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On Taking My Teen to Vote for the Very First Time

Earlier today, you heard my teenage daughter Riley Jensen talking about going to vote for her very first time. I thought I would share a little bit about what I did to prepare her as both a librarian and a mother.

Regular readers know that the Jensens are feminists, so we’ve been talking about the right to vote since she was in my womb. I took her with me when I went and voted for Barack Obama, both times. So she was no stranger to the polling place or the importance of using your voice.

Trying to get her registered to vote over the summer during a pandemic was a bit harder then I realized it would be. We were able to do it by mail, but when her voter registration card came in the mail they had spelled her name incorrectly. She also only had a driver’s permit which expired on her birthday, and trying to replace it or get the photo ID she would need to vote was challenging. But we dotted all of our i’s and crossed all of our t’s because I knew that especially in this election where the outcome seems so life changing, she would be devastated if she didn’t get to vote.

Then we talked about making a plan to vote. We live in a small, conservative Texas town and there were rumblings of armed Trump supporters being sent out to “patrol the polling places”. Which meant that I told her that I wanted us to go as a family for her first time voting not just because I wanted to share the moment with her – which I did – but because I was concerned about her safety. She has anxiety and I didn’t want anything to happen at the polling location to cause a panic attack or make her feel like she couldn’t safely vote. So her father and I went with her to share the moment, to help make sure her anxiety was okay during a new situation, and to keep her safe in the event that there were any safety issues.

The morning of we sat down and talked her through the process step by step. We let her know what she would need to do waiting in line, with each person she saw inside the building, and how the actual process of voting worked. We reminded her that she could fill out any, all or none of the categories if she didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t feel like she knew enough about an issue. I reminded her that on the actual issues you had to be very careful about the wording because they were often worded in a way designed to trick voters. Because she knew what party she wanted to vote for, we looked up who those candidates were and reminded her that in most of the races, their party affiliation would be next to their name.

The most important thing we told her is that after she filled out her ballot, that she should double check that it says what she wants it to before she submits it. This is important in all situations, but when you are a person with anxiety taking a moment to double check your work can help later when anxious thoughts come up or when you start seeing the inevitable social media posts proclaiming that people’s votes are being changed by the computers.

As she mentioned in her post, we went on the very first day of early voting and waited in line a little over an hour. Everyone was masked up and socially distanced, so we felt very safe in that way. And there were no outside poll enforcers or whatever they were threatening, for which I was very glad. I’m not going to lie, with all of the chatter I did feel afraid and I hate that.

It has been amazing watching my daughter become the amazing young woman that she is. She’s intelligent, informed and passionate and seeing her put that into action at the polls and getting to share that with her was truly a powerful moment for me. I hope the election turns out the way that she wants it to, so that her future is safer.

As a parent and a teen services librarian, here are some things we need to discuss with teens about voting:

  1. How to register to vote
  2. How to research the candidates and the issues on the ballot
  3. How to make a plan to vote, including sample ballots and things like early voting, absentee voting and in person voting on election day
  4. What will happen inside the polling location and what the rules are
  5. How to be politically active and engaged throughout your life, not just during election season

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