Americans may not be able to vote in state and federal elections until they reach 18, but teenagers know it’s never too early to get involved in the democratic process.
“All over America, teens get involved in political efforts without even being old enough to vote yet. Why? Because they understand that they are part of the next generation of leadership,” says Virginia teenager Quinn Reichard.
Growing political participation among youth appears to be the “new normal” in the United States. The presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012 saw participation rates of around 50 percent for voters aged 18–29, compared to 37 percent in 1996 and 41 percent in 2000.
Before they are able to vote, teenagers can become politically active by learning about the issues, says secondary school government teacher Chris Lagioia.
“[Teens need] to do their research; they need to find out the political stances of the candidates on multiple issues and use multiple sources,” Lagioia says.
Jeremy Gagnon, a 16-year-old secondary school student from Maryland, took a civics class to learn about government.
“I learned not only about the foundations of U.S. government, but ideological/political standpoints, campaigning and the thousands of ways our government can influence our lives and we can influence the government,” Gagnon says.
Gagnon plans to volunteer his time to support a local political candidate. Other teenagers, like secondary school student Kyle Sims, say you need only to access the Internet to find opportunities.
“Want to contribute to the mayoral race? Check out the candidates’ websites and you’ll have no trouble finding information about volunteering for either campaign,” Sims says about his local mayoral race.
Learning about the issues by reading, attending classes and volunteering are just some ways teens can get involved. Teenagers can attend political rallies or even organize their own, depending on what they want to change, says a teen Web magazine contributor who identifies himself as Joseph_A.
“You can also contact a congressman, representative or senator about your concern or whatever it might be,” he says.
Sims says teenagers will someday run America and encourages his peers to get involved now — not wait until they are 18 and able to vote.
“Do some homework. Pick a side. Discover your voice. There are lots of changes to be made to our government, so don’t miss your chance to participate,” he says.