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Talking Politics With Teens

Mar 14, 2008
It can be challenging to discuss politics across generations without someone melting down (usually you) or tuning out (usually them), but it's not impossible. Here are six traits of adults with the power to engage teens and inspire them to activism.

Be teachable. A conversation isn't about one person sharing knowledge and information with another. That's better known as a lecture (or so I've been told). Listen to teens, allowing them and others to inform your opinions.

Be honorable. It's okay to take issue with a candidate's positions, but disparaging his or her character is a definite turnoff to teens and twenty-somethings. To everyone, in fact.

Be flexible. Your candidate isn't Jesus. Teens appreciate hearing how we disagree with the person we support. Give them the grace to do the same, and don't take differing opinions personally. Endorsing your candidate's opponent doesn't mean a young person is repudiating your authority. Although it might.

Be controversial. Surprise and provoke them once in a while by saying something radical, starting with "I totally disagree with _____" or "I 100% agree that ____."

Be passionate. Caring deeply about an election is contagious. Young people who watch us thinking deeply and talking freely about our opinions will be more likely to do the same. And they'll be more likely to vote now and in the future if they remember us faithfully trekking to the ballot box during primaries and elections.

Be web-savvy. More and more, teens are influenced by the viral power of the web. Through sites like YouTube, MTV Think, MySpace, and Facebook, they're inviting each other to join causes and catching fire about the issues.

But web-surfing's not just for teens, especially not this election. Geeks are jamming the web with tools to inform all of us about the candidates and their positions. Five websites in particular can help even the most undecided voter make a choice.

Expert Voter: Provides a handy-dandy one page matrix of clips with the candidates sharing views on Iraq, immigration, energy, nuclear proliferation, healthcare, education, social security, taxes, and campaign reform.

Fact Check: Monitors the truth of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.

Match-O-Matic: Developed by ABC and USA Today, this interactive site quizzes you on your views to see how you match up on the hot issues with the candidates.

Ask Your Lawmaker: Users submit questions and vote on them, and then journalists track down lawmakers in Congress and on the campaign trail to get those questions answered.

Vote Smart: Volunteer citizens provide biographical information, voting records, issue positions, interest group ratings, public statements, and campaign finance information so you can find out who your candidates are really representing.

These are nonpartisan resources, and user-friendly for teens and adults alike. Why not send your teen a link or two to show off your cyber skills, as well as to demonstrate your desire to make informed decisions? Despite their technology addictions, teens are still open to adults who listen, care, can admit when they're wrong, and aren't afraid to take a stand.

(Originally published at Mitali Perkins' blog and reprinted with permission)
About the Author
Mitali Perkins, Mitali Perkins, is the author of two political novels for teens called First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton). To learn more about the novels, visit First Daughter Books.
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