Tim Kalgreen became interesting in voting by going to the election polls with his parents. “They were open and honest about the issues, giving their opinion but helping me and my brothers recognize that there were valid points of view,” he says. Now the director of civic education for the Indiana Bar Association, Kalgreen uses his love for history, civics and government to do what his parents initially encouraged him to do: to be a participating citizen in the civic process.
Parents Should Model Good Civic Behavior
Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed citizenry was a requirement for democracy. But current voting data shows that only 53% of the U.S. voting population cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm election, even though it was the highest midterm turnout in 40 years.
When should parents start teaching these responsibilities? “Good civic behavior is an everyday, year-round thing,” Kalgreen says. “It has to be taught and instilled in each generation to preserve it for the future.”
According to a Tufts University survey, young people who recalled high-quality civics education experiences were more likely to vote, form political opinions, know campaign issues and know general facts about the U.S. political system. While most children are more likely to learn this behavior from their parents, only 40.3% of 10 million youth ages 18-29 voted in the 2018 midterm elections.
Why do young people not vote? One reason is that their parents never taught them to vote. Kalgreen learned the value of voting from his parents taking him to the polls. Because he had these experiences, he was more likely to vote at age 18. Why? Because voting is considered a habitual act, an act that is often formed early on for kids and modeled by their parents. So, parents are a significant factor in whether kids vote.
Another reason young people don’t vote is that navigating the system is so confusing. Voting can be complicated, which is not surprising because voting requirements differ from state to state and have become, in recent years, more restrictive.
To make things less confusing, parents and teens can access the League of Women Voters website, the county election board or the Secretary of State’s website for accurate voting information. When in college, parents should find out the requirements for absentee voting so their kids can still vote.
Don’t Rely on Schools to Teach Civics
Right now, only nine states require a full year of civics education, whereas ten states don’t require it at all. Even then, 31 states, including Indiana, require a mere semester of learning. Indiana now requires high school seniors to pass the U.S. Naturalization Test before they can graduate. No longer can parents rely on schools alone to teach civics. What can parents do to teach civics?
First, they can involve their kids in the election process by taking them to the polls and talking about election candidates and issues. They can talk to their kids about local, state or national issues, being sure to share what they’ve read about these issues, says Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters, Indiana.
The Indiana Bar Association also sponsors an instructional program called We the People, where youth learn about government processes by participating in simulated congressional hearings. Find out more information about the program at inbf.org/educational-programs/we-the-people.
Most of all, parents can engage their kids, listen to what they think about the issues, and encourage them to think critically. That is, after all, the basis of our democracy.
Indiana Voting Information
Citizen Civic Responsibilities
Is voting a citizen’s only duty? No. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services list these responsibilities for each citizen:
- Support and defend the Constitution
- Stay informed about the issues
- Respect and obey laws
- Respect other’s beliefs, rights, and opinions
- Participate locally
- Pay taxes
- Serve on a jury
- Defend the country if the need arises