. And that’s a scary thought, knowing that I am in charge of me, and my voice won’t be heard unless I stay active in politics.

Brad, the “dad”

As a long-time political junkie (my own father was actually a local politician when I was in my teens), I’m actually a bit disappointed: neither the Valkyrie at 17 or the Elf at 14 are particularly interested in THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. I suspect it’s a bit of typical parental backlash: Dad and Mom are SO into it, the girls are already bored by it before it begins. This is further enhanced — or dis-enhanced — by some bad birth-luck: The Valkyrie turns 18 literally the day after the election, so she can’t vote, and — particularly with so much else going on during her first month in college — she just can’t get herself interested.

The funny thing is, they’ve both made up their minds — they made them up a long time ago. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the importance of the election (though the Elf has told me that if I say, “Hey! You’re witnessing history here, damn it!” one more time, she will kick me in the shins.); it’s just that — among their peers, anyway — it’s virtually a foregone conclusion, and entirely non-historic. Mixed-race candidate? They have friends that look like Obama. Women running on the ticket? Mom may be bursting with pride, but their reaction is basically, “Well, duh, what did you expect?”

I find this oddly encouraging. What seems too revolutionary to old fogies like me is just business-as-usual to them. Of course, there will be African Americans in high office (Los Angeles has a Latino mayor, after all, as the Valk pointed out to me recently, so what is the big deal?). And of course, there will be women in the White House sooner rather than later. And the fact that they see it as more than just inevitable — as what already is – actually gives me hope for the future.

Maybe this tale is already told. Maybe the ‘change’ we’re all so eager for, regardless of your party affiliation, has, in fact, already happened in the hearts and minds of our children…and we just haven’t noticed yet.

Now that’s the kind of change I can believe in.