Getting kids to care about politics

Published Nov 3, 2012 at 05:00AM

A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old son lamented that his parents were watching yet another presidential debate on TV.

“But it's boring,” he whined.

And, apparently the two-hour debate was interfering with the outside chance that he'd be able to watch a cartoon starring obnoxiously cheeky animals or teenage vampires or some such.

I guess for a 10-year-old, annoying animated creatures trump important political discussions.

But I tried to interest him in the debates anyway.

“It's important,” I said. “This debate will help determine who's going to be president.”

He shrugged.

“The President of the United States,” I continued. “It's a big job. It's an important election.”

No response.

I tried a different tactic.

“You know, the future of public education could change depending on who is elected president,” I argued, going after something that could affect him. “Do you want to know what Obama and Romney think about education?”

“What's for dinner?” he replied.

So went my attempt to get kids interested in politics, governance and the electoral process.

Maybe it's too much to expect a 10-year-old to be interested in such things. But it's important to me to raise kids with an understanding of their role in the democratic process, and a desire to be a part of it.

Oregon's League of Women Voters thinks it's important, too. That's why it promotes a mock election each year among Oregon elementary, middle and high school students, letting the students learn about civics and cast ballots in national and state races.

Ultimately, the opinion of a bunch of high schoolers on the legalization of marijuana, the U.S. presidential race or the office of Oregon's Secretary of State doesn't matter. But in a few years, their opinions will matter. So any effort to teach kids now what their vote will stand for later has value.

My kids would probably rather vote on what will be on next week's school lunch menu.

But maybe their interest is piquing.

Last week, for example, they asked me who I was voting for: Jason Conger or Tim Knopp? They aren't running against each other, I explained — they are candidates in different races. (Conger is running for Oregon State Representative, House District 54; Knopp is running for the State Senate, District 27). Turns out, they'd seen campaign signs in a relative's yard, and had enough of a conversation with said relative to know how to pronounce Knopp's last name, even if they got the other details wrong.

Then, this week, Harry, my 10-year-old, had a homework project that entailed writing summaries of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney's positions on health care, education, the war, the environment and the economy.

He seemed genuinely interested in the project. I tried to provide guidance without providing ideology, but Harry seemed inclined to have his own opinions anyway.

Does this mean there's an interest in politics in his future? Is there a burgeoning civic duty rising in his blood?

Perhaps. And I'll do my best to feed it.

This weekend, my husband and I will perform our biannual ritual of sharpening our pencils, sitting down at the kitchen table with our ballots, and casting our votes. I hope our kids will want to watch. I hope they ask questions. I hope they become as excited about elections as I am.

Mostly, I hope they grow up to be voters.

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