One common misconception is that teens have absolutely no place in our nation’s politics. For teenagers stuck in the odd purgatory between childhood and adulthood, it may seem unnecessary to become entangled in an institution that so often seems untrustworthy. Even after turning 18, many teenagers are in no hurry to register and vote. Nonetheless, with the 2016 Presidential Election just around the corner, staying in tune with politics and local elections is an exercise all youngsters should engage in. Learning about the pertinent issues that may or may not affect you can be an eye-opening experience and help you better understand and discover your own values and opinions.
Like most teenagers, I paid little attention to politics. I had a grasp of current events, but I never thought twice about the decisions the government was making on my behalf. Shielded from the responsibilities of adulthood, many of the nation’s policies like minimum wage, international affairs, and taxation did not directly affect or bother me.
Also, I did not believe that I had the power to make a difference in the course of my country. It seemed there could be no way that one vote could sway government politics, especially since the Electoral College really dictates my vote.
However, high school and college have broadened my horizons and awareness of politics. Government and political science classes have allowed me to better comprehend the process of decision-making in this country, and talking to friends has whetted my interest and inspired me to form my own opinions about certain issues.
I now firmly believe that voting is essential. It pains me that turnouts have been low in the last few years. Voting provides the opportunity to voice opinions and actively improve our overall quality of life. It is our connection with the government and a way for us to judge its actions, and let it know whether decisions are representative of what we need. If we relinquish our right to vote, we give up the reins of our government to those who do vote. If we care about what our nation does, we must cast our votes, or else suffer the consequences of our passivity.
Registering to vote is just the start. I have found that many teens are tempted to go with the trend and vote for the same candidates their friends and family vote for. It’s understandable, because our political beliefs are influenced by those close to us, but we should know why we choose specific candidates. Maybe we are attracted to this politician’s view on education or his or her support of a specific bill.
This does mean that you may need to do some work to familiarize yourself with candidates and the important issues. I guarantee that this will not be a waste of time, and it will make your voting experience more meaningful and powerful.
Moreover, we should strive to develop our own political standpoint based on our own morals and experiences. I care a lot about economic policy, women’s reproductive rights, and education. These are issues that speak to me and directly affect me. As a young woman, my right to choose means a lot to me, and as a college student and former public high school student, educational reforms are obviously relatable. Crystallizing my own political views has forced me to better define my own values and come to terms with challenging choices.
It is not always easy to figure out where you stand on certain issues, and sometimes your opinion may not be as black and white as the choices presented to you on a ballot. Do not be daunted by the complexity of our opinions, and do not worry if your political views are not the same as others.
Regardless of how old you are, there are always ways to get involved with politics. It is never too early to educate yourself about the issues facing the country. I even encourage families with younger children to take some time to discuss the process of voting and maybe even plan a field trip to a local voting poll site. For teens under 18 who discover a passion or particular curiosity for politics, volunteer for a local campaign for a unique, hands-on educational experience. The bottom line is that informing ourselves today is an investment in the future of our country. One day, we will all be adults and find that a lot of our nation’s decisions directly affect us and the importance of our vote will be felt more than ever.
Aglaia Ho is a junior at Williams College and a native New Yorker. She also writes for her own blog at www.aglai