Teaching Your Children About Civic Responsibility

In challenging times, it’s important to help children understand the importance of being a functioning member of their community, state, and nation, as well as the world at large. A family night lesson can help them decide how they want to participate.

Mormon Aid To prepare for this lesson, create a quiz about your city, state, and country. Examples: Who is the mayor? Who is the governor? Who is the president? How many items in the Bill of Rights can you name? Can a president do anything he wants? How old do you have to be to vote?

Do this quiz in writing or orally. Help the children understand they need to know how their governments work in order to choose how they are going to help.

Invite each person to write or draw what they love best about their country, state, or town. Then ask them to explain what it takes to keep that in place. For instance, if they love the museum, ask where the money comes from to pay for it. Ask them if they know what part volunteers play in making their city, state, or nation better. (You may want to teach the lesson on volunteerism first.)

Next talk about laws. Ask each person to name some laws. How do laws come to be? What can a person do if he doesn’t like a law? Help each person explore responsible ways to change the law within the existing system, rather than by breaking laws. Point out that voting is one way to change laws, but that even those who can’t yet vote can help decide how our country will work.

Select three ways a non-voter can impact the future of the nation. This lesson will address the following: volunteering for campaigns, writing letters, and volunteering to help others.

  1. Campaigning. Tell your children they are going to pretend to be a campaign manager for a make-believe candidate. They can name their candidate and draw an official campaign photo. What are some things they need to do to get their candidate elected? First, the candidate needs a platform. Then they have to create publicity. Invite them to create an ad campaign—a poster, a commercial or some other means of getting out the message. Talk a little about campaign ethics. What kind of campaign would Jesus approve of? Would He think it’s okay to lie about your opponent or to destroy his posters? Ask them what they think someone their age might be able to do to help a campaign. If an election is near, schedule a visit to a campaign headquarters to find out.
  2. Letter writing. Ask your children to think of a realistic government issue they care about. Discuss the issue as a family and then together or individually, write letters expressing thoughtful feelings and giving constructive solutions. Mail the letters.
  3. Volunteering. Show your children your last tax return. This is how much you gave the government to help run the country. Teach them the kinds of things taxes are used for. Point out that some of these things could be done by volunteers instead, saving the government money. If you haven’t done a family lesson on volunteering, invite your children to select a service project they could do to help those in need. Remind them people often need two kinds of help: Immediate help in order to survive, such as food from a food bank, and long-term corrective help that can assist them in no longer needing help or to prevent a future need for help. This might include teaching people to read or giving them job skills. Both kinds of help are needed, but they can decide which kind they most enjoy giving.

Share the following information from Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do.” If your children are older, hand out the material and then read it together. If they are younger, select the points most helpful to them and discuss those.

1.    Be Informed.

  • Study the issues—Be a student of civic and political affairs.
  • Seek information from reputable sources—Read newspapers and position papers, watch television coverage, access the Internet, listen to candidates, and discuss the issues with colleagues.

2. Support the election process for local, state, and national leaders.

  • Be proactive in mind and deed—Get personally involved in the election process.
  • Always vote—Exercise your franchise to express your choice.
  • Involve the family—Make civic issues a matter of family discussion; teach these principles to your children.

3. Be active in volunteer service.

  • Use personal leadership—Pick a cause or several projects that can use your service, expertise, energy, and leadership.
  • Cooperate with organized civic efforts—Become familiar with government service agencies, medical associations (heart, kidney, lung, cancer, etc.), hospitals, schools, foundations, county service, etc., and learn how you can get involved in good causes.

4. Attend community meetings.

  • Town meetings—Cultivate a presence at meetings where important civic issues are being debated and discussed.
  • School board meetings and PTAs—Education is critically important; get informed and take a stand on the principles, values, and issues involved.
  • Informative lectures on current issues—Watch for opportunities to learn from multiple-points of view.

5. Stand for somethingAvoid apathetic feelings at all costs.

  • Cultivate the mindset of a civic leader—Remember that one person can make the difference. If people like Ralph Nader can cultivate a policy agenda and have influence, so can you.
  • Stand on values—You and the truth are a majority. Seek to uphold principles of truth in the government arena.
  • Concentrate on things that matter—Choose causes that makes a difference in people’s lives.

6. Remember and learn from the past.

  • Make civic duty a life-long pursuit—Learn from the past. Act in the Present. Plan for the Future.
  • Seek wisdom—Learning comes from what we glean from experience. Let us grow from it and not repeat actions that were negative.
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