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We will broadcast special coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, starting with the RNC tonight at 8.

How To Foster Civic Engagement With Kids On Election Day

Third grader Tyrus participates in a mock election.
Brittany Randolph
Third grader Tyrus participates in a mock election.

While most voters head into the voting booth alone, all 50 states allow parents or guardians to bring their kids with them to the polls.

For attorney Nareissa Smith, going to the polls with her parents was a crucial part of shaping who she is today.

Nareissa Smith teaches virtual classes hosted by the St. Louis based company, Varsity Tutors.
Nareissa Smith teaches virtual classes hosted by the St. Louis based company, Varsity Tutors.

“Whenever they went to vote, they would take us with them, my sisters and I,” she told St. Louis on the Air. “We always were very engaged in the process, and whenever political figures would come to our town to speak, we were always required to go, and required to pay attention at a very young age to presidential campaigns. So, all those things that parents do definitely have the ability to shape lives and young minds.”

Smith also works as a teacher for the St. Louis-based company, Varsity Tutors. For the past few weeks, she’s taught virtual classes for students in grades 2-8 that focus on civic fundamentals — the democratic system, how laws are made and the election process.

She said that the more students understand how our political systems work, the more they can see how those systems affect them. She advises parents to also focus on personal family stories to engage children.

“For instance, I am African American, and knowing that my family moved up from the South in the days before the Voting Rights Act, and that voting was not guaranteed, has been something that I have carried with me — to know every time that I vote, that there are generations of people before me who wished that they had this right, and sacrificed for me to have it, and therefore I should not take it for granted.”

Arindam Kar of St. Louis agreed. During the discussion, he tweeted that what got him interested in politics at a young age was “stories from grandparents and elders who had fought for an independent India, voting in their first free election in 1951,” as well as his father “when he became a U.S. citizen.”

Smith added that it’s common for young people to get frustrated with the system and feel that it's not responsive to their needs.

“Parents have to walk a very fine line between giving children enough information and encouraging them to be informed citizens and not letting them become cynical at a very young age,” she said. “And I think the answer also boils down to how old the child is… but also, the particular characteristics of your child.

“If you know that you have a child who tends to be anxious or a worrier, you might want to take some time as a parent and say, ‘Let’s talk through some of these things. How are you feeling about everything?’”

For children who may be upset or worried about the results of the election, Smith said it’s helpful to emphasize the ways beyond voting that people can engage with the political system. She suggests teaching kids about important people in history, like those who stood up and marched in suffragette protests as well as those who participated in demonstrations during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.