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Happy Birthday! You can vote now.

November 4, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

Happy Birthday! You can vote now. | A teen shows his "I Voted" sticker.

This December, my middle child will be turning 18 years old. Although she still seems so young in my eyes, the U.S. government will legally consider her an adult. Many new adventures and possibilities come with that age. As parents, it is important to instill a sense of pride in our children early on about democratic values and their rights and responsibilities as citizens. One important and exciting way for young adults to exercise these rights is through their legal right to vote.

It Starts With History
Depending on where you live and which offices are up for election, parents and educators have an opportunity to integrate voting history and practice in regular lessons and interactions.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of voting is the actual right to vote. There are countless stories we can share with our sons and daughters about the fight for voters’ rights, democracy, and the continuous struggles that some countries still face today when it comes to electing governing officials.

Here are some notable topics and activities to discuss with your children:

  • Learn the history of the 15th Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote in 1870.
  • Click the colored states on this map to learn when women gained the right to vote in that state.
  • Read about the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated legal barriers—like literacy tests and poll taxes—that prevented many, including African Americans, from exercising their legal right to vote.
  • Tell stories about other countries’ fights for fair elections. For example, one critical moment in South Africa’s journey to end apartheid occurred in 1994, when they held their first fully democratic election, electing Nelson Mandela as president.

Share these stories with your children, as well as current events and happenings around the world. These examples will give your sons and daughters a real-world connection to help develop their thoughts and opinions.

Democracy in Action
Over the years, my children have witnessed me go to the polls to vote, listened to me talk about the issues, and we’ve even laughed together at those issues through funny sketches on Saturday Night Live.

We’ve formed some of our most memorable moments while participating in events together. Each year, we attend events honoring the late Latino hero, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farm Workers movement. At these events, my children have made picket signs and marched in re-enactments of historical events. That part of our history, along with the firsthand experience of having physically joined the activities, has enabled me to expand on the message of democracy and show my daughters what the end result can be when we cast a ballot and make our voice heard.

It’s not always necessary for your children to be part of the school debate team to understand and appreciate politics and democracy. It is mostly important for them to understand the process and that their voices and opinions really do count. Volunteering at or visiting a campaign headquarters, where they can get a behind-the-scenes look, is an excellent hands-on learning opportunity.

This new phase is an exciting one for your children as they go to college or embark on a career. They will be making their own decisions and expressing their support for the issues and candidates. Be assured of their successes, whichever their paths, because your children’s first teacher, YOU, has prepared them every step of the way.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


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