How to Foster Youth Civic Engagement

vote-1921884In just weeks, U.S. citizens will go to the polls to exercise their right to vote. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just over 46 percent of people age 18-29 voted in the 2016 Presidential election. This age group had the lowest voter turnout, which is typical in previous elections, too. Civic engagement among young people has ebbed and flowed over the decades since the 1950s. Civil rights, Vietnam, and recently gun laws have energized young people to engage in protests, write letters to their representatives, and raise awareness in their communities.

The future of democracy relies on each new generation participating in voting, volunteering in their communities, and raising their voices about concerns in the nation.

Students who are civically engaged feel more connected to their communities which some studies have shown has mental health benefits. Not to mention the benefits to the community, it is important that young people participate in advocacy and social actions, which all start with civic education. Here are some ways to engage your students civically.

  1. Give students opportunities to role play or debate important issues. Set up a “court of law” and have students role play presenting a case in front of a jury. Students could reenact a previously-decided U.S. Supreme Court case and talk about how they would rule if they were judges hearing the case today.
  2. Work with community leaders to help students design and participate in a service learning project. Have students identify a need within their community and brainstorm an action plan that addresses the need or problem.
  3. Attend local community and political events so student become familiar with their local representatives and policy makers and learn about the political process.
  4. Help students develop their critical thinking and analyzation skills by questioning the status quo and why things work the way they do within the community. Bring in people with diverse perspectives on an issue so students can hear from two sides and then form their own opinions about the issue.

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