Wednesday’s Parent: The Apathetic Generation


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The Apathetic Generation

Prior to the first Obama presidential election, young adults simply didn’t vote. It’s perplexing to those of us that couldn’t wait to vote when we turned 18. I recall long lines at the polls for the 1972 and 1976 presidential elections.

The New Republic examined voting trends among young people prior to the 2012 election:

It has long been a puzzle why so many young adults do not vote—and why their already low voting rate has generally fallen over the decades. In 1972, 53 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds went to the polls. By 2000, the figure had fallen to just 36 percent, a historic low. (In contrast, the voting rate among people aged 65 or older rose five percentage points during those years, to 68 percent.) There is no doubt that the Obama campaign of 2008 energized the under-30 crowd, boosting their voting rate to 46 percent. But even then, fewer than half of 18-to-29-year-olds went to the polls compared with more than two-thirds of people aged 65 or older, according to the Census Bureau.

Man on the street reports from various news and entertainment programs underscore the fact that today’s youth are ill-informed and uninvolved in matters of citizenship. Why is this happening and what can parents do to change the tide?

Lack of citizenship is an American epidemic

Increasingly, we are not living up to our responsibilities as citizens.

  • Voting is one of our most important and visible responsibilities as citizens. Yet, fewer than 45% of registered voters and 35% of eligible voters usually vote.
  • Most Americans try to get out of jury duty.
  • Community service is often seen as a once or twice a year activity

Each nation faces economic, social, environmental, security, educational, legal, and health challenges. The solutions to these challenges are most effective when a great number of citizens are involved in making them. Too many good people do nothing. Edmond Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

What is citizenship?

President Kennedy challenged us, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Unfortunately, since then, our view of citizenship has become skewed. We look more at our rights than our responsibilities. When individuals or special interest groups want something, they claim it is their right. And, we expect the government to take on what should be our responsibilities.

Most Americans see citizenship as voting, jury duty and occasional community service. Keeping democracy strong demands much more. We as citizens must be vigilant and involved. We must each make small sacrifices every day by doing simple, yet powerful citizen actions.

How can you teach your kids to be good citizens?

As I stated earlier, citizenship is more than voting. It’s being involved in your local community, your state and in the government processes. If you teach your children at an early age to be good citizens, they will carry those lessons on into adulthood.

Try these simple activities to teach them to be good citizens:

  • Teach them about this country’s heritage

Teach them about why and how we became a nation,about the basic principles and documents upon which the country was founded,about what it took to achieve today’s standard of living, about the mistakes we’ve made and, about the individuals and events that have played major roles in shaping the country.

Teaching our children about the country’s heritage is important because they know no other way of life. It took enormous courage, loss of life, pain, mistakes, hard work and risk to get here. Our children need to be made aware that they are going to be the custodians of this country and be taught how to do that well.

  • Teach them about the democratic process

If your children see that you’re involved in the process, you are setting a good example for them as they become adults. If you degrade the process and refuse to vote, you are teaching them that it doesn’t matter who is in charge or that you can make a difference in this democracy.

We make the “of the people” part happen by running for public office;  we make the “by the people” part happen by doing the things needed to elect our best to public office; and we make the “for the people” part happen by doing those things that keep us educated on important issues, that keep elected officials aware of our points of view, and that enforce our laws.  The democratic process is not a methodology, but a way of living that keeps our country strong.

  • Support groups that keep our country strong

Teaching your children to respect these groups that contribute to the strength of our democracy encourages them to be a good citizen. Law enforcement, firemen, elected officials, the military and even teachers are groups who are supported to keep the country strong. If you support these groups, your children will learn by your example.

  • Teach them to understand the government and how it works

This begins on the local level and goes up to the federal government. As citizens, it is critical that we understand what our governments are doing and how they are working so we can make sure they don’t take on more power and responsibilities than we gave them and that they carrying out the powers we did give them effectively.

  • Promote a sense of community

Our country is really a community of communities.  A sense of community and of belonging are something most of us need and want. In today’s mobile society, we have become detached to our communities. Neighbors rarely speak and communities rarely rally around one another unless there’s a crisis. Taking pride in your community and becoming involved in the community can be demonstrated by such simple acts as picking up trash, giving blood, start a neighborhood watch, volunteer at local organizations, and recycle.

  • Strengthen the family

It is often said, and usually true, that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual pieces.  In the case of a country, it is equally true that the stronger the families and individuals, the stronger the country.  Involve your children in activities that promote citizenship and community involvement. Encourage your family members to volunteer during the holidays, give to others, and pay it forward when possible.

Check out Wendy’s article , “Will your child be a good citizen?”


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2 Responses to “Wednesday’s Parent: The Apathetic Generation”

  1. […] Suzanne’s post Wednesday’s Parent: The Apathetic Generation for some shocking statistics and more ways to teach your kids to be good citizens. Then you will be […]

  2. This is one of your best articles, Suzanne. Out of the park! I quoted George Will in my book, Gettysburg Lessons, who said, “We cannot defend what we cannot define.” I’m concerned that citizenship has just become another topic in civics class – they still have those classes, don’t they?