It doesn’t matter if we’re loading our kids onto the school bus, loading their cars for college, or vowing not to unload on them about the obvious mistake they’re making in moving to Oregon for a woman they “met” playing Fortnite but not in real actual human life. The fact is, we parents and parental-types worry.
It’s just what we do, no matter how old our kids are. My children are only 15, but I’ve already set aside time to fret about them in the afterlife, if it turns out there is one.
Young adults are less likely than us gently worn Americans to have historical context for the scary stuff that’s unfolding.
So when I read a recent poll that showed that only 28 percent of those aged 18-29 say they’re certain to vote in November’s midterms—as opposed to 74 percent of seniors—I wasted no time freaking the ef out.
Sure, I’m afraid for my own future. But barring a nuclear lovers’ quarrel with North Korea in which we all die in the exact same instant, these young adults—my children and theirs—must live the longest with the consequences of whatever happens on November 6th, or not long at all, depending on who is in charge and their positions on healthcare, climate change, and civil rights. A 28 percent commitment to voting is actually a bit higher than in recent past years for a non-presidential election, but it’s still pretty craptastic.
Why the “Youth Vote” Doesn’t Vote
We all get it, of course. I paid little attention to non-presidential elections in my 20s because I didn’t get how important they were. Plus I had a lot plaid shirts to wear, Pearl Jam to listen to, and god-awful dates with plaid-shirt-wearing-Pearl-Jam-listening-to guys to go on. Young adults are also naturally less likely than us gently worn Americans to have historical context for what is unfolding as I, for one, scream into the existential void.
And while I don’t have data on this, extensive eavesdropping at Urban Outfitters and small-chain coffee bars tells me that this age bracket may not be much wiser than we were in one regard: Staying away from the polls, it turns out, is not a totally awesome way of registering distaste for what’s happening in our government. Every generation seems to have to learn that for themselves.
At a march that I attended the day Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed by the senate, the crowd chanted “VOTE THEM OUT!” A white, dreadlocked supermodel-looking pair of 20-somethings next to me shouted, “WHICH WON’T WORK!”
Turns out, staying home is not a totally awesome way of registering distaste for what’s happening in our government.
For sure, they got the stink eye from their equally unlined peers in the crowd, which soothed my despairing heart. But later, when this Instagram meme-perfect couple elaborated on their reasoning, it was exactly what I remember hearing on so many of those god-awful dates in the ‘90s: that things needed to get even worse so as to bring on the revolution and usher in a whole new system.
You’d be proud of me, I think. I didn’t try to change their minds or lecture them about how there were people more vulnerable than they who would be the first to lose everything in said revolution. I didn’t succumb to my 2016 Susan Sarandon PTSD and collapse in tears of rage. And I didn’t indicate that I agreed with them that a more egalitarian world was going to take a lot more than ONLY electing people who seem to give a shit about the majority of the people’s will. I was just some random middle-aged lady holding a “vote on 11/6/18” sign. Shockingly, they didn’t seem like they were dying to hear from me.
Ways to Get Young People to Vote
But it did get me thinking about the young adults over whom we may have more influence—our own offspring and others we know. Maybe not much more influence, of course—it’s encoded in all our DNA to tune our parents out from age 13 or so, at least until we reproduce ourselves, and maybe not even then. Still, I’m not giving up hope.
Here are a few ideas about how to get them to vote next month, and to check their registration to make sure they haven’t fallen off the rolls, which seems to be happening like crazy—they can do that here. Who knows? Maybe your son or daughter’s vote will be the one that saves our democracy.
Maybe your kid’s vote will be the one that saves our democracy.
- Show them a photo of Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham and point out that they are even more out of touch than you are—and you still love your Uggs and say “taped” instead of “recorded,” even though nobody has a VCR anymore. Then point out that these are the fellas who remain in charge if they fail to show up.
- Ask a more civic-minded kid to show you how to use your daughter’s preferred social media platform. Then post her adorably awkward middle school photos (the ones before the braces came off, before she got contacts—you know, in her sparkles-on-everything phase) and only take them down if she commits to showing up. She may block you, but you can always paper her neighborhood with old-school fliers.
- That 529 you set up to help with college for his kids? It would be a real shame if something were to happen to it. Like you cashing it out for a retirement home in Costa Rica where you wouldn’t even be around to babysit. (He needn’t know you’re bluffing.)
- Crying. Crying can be very effective with adult children, especially when male parents do it. It’s so disconcerting for kids to see older dudes sobbing like they haven’t seen since … well, since maybe never. So plant your partner in front of one of those investment commercials where they show a couple’s cradle-to-grave romance in 30 seconds, and, once the waterworks start, trot him out to make a “Go vote” plea.
- Make it a condition of your child’s continued residence in your basement.
- If you were a “trophy for trying” kind of parent—and I’m not saying you were—what’s one more trophy
- Casually mention that if Social Security and Medicare get gutted, you’ll be pitching a blanket fort in his living room for several decades. The best chance of preventing that outcome is … yes, right, voting.
- Vote early yourself, then show up on November 6th at their home or jobs and sing songs from Carole King’s Tapestry unless they let you drive them to the polls.
- Just tell them how important it is to you, how afraid you are for the future, and would they please do this for you, that you’d be grateful. That oughta do it. Right?
Stephanie Dolgoff has contributed to a a variety of titles as an editor and writer, including SELF, Glamour, “O” The Oprah Magazine, Redbook, and many others. Her articles have also appeared in the New York Times and the New York Post. Her book, My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches From Just The Other Side of Young, was a New York Times national bestseller.