This post was originally published January 22, 2018.
Adapted from The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change by Barbara A. Lewis.
Teens are more civically engaged than ever, according to this 2017 study. The 2020 general election presents an opportunity for teens to get involved, even if they can’t yet vote. Share this list with the teens in your life to help them take action.
1. Speak on an Issue in Committee
Laws are often discussed in local government committees before coming up for vote. This is usually a stage at which the public can testify about the effects an initiative might have on their lives. Contact local officials to learn how you can get on the agenda to speak at these committee meetings.
2. Get Involved in Rule-Making That Affects You
School and community groups sometimes create rules with no input from the people actually affected by the policies, such as you. You might take on issues such as school suspension, curfews, or regulations for participating in extracurricular activities. Present information and views at meetings, in a student magazine, or on a website.
3. Get Out the Vote
Depending on your age and where you live, you may or may not be able to vote in local, regional, or national elections. But you can still participate. Encourage your eligible family members, friends, and neighbors to vote. Join or form a campaign to get people involved in the political process. Remember, no vote is no voice.
4. Serve as a Volunteer in Your Government
Many times, local government is understaffed (and underfunded), which means that intern or assistant positions may be available. Contact your local government offices to inquire about programs for teens. You’ll learn a lot about how your local government works—and you might even help it work better.
5. Cast a Practice Ballot
If you live in the United States and are not yet of voting age, you may still be able to cast a ballot on election day. Your vote won’t affect election outcomes, but you will learn more about participating in the democratic process. Visit the Kids Voting website to see how you can join or start a local program.
6. Know the Issues
Making a difference in government starts with knowing about the issues facing your community. Read newspapers and newsletters, follow current-events websites, and attend local council meetings. Once you’re up-to-date, voice your views on important topics by circulating petitions, writing letters to the editor, or starting school discussion groups.
7. Explore Opportunities for Youth Courts
Youth courts give minors in the United States the opportunity to be tried by peers. Young offenders are often punished through mandatory community service, but they also receive the chance to amend their behavior and clear their records. Peers serve as jurors, attorneys, and judges. Learn more about the Federal Youth Court Program here.
8. Join Your School Board or Student Government
Many school boards in the United States include high school students as representatives who fill an advisory role. Like those involved in student government, these young people are sometimes elected by peers. Take advantage of these opportunities to make sure students interests are being considered in your district and at your school.
For more ideas on ways teens can take local—and global—action on issues, check out The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change by Barbara Lewis.
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