Helping your first-time voter make wise choices

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
October, 2012

Q: My son is about to vote for the first time. How can I help him make wise choices in the voting booth?

A: Election Day was exciting when I was a child because our home was chosen to serve as a polling site. The booths were delivered ahead of time, giving me the chance to pretend that I was voting. Casting my own ballot when I turned 18 was a long-anticipated experience. Your son has been observing your attitude toward voting throughout his childhood. Now you can guide him a step further as he votes for the first time.

Autonomy and responsibility. Throughout adolescence, parents provide the structure to help teens gradually make the transition toward autonomy. For example, the process of getting a driver’s license is an overt sign of growing independence but parents establish guidelines to promote safe driving. The process involved in making wise choices at election time involves developments in cognition and in moral reasoning. The ability to reason abstractly and to apply moral principles to decision making allows young adults to be part of an informed electorate. But even among adults, our capabilities aren’t always displayed in our actual acts. You can highlight the importance of voting through your own behaviors and through family discussions about the issues. That will benefit everyone.

Understanding the election process. Research by the League of Women Voters indicates that a quarter of those who will be eligible to vote this November are between the ages of 18 and 30 years. But despite their government classes, many young adults remain uncertain about the process. In fact, the League of Women Voters found that many 18-year-olds who didn’t vote in 2008 were interested in the election, but lacked information. Parents can play a key role in helping their children understand the registration process and deadlines. It may be even more confusing for your son because he may be off at college when the election rolls around. You can guide him toward information on absentee ballots by looking up the requirements for your state at http://www.vote411.org.

One vote does matter. Voting provides the opportunity to acknowledge those issues that involve core values. Of course, the presidential race is central, but the state and local issues have an important impact on your lives as well. Don’t let the media shape your decisions through catchy emotional advertisements. Model ways to take an in-depth look into the candidates and issues. Pray that your decisions will be ones that follow God’s path for our country’s future.

Despite his youth your son can make wise choices: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1Sam16:7)