I've a confession to make: I'm not the helicopter kind of parent. I believe that if you don't fall, you don't learn to walk properly, never mind running, dancing and skiing. I'm the kind of mom who, when one of my children bangs their head against the table, would rush over and go, "Poor table! I hope it didn't get a dent." Everybody laughs, and the child with the banged head forgets to cry.
Similarly, I don't hound them about their homework, other than checking that it's done before, say, letting them hang out with a friend after school. But I stick by the bedtime routine, forgotten homework or not. They only miss handing in homework a few times before they learn.
However, I will hound them about this one thing: I will do what I can to get them to that voting booth come election day. Because voting is not a privilege: it is a civic duty. Besides, it's the smart thing to do.
In all US states, under the "Motor Voter" Act, you can register to vote as you get your driver's license (or get it renewed). So when your teen passes the driver's test and acquires that wallet card, they actually have to do something extra in order to NOT register to vote.
Until, that is, they go to college out of state.
Between leaving home, missing high school friends, learning to find your way around campus, having to feed yourself (or at least remember to show up at the cafeteria while it's open) - and oh, by the way, studying - it's not surprising that voting tends to fall in the cracks.
This is where parents come in. Never mind texting them to remind them of an upcoming test / interview / ball game. If you do nothing else, remind them to vote. And remind them. Until they do. Because as they say, "Bad politicans are elected by good people who don't vote."
The good news: it's fairly easy to vote even if you're away from your parents' residence. Some states allow students to declare their residence at the university campus. And many states allow voting by proxy or by absentee ballot. For the latter options, all you have to do is plan ahead a month or two.
So here's what you do: Firstly, if you are one of a growing minority who has decided not to get a driver's license (good for you!), you can register online, for instance at rockthevote.com.
Next, check longdistancevoter.org (where you can check your voter status) and find the rules for absentee voting for your state.
Then follow the instructions to arrange for proxy voting or voting by mail.
This is actually the easy part. The harder portion of this deal is that everybody needs to vote intelligently. The Founding Fathers did not give the vote to women. You can call that discrimination and misogyny, but one could also argue that it was a prudent policy back in those days, when so many women were illiterate - and certainly most didn't read the newspapers. It's hard to see how you can cast an informed vote under those circumstances.
Now all adults have the vote, and most everybody can read. But you still have to be reading the news to know what's going on in the place where you vote. I mean, reading the Onion or watching the Daily Show is fun but doesn't really count.
So make a point of talking politics with your children. Bring up current events, casually (pushing too hard will turn off most teens, anyway). Schools offer US History in 8th or 9th grade: it is not too early to start talking about the workings of democracy, even way before they reach voting age. Because democracy is a marvelous thing, and we need to nurture it, especially among the young.
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