Why we should talk to our children about voting, X’sê!

As parents there are many topics we just never discuss with our children, especially when they’re younger. Perhaps because we think they’re not ready for it, or that they wouldn’t understand it; perhaps because we just don’t have the energy to explain, or to face all the awkward questions that may follow.

With the General Elections on May 8th just around the corner, here are 5 reasons why we should talk to our children about voting.

We have a voice…

One of the most powerful aspects of democracy is that the voice of the people matter – and that it matters because the voice of every person matters. It’s not just about the collective force of the popular voice, it’s about the intrinsic value of every individual voice. Our children should know that their voice matters (if to no one else, then at the very least, to us as their parents). The 2019 “X’sê” slogan captures this sentiment in a simple but beautiful way.

Which we are free to use…

Despite the relative infancy of democracy (in our case it’s only 25years old) there are many who are not fully aware of just how precious the gift of “freedom to vote” is, or how hard others had to fight so that we might have that freedom. We tend to use our voice, to proclaim opinion or pronounce judgment, in a manner that smacks of entitlement – like we have the right to speak because we’ve always had that right. When we teach our children about how hard some people had to work so that we can all vote together, we help them appreciate more fully that our voices matter (in part) because their grandparents and great-grandparents made sure that this could be true for them. We use our voice because we are free to do so, not because we have the right to. (And with freedom comes responsibility, so read on…)

To speak up for others…

To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to use our voice with all of its intrinsic value (and potential power to change things for the better) on behalf of those who are forgotten, neglected, marginalized and taken advantage of is a profound and life-giving thing. In the act of voting we have the opportunity to make our mark, to “X’sê”, not only in the name of what would make life better for us, but more especially in the name of what would make life better for the poor and the vulnerable. Our children could learn from our voting, and our conversations with them about voting, that they should use their voice to speak up for friends and classmates and strangers who are being bullied or ignored. That is when their voice is at its most powerful and beautiful.

Because life is bigger than ‘self’…

The act of casting our vote is about so much more than exercising our right to it; it’s about engaging our civic responsibility towards society at large. The process of voting is one of the many ways in which we commit ourselves to the social project of creating a better future for the country we call home. It calls us to reflect on issues that may not have a direct or immediate bearing on us, but will certainly impact the environment that future generations will face and grow up in. When we talk to our children about what it means to vote, we have the opportunity to help them see a picture of life that is far grander than ‘self’.

Critical engagement is crucial…

Electioneering and political rhetoric often plays on the emotions of past allegiances. But deep within each one of us there is a measure of awareness that “who we voted for last time”, or “who our parents voted for”, or “whoever appears to represent my culture, race, gender, etc. most closely” are not good enough reasons to vote for them again. We understand that we must engage the issues, ask the hard questions, and make informed choices. When we speak to our children not only about why we vote, but more deliberately about why we’re voting for whomever we’re voting, we are modelling critical thinking for them and showing them how important it is to ask questions.

Of all the topics that we avoid discussing with our children, voting should not be one of them. When we talk to our children about why we vote, and why we’re voting for whoever we decide to vote, we teach them an extraordinarily powerful truth… That their voice matters because others worked very hard for it to be so, that they must think carefully about what really matters, and use their voice to speak up for others.

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