High school is a period of transition, of gained independence in preparation for the “real world” outside of school. But beyond the emotional growth, American teenagers also experience a change in the role that they play in democracy: at 18, they gain the right to vote for political candidates, an opportunity to elect representatives they believe will approach issues in a way that they support.
While most members of the class of 2020 and many in the class of 2021 will be eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election, even younger students stand to gain by supporting candidates who share their ideals.
Many of the hot button issues in this election—climate change, gun control, women’s reproductive health, and college debt—have profound effects on students’ day-to-day lives. Backing a candidate means supporting the ideas they have for how to approach these issues. Carefully considering who to elect means taking an active role in ensuring health and safety of the future.
Siding with family members’ political leanings is tempting and may even be an unconscious habit. After all, it is easy to be influenced by others, especially if they are confident in their beliefs.
Still, most teenagers question the judgment of respected adults at some point; adults do not know everything.
This logic can and should be applied to politics: just because someone older has an opinion does not mean it’s the right opinion.
This doesn’t mean that agreeing with family about support for a particular political candidate or adopting the same stance on an issue is inherently wrong. The values loved ones instill have the potential to shape world views in future generations.
The question is not whether or not to share political opinions, but rather why parents and their teens do or do not share those opinions.
Ask: Have I thought through issues, political candidates, and party politics for myself, or have I simply absorbed what was put in front of me?
It is for necessary for everyone to ask, ‘Why do I think the way that I do?’ In order to gauge the influence that outside points of view have.
Students must also consider the reaction they expect to get for publicly identifying with a given party or candidate, and whether that affects their views and how they express them.
At a discussion-based school, failing to clarify one’s beliefs can negatively affect learning. We are encouraged to share well-supported opinions, and dive into topics and exploring conflict.
This kind of learning-through-sharing is negatively affected when students do not take responsibility for knowing what they think. A discussion works best when participants can describe why they believe what they do. So students’ educations are positively affected when they know what they think and why.
Students heading to the Iowa Caucus should consider the stances that they want to see candidates taking, and which candidates’ ideals align with their own. Students not going to Iowa should also analyze their beliefs by looking at candidate pages, studying party platforms and visiting sites like bothsides.org.
With the privilege of voting comes responsibility. In order for future voters to make the best use of this power, they must examine their personal political beliefs and stances on issues. Doing so facilitates the best possible position to make voting decisions that will bring about the world the majority of voters want to live in.
This piece was originally published in the February 2020 print issue.