Parents are our children’s most important teachers.

Our schools play a role, but the rest is up to us – as parents. In truth, the young people in our lives learn more from the example we set then they will ever learn in a book.  We must think carefully about the messages – both intended and unintended – we send our children with our actions.

In thinking about this upcoming election, there is great concern as we watch our country traverse an increasingly difficult divide.  Many of us are frustrated in our systems and feel they need to change.  Many have disconnected because we feel our voice will not matter. Many of us are too worried about our health, our safety, or our financial condition to even think about it. But no matter how we are feeling about the state of our country or our lives, it does not change what we want for ourselves and our families – freedom, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the American Dream.  Only, none of that matters if we do not participate in our democratic process.  We must vote.  It is the most important thing we can do for the people and issues we care about.

How sad it is that as a society, we seem to have lost our ability to have productive and meaningful discussions. We do not engage because we do not want to be “attacked” for our opinions and beliefs.  But let me remind us. This is not how our system is supposed to work.

As a democracy, we are supposed to debate differing opinions so that we can find the best way forward.  No one person or group has all the answers.  Even though it is tough, without listening to one another, we will never find our way forward.

In this country, the most American thing we can do is share our voice and vote.  As a nation, it is our greatest resource. As individuals, it is our greatest power.  But it is also one of our greatest responsibilities – not only to our nation but to our children.

Whether we like it or not, our children model our behavior.  Our children need to see us productively participating in this essential aspect of our political process.  We must take the time to answer their questions and have constructive conversations about our opinions and beliefs. Taking time to share with them our frustrations and our dreams for our country is how they learn what we love and value. We need to encourage our children to discuss and debate their ideas about freedom with us. It is how they learn to engage with others respectfully, compassionately, and empathically.

The organization I serve works every day to address school and family needs so that children can learn and thrive. We help to work through and around barriers that are thwarting student success.  One of the ways we accomplish this is by empowering and elevating student voice. We know that once a child learns to be her own best advocate, they will soar.

As challenging as this season has been, one of the most important accomplishments has been our young people coming together across racial, ethnic, and economic lines to create a powerful voice for change.  They are jumping into the democratic process and learning to work for their American dream. They are using social media to share their thoughts and hopes. They are engaging their peers in difficult conversations. This takes courage.

I know that there are many parents out there who have been parenting a while but are only now considering becoming a first-time voter. Like what our children go through in school learning to become advocates for themselves, it is tough.

First-time voters face barriers.  Whether figuring out how to register to vote, locating personal documents, lining up transportation, or learning to read a ballot – these are barriers that can block your participation. But do not let it. Every election is important and every vote counts.  Just as we work with schools to remove barriers and help students become their best selves, so each of us must push through our learning curves and vote to help our country continue to grow into its best ideal.

I want to encourage everyone, the same way we encourage the students we work with every day to “be the change you want to see in the world” by registering and voting in the upcoming election. And please remember, our children are watching.

 

Bridget Clement

Executive Director

Communities In Schools, Pittsburgh – Allegheny County

and proud mother of Robin, Olivia, and Danita

 

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