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On November 4, our children will be watching

On November 4, the day after this extraordinary election season culminates, our children will be watching us.  

None of us knows for certain what the results will be, but we can be sure that many will be elated, others may be despondent, and still others filled with emotions somewhere in between.  The day will present myriad opportunities for youth to observe how we react and what we say, along with opportunities for adults to articulate what the results mean to us personally, for our neighborhoods, schools, our state, and nation.

What do we want our children to see as we react to local, state, and national results?

Will we as voters be able to say to our own children and grandchildren, to our siblings and cousins, to our friends and neighbors, that we did everything we could to express our voices, our values, and our beliefs through our votes, and that our decisions were developed with care, intention, and time?  

Can we say we did all we could to take part in the process of making our voices heard?  Importantly, did we show young people that we participated fully and responsibly to support the democratic process? Are we prepared to answer a question that many young people ask:  Does our vote matter? 

As parents and educators, we continually praise children for being kind, thoughtful, and courteous to others, which are essential qualities to help society thrive.  How do we square that kindness and consideration with the contentious disagreement and discourse that is so rampant on social media and displayed in the mass media, especially during election times?

Young children today are deeply immersed in what some might consider to be adult matters.  They see yard signs, posts, ads on TV, flyers in the mail, and social media. They hear people talking all around them.  Conversations these days seem to focus on COVID or politics.  Children are wrapped inside these conversations, hearing them clearly and often.  Talking about the elections and results can provide valuable teaching and learning opportunities as we recognize that these are not only adult matters, but life matters, and worth the time to process together.

We don’t know the outcome of the elections, or if the results will even be fully known on November 4.  How will we begin to process and express the intensity we may feel? There is no single right answer, but I’ll share some thoughts both as a superintendent of schools and a mom of children, one of whom will be able to vote in the next presidential election.

Let’s reinforce for our children that our voices develop over time, which means we can use our time right now to learn about issues that may well be on a ballot in the future.  The more we learn, the better informed our votes will be.

The privilege that we have as voters comes with the responsibility to continue to learn, vote, and build our internal reservoir of information and knowledge.  

It is vital to share with young people that investing time and energy in civics, citizenship, and participating in democracy is important; our votes absolutely count and have real life consequences that affect us deeply and personally.

Whatever we say or do, however elated or disappointed, our children will be watching, and we are being provided with an important opportunity to respond to circumstances of immeasurable importance beyond our individual control. 

Though voting is a personal exercise, the outcome is bigger than ourselves; it will affect our families, our communities, and our country significantly.  The way we react, and how we channel our very legitimate emotions into concrete actions for the future, will shape the next generation of voters.