It’s no surprise that teens are not the most politically active demographic. Most of us can’t vote yet, therefore many of us have no interest in politics. It seems the only things the government can do to make us happier are to lower the driving age, increase minimum wage and extend summer vacation. If there’s no voice speaking for us in Congress or in the mayor’s office, then why should teenagers pay attention to politics? What’s the rationale for teens to read political commentary rather than comics?
It’s true that teens have no real representation in government, yet choosing to turn a blind eye to politics is a mistake. Having some kind of opinion about governmental processes, elected officials and political ideologies is essential for teens, even though we cannot vote. If teens know nothing about politics, then how will they decide whom to vote for when they do turn 18?
When it comes to politics, most teenagers feel like strangers in a strange land. Forming opinions about politics is known as political socialization, and it happens to most teens whether they know it or not. You may draw your political opinions from dinner table discussions or maybe from the mainstream media. Most teens are politically influenced by their families and schools. Think about it. Do you usually agree with your Uncle Larry when he rambles on about the Republicans being the cause of political gridlock? Or perhaps you are an active participant in the debates of your American Government class? The majority of teens are exposed to the most basic form of political socialization as young children when they went with their parents to vote.
Fortunately, not all teens are ignorant of what goes on in government. That is why some teens believe there should be no minimum voting age. After all, adolescents are capable of making choices based on opinion, and voting does not take a lot of effort. Even though we lack the right to vote, teenagers are citizens, and as the next generation of voters, it is our responsibility to at least have opinions and stay informed about our government.
There is never a bad time to get involved. If you are curious about government, political news or laws, then start at home. Next time your Uncle Larry comes over for dinner, tell him why you disagree with his reasoning for the government shutdown. Ask your parents who they voted for president and why. More interested than that? Join your school’s debate team or Model U.N. Many Western New York high schools offer clubs to foster teens’ interest in government. Maybe you don’t have time to join a club. In that case, turn on the television. Start watching CNN or Fox News, then work your way up to political commentary shows such as “The O’Reilly Factor” or “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
In fact, the easiest way to stay informed about politics is to do exactly what you are doing right now: reading. Sample the political commentary in Section A of today’s Buffalo News.
Want to contribute to the mayoral race? Check out the candidates’ websites and you’ll have no trouble finding information about volunteering for either campaign. Buffalonians will elect (or re-elect) their next mayor Nov. 5. So what do you think of the candidates? Do you prefer Sergio Rodriguez’s platform or Byron Brown’s? Get out there and talk about it. See what your friends, families and teachers think, then share your opinions.
It is your government after all, or rather the government your elders have chosen for you. Still, we are privileged among the world’s youth in that we have the chance to develop and express our political voices. Our generation will run this country someday, and the inevitability is that we are going to have to choose sides and decide how we want our government to function. Don’t wait until you’re 18. Do some homework. Pick a side. Discover your voice. There are lots of changes to be made to our government, so don’t miss your chance to participate.
Kyle Sims is a senior at Amherst High School.