The term “civic engagement” conjures all sorts of associations for different people. For some, it might spark sleepy memories of Civics 101 in high school. Others might think of politics – and not in an inviting way. Yet other people might hear the phrase and dismiss what comes next as overly pollyanna-ish. And, no doubt, for some it just sounds like extra work on top of life’s inexhaustible demands.
The real definition? “Promoting the quality of life in a community.” Doesn’t sound so bad!
At the most basic level, civic engagement means participation. Voting. Community service. Protesting. Shopping businesses that practice Human-Powered principles. Donating to local nonprofits. Even reading the news counts!
For busy parents, it can feel challenging to find time for these activities. But some of the best opportunities to support your community can be enjoyed by everyone, from your over-committed teenager to your curious kindergartener.
Civic engagement benefits children and adolescents – and the community
Form a young age, children (and their communities) benefit from helping others and being active in civic engagement:
- Civic engagement and community service activities develop character – teaching kids to show compassion, display self-discipline, respect others, and have courage.
- By making a difference in their communities, young people can become better informed about current events, democracy and government, and the biggest issues facing our planet today.
- Studies consistently show that participating in communities leads to increased academic performance and improved social-emotional well-being.
- Young people have unique views on social and local issues – and they often bring fresh ideas, energy, and passion to longstanding challenges.
So we put together some family-friendly recommendations to help boost civic engagement in your community – and help develop your young person into a responsible citizen.
For younger children
- Start close to home. Walk around the neighborhood and offer to shovel snow, rake leaves, pick up garbage, or do general yard pickup for an elderly neighbor. Or have your kids (if they’re old enough) coordinate a neighborhood tag sale and donate proceeds to a local charity of their choice.
- Make it fun. Choose something in your community that you can all do together – and that doesn’t feel like a chore. Does your child love animals? Drop off blankets, towels, or food to a local shelter. Does your family have a super friendly dog? Ask the local nursing home if you can drop by for a visit with your pup!
- Put it on the calendar. Families with a jam-packed activities schedule know that if you don’t build it into the plan, it’ll get forgotten. Make it a priority and something that everyone can look forward to. And invite your kids’ friends and their families to join you!
- Go on a field trip. Volunteering with young people may have limitations, as some organizations set minimum age requirements. Bu there are other things you can do with your kiddos to help teach them the importance of community and civic engagement: take them around town to teach them about homelessness, the environment, and animal rescues.
For adolescents and teens
- Learn about social media or civic tech platforms with your teen.
- Get involved in a campaign. Contact local organizations working on campaigns, elections, or advocacy – especially those tackling issues or candidates in which your teen has a special interest – and have your teen ask for volunteer opportunities. Door knockers, phone callers, and event helpers are always needed!
- Help others right in town. Encourage your teen sign up as a tutor, mentor, or coach through the town’s school district or library. Volunteer together at shelters for neighbors experiencing homelessness, soup kitchens, nursing homes, or childcare centers.
- Keep being a role model. Believe it or not, even teenagers still love to copy their parents. If you’re active in your community scene, your child is more likely to be, too. And what may seem even more unbelievable? If you commit to doing the activity together, they’ll likely look forward to it more. We’re not joking.
A note for community leaders: Diversity, equity, and inclusion
Research has shown that civic participation often lacks representation, with age, gender, race, education, and income influencing whether or not someone feels comfortable – and has the time and resources – to join in. As community leaders, ensuring easy access to information and a user-friendly process is key to enabling inclusion when it comes to civic engagement.
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that our communities and our democracy become more equitable when citizens participate and take action. And when young people from all walks of life have access to opportunities that allow them to effect change, our communities reap the benefits.
Like this article? Explore this website further for even more resources on how you can contribute to build a --more prosperous, equitable, and human-powered future.