Countdown to the Presidential Election: What Teens Have to Say [Free YMA Session]
It is undeniable that this presidential election is different from any other recent elections. Many reasons are contributing to this difference such as the possibility of electing the first female president and the prospect of electing not a politician but a celebrity real estate tycoon. No matter who wins the election, he or she will be entering the office during a time or great unrest in our country and around the world. Perhaps this is why so many cannot decide who to vote for come November. There are groundbreaking numbers of people who still consider themselves as undecided voters including a large majority of young people known as the millennial generation.
The Washington Post recently interviewed more than 70 young voters in nine states from diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and careers. Their findings were clear that the millennials attitude towards politics is unquestionably different from past elections. “Despite their varied lives, most of those interviewed shared a disgust with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump so intense that it is pushing many beyond disillusionment and toward apathy.” The newspaper further reports that “the message coming from the United States' rising generation is ominous, and it carries ramifications after the November election. No matter who wins, they don't think the next president will address their concerns or even affect their lives.” Many of the young people interviewed, according to the Post, said they were “embarrassed and ashamed that the two candidates are the best the country has to offer.”
So what about the generation following the millennials? What do our current middle school and high school youth think about the election? As a parent of both a millennial and a generation next, my observations have been similar to what the Washington Post has noted. Both of my children have expressed a sense of “what does it all matter” attitude towards American politics. I’m just guessing, but I think if we polled the youth in our parishes and Catholic schools we might similarly find that many don’t appear to be interested in the 2016 presidential election. The most obvious reason for the apathy is they are not old enough to vote so they believe that their opinion is just that; an opinion. However, the youth of the country should care because whoever is elected will directly affect their future.
One of the sessions we offer in our YouthLeader program gathers high school youth in small groups to discuss controversial topics such as climate change, gun control, and homelessness in our country. This session is always high energy because youth welcome a platform to discuss what’s going on in the world and also appreciate the chance to express their opinions in a safe and controlled environment. From my experiences of listening in on these conversations, I find some young people to be very passionate about certain issues and most are curious to discover if their personal beliefs are in line with what their faith teaches. What are today’s teens passionate about? Newsweek reported that in 2016 more than half of teens support gun control (55 percent), the death penalty (52 percent), abortion rights (50 percent) and gay marriage (62 percent). The most compelling findings show that race and discrimination are crucial issues for teens today (82%). When it comes to this year’s election, the Linganore High School’s award-winning newspaper, “The Lance,” found that 32% of the student body said that the key issue in the election is immigration; 20% said that the economy is the biggest issue; 8% said that politics is turning into a series of publicity stunts and money grabs; 20% said a variety of other issues; while 20% said they had no opinion.
If you’re really want to know what young people are thinking, why not hear it straight from them? Educators across the nation have come together to launch “Letters to the Next President 2.0” (L2P 2.0), an online publishing site that encourages young people (13–18) to research, write, and make media to give voice to their opinions on issues that matter to them in the coming election. (Sounds like a great activity for your next youth gathering.) The letters are powerful and inspiring like the words of this 10th grade female, “I worry that people will not value religion and abandon their faith due in part to the oppressive and disrespectful nature of public schools. I ask, dear president, that you remember the young people who are still making their way in the world, and ensure that we all have the opportunity to worship freely in public schools.”
Submissions are already appearing online at http://www.letters2president.org. L2P 2.0 will remain open for student submissions through November 8, and all letters will be available to the public through the new president’s first 100 days in office.
As parents and ministers to young people, it is our responsibility to share the importance of caring for the future of our country and also explaining why their voice matters. Apathy is never the answer. Catholic social teaching strongly promotes active citizenship because it is through our opportunities as citizens, we can help shape a world more committed to protecting human life and dignity and promoting justice and peace. In their statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops write, "In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation" (No. 13).
Visit us on Facebook to download a free Youth Ministry Access session entitled "Faithful Citizenship: Mixing Faith and Politics." In this session, participants learn how to apply the values of our Catholic faith to the political discussion in the United States. This session is ideal for 25 for 50 high school youth, but can be adjusted for smaller or larger groups.