Election signs are popping up on lawns throughout the GTA.
It won't be long before campaign flyers and autumn leaves start fighting it out for real estate in our mailboxes and on our front porches.
You know what this means, don't you?
It's time to have that parent-child heart-to-heart talk about politics you've been putting off since the last election.
You know, the one where you explain how democracy works, why voting matters, why so many trees have to sacrifice their lives so that political signs can be made, and how it is that it's not okay for them to bully other kids at school -- but it's okay for politicians to bully one another in ads on TV.
(Personally, I think you would be well within your rights as Jane or Joe Taxpayer to pick up the phone and dial the national campaign office of whichever party is running the offending campaign ad and ask their campaign team to come up with some sort of explanation for your kid.)
Environmental concerns and attack ads aside, I think we parents should take advantage of the next few weeks to get our kids excited about the political process. The alternative -- having more and more young people become apathetic about voting, isn't a viable option for this country. According to Statistics Canada, only about 38 per cent of voters aged 18-21 came out to vote in the 2004 federal election. [Note: The Elections Canada website only has 2000 youth statistics: I'm still trying to track down 2006 youth statistics.]
Clearly we moms and dads have to step up to the plate. So here's your mission as the parent of Citizen Kid, a future Citizen Voter. The objective of this mission? To give your child a chance to learn about politics and our political system without turning your child off both for life.
Here's what I suggest.
Encourage your child to tune into aspects of the election coverage that naturally mesh with his or her areas of interest. If your child's a budding political junkie, your child may want to follow all the coverage of all the candidates on all the issues – or he or she may just want to track the candidates' views on a particular issue (the environment, for example).
Be respectful of your child's thoughts and opinions about "her candidate," even if her views are totally different from your own. (You may find it easier to back off if you remind yourself that she doesn't get a real vote in the election -- unless, of course, she's 18.)
Make sure your child understands that being an informed citizen means taking the time to find out what each candidate/party has to offer (as opposed to saying, "I always buy Brand X.") You're not shopping for toothpaste when you step inside that voting booth. You're choosing a government to run a country.
Recognize that political enthusiasm is contagious -- and capitalize on that fact. Encourage your child's school to get involved with StudentVote.ca – a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with educators to establish habits of democratic citizenship within young Canadians.
Don't be too earnest about the whole thing. Have fun. Share these strange-but-true facts about Canadian politics from the Elections Canada website with your kids or encourage your teens to scout for election trivia by checking out The Star's Party Favours column.
Take your kids to the polls when you vote. I still get a thrill from casting my vote nearly two decades after I first started voting -- and I remember how much I looked forward to being eligible to vote in my first election. If you take your kids with you to vote, you'll be showing that you take the responsibility of voting seriously and you'll be giving them the chance to pick up on the excitement of being part of democracy in action. Our system may not be perfect, but it's what we've got and it sure beats what a lot of other countries have.
Besides, the only way to change it is by exercising the right to mark that X on a ballet. As Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May put it this past weekend:
"They've always said...the pen is mightier than [the] sword, but the pencil is mightier still when you pick it up in your ballot box [and] you mark your X....'"