Despite plenty of talk about trickle-down economics, we’ve paid little attention to trickle-down civics. Yet children whose parents are involved in their communities, through activities like voting and volunteering, are more likely to become active and engaged citizens. And those who get involved as youth are most likely to stay involved as adults, according to Arizona Town Hall, which gathered business, education and community leaders in April for a three-day summit on civic engagement.
If parents vote regularly, their children are far more likely to vote when they become adults, according to Kids Voting Arizona. The nonprofit, nonpartison civic education organization recommends taking your kids along when you vote, sharing what you believe in and promoting family conversation about making a difference in your community. Consider additional ways, inspired by the Kids Voting Arizona Family Guide, to make democracy a family affair:
Choose an issue. Pick an issue that directly impacts your child and track media reports of what various candidates say on the subject so you can discuss how different candidates approach it.
Take a stroll. Walk through your own and other neighborhoods looking for campaign signs. See how many campaigns can you identify, and note the different visual elements candidates use to represent their values.
Monitor advertising. Ask your kids what messages different ads convey, and talk with them about the effectiveness of various advertising media (print, TV, radio, social) and approaches (humorous, fearful, historical, anecdotal, etc.).
Explore family history. Have your kids talk with other family members about their early and most memorable voting experiences. Ask older family members whether they ever considered running for public office and the reason for their choice.
Connect with candidates. Encourage your school-age child to write letters or emails to candidates. Take them to meet candidates at family-friendly events or to volunteer with you at a campaign office.
“It’s not just about the election,” reflects Lara Slifko, chief resource officer for Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education, which administers the Kids Voting Arizona program. “There’s so much you can do year-round to be engaged and participate in the process.”
Young children can enjoy shared explorations of civics-related topics through books that feature historical figures who made a difference in their communities or stories with characters who embody skills needed for positive civic engagement, such as listening and problem-solving.
Taking your children to events that draw diverse community members teaches them to value neighbors and community, so keep an eye on calendars for your local libraries, museums and community centers. Also offer to help your child’s teacher plan field trips with a civics vibe.
The Arizona Capitol Museum features four floors of exhibits exploring Arizona history and government. Many exhibits, including one explaining how a bill becomes a law, are child-friendly, hands-on and interactive. The museum includes rooms that replicate an early Governor’s office, Secretary of State office and House of Representatives gallery.
While at the Capitol, check out the executive tower and buildings for the Arizona Senate and Arizona House of Representatives. Call ahead if you’d like to arrange a tour or borrow a traveling exhibit for your school, library or civic group. One of the museum’s traveling exhibits features a “Vote Arizona” theme.
Encourage older children to tag along when you volunteer with organizations devoted to your favorite causes, and suggest that teens find volunteer opportunities to match their unique interests and goals. Explain that being involved is about making a difference, not padding a college application or resume.
Above all, model appropriate behavior to your kids. Show respect for those who hold opinions different than your own. Talk about serving in political office as a public service. Fight the urge to yell when pundits get fired up on TV or talk radio. And vote in every single election. Remember the power of trickle-down civics.