Raising a Voter

How to get young people to exercise their right to vote.

Credit: Library of Congress / Inez Milholland

Suffrage parade

With the B.C. election just a couple of weeks away, I’m pondering a major issue. Not who to vote for (although I’m still working on that…). No, I’m trying to understand why so many young people don’t vote. Voter apathy is something I don’t understand.

I’ve been engaged in the electoral process since I was a kid. I clearly recall when I was twelve and sitting in front of the TV, mesmerized and nervous as the provincial returns slowly trickled in. Bill Bennett was re-elected and my left-leaning hopes were temporarily diminished. I could have given up on the whole thing then—but I didn’t. Instead I threw myself into grassroots politics and worked on a student council campaign—that election ended in a sweet victory.

The thing is—I wasn’t raised in a political household. My mum wasn’t a Canadian citizen, so she couldn’t vote and my step dad said voting was private, so he never voiced an opinion. But I attended a politically active school and learned early on that politics play an important role in shaping my world. I believed then, as I believe now, that my vote is powerful and important. And as a parent—teaching my daughter to be a politically interested citizen is a goal that falls pretty high on my parenting to-do list.

Talk. Listen. Vote.

Combating voter apathy

The problem, when you look at the stats, is threefold. Young adults say they are too busy to learn how to participate in a system that doesn’t interest them. Only 35 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 voted in 2005. I understand they think our system appears ineffective and unyielding and that voting seems difficult—but you just need to look to our neighbours to the south to realize we the people do have power. I can’t help but wonder what our political landscape would look like if somehow that 65 percent who didn’t vote had made it to the polls…

As far as I can tell, teaching kids to be politically responsible is no different than teaching them anything else. It’s all about what you do—not what you say. I do have some pointers though—generously shared by other parents who are consciously raising politically active citizens:

How to raise a voter


Bring your kids to the voting booth and talk about the experience.

• Encourage your children to exercise their right to vote for non-political things (favourite deserts, online polls geared toward kids, etc.).

Debate politics while they’re present and encourage questions (this also will teach you to tone down any excessive rhetoric so you don’t scare them off).

Take them with you when you volunteer, attend rallies or town meetings (avoid anything that would be too intense or violent though).

Discuss current events, politics and social justice over dinner—if you are really organized, suggest a different topic or issues for each night.

Read the paper, listen to public radio, encourage critical thought and questions.

• Skip the Disney film and take in a documentary about just about anything—they’ll learn that politics is about more than they thought.

• Be prepared for dissenting opinions and help them develop their thoughts.

Go through all the candidate’s information together (not just the one you plan to vote for) and talk about what factors you took into account when you made your decision. Encourage them to make their own selection.

• If your teen will be 18 on election day, make sure they are registered to vote (they can do this at the polls if they are not yet registered).

And when you’re done encouraging your own kids to be politically active—find yourself a teen or young adult to discuss politics with, and then encourage them to vote on May 12.

Make sure you are registered to vote—it’s easy!


Do you have a story about teaching your kids that voting is important? Or any other election tale to share? We’d love to hear it.