The Art of Modeling Good Citizenship to Kids
Mom, Dad said he’s voting for ___. What about you?” If you haven’t been faced with that question yet—or a close variation thereof—just wait. Even elementary school students know there’s an election coming. The constant media coverage and adult chatter have put our kids on a first name basis with our presidential candidates. And while I’ll be happy to leave behind the mudslinging and “gotcha” tactics of campaigning, I welcome this political season as a teachable exercise in civic duty.
I’ve been a closet political junkie since 41 lost out on a second term. And I was raised to follow the law, respect leaders, and participate in society. I was an early adopter, apparently: I won the citizenship award in third grade. So it’s natural for me to talk with my own kids about civic responsibilities and politics. One of the points of parenting is to raise kids to be productive, decent, law-abiding adults, right?
As my husband and I purse that goal, we also wish to impress on our kids that their primary citizenship isn’t in the US, but in the church—the Body of Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” In Ephesians 2:19 he assures us that because of Christ, we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” Christ’s life, death, and resurrection brought people from every nation/tribe/language group into one heavenly family. This supersedes man-made nationalities. So, as we encourage our kids to be upstanding American citizens, they must learn to do so in ways consistent with their faith.
Parents know that their kids are more impressed with their actions than with their words. So recent and upcoming events have become opportunities to model good citizenship to my children: the two jury summons I received a few weeks ago, and Election Day coming next week.
My Civic Duties
My three oldest kids (ages 16, 12, 10) are aware of the election, the two main candidates, and most of the constant coverage of it all. They are also aware of their mother’s frustration with the whole thing. Yet, thanks to having multiple conversations about politics, presidents, media, and values, they also know that I (and their dad) will vote [indeed, have already voted early] despite our dissatisfaction with the two major candidates.
Voting is a privilege, one central to our democracy. Such truths we constantly reinforce day to day, answering questions, prompting conversations, engaging in current events that make their way even into middle school halls. These teachable moments can do more than a high school government class to promote a healthy sense of civic duty and responsibility in our kids.
I hope that in 2018, when my teen will first be eligible to vote, he will take that opportunity seriously even in a non-presidential election year. And I pray he will vote his conscience, a conscience shaped by his faith in his savior, Jesus.
Federal Jury Duty
In September, I was summoned to a nearby federal courthouse for jury duty, the first time I’ve been eligible to attend such an event. Federal court was very formal, with a small jury pool, strict rules of conduct, and a dress code. For four hours, the prosecutor and defending attorneys treated us to voir dire—an old French term meaning “to speak the truth.” They asked us a series of questions in order to determine bias or identify those who may be unable to render a fair verdict in the trial.
Did some overstate their convictions in hopes that they would be sent home? No doubt. Were some truly bigoted? Probably. When the eventual results were announced late in the afternoon, those of us not chosen joked to one another that, apparently, sitting quietly was enough to make you eligible!
I found the entire day fascinating. I would have been happy to serve on the jury if chosen, though the timing of a projected five-day trial could have been better with my current job responsibilities. But isn’t that always the case? Responsibility is often inconvenient.
Municipal Jury Duty
Then last month I was called to my small town’s municipal court as a juror. What a completely different experience! Our tiny city hall hosted a judge, two lawyers, one defendant, three witnesses, and fifteen potential jurors. I was chosen to sit on the six-person jury, tasked with determining if the defendant had indeed assaulted a man at a local truck stop. We learned the legal definition of assault, watched the defense attorney attempt to discredit the investigating policemen, all while committing to separate emotion from fact when presenting the guilty verdict. The whole process took about five hours.
These three events—two jury summons and an election—have become an object lesson for my kids: living as privileged Americans comes with a cost, but a cost well worth paying. A person not appearing when summoned will incur a penalty. A society in which many choose not to vote on Election Day will suffer for the lack of its people’s voices. Much like a family, democracy provides so much but demands participation in order to function properly. I pray my kids will embrace their civic duties and come to see them not as aggravations but as privileges. May they:
Embrace the privilege of having a civic duty.
Go with a willing spirit.
Educate themselves through their experience.
Honor their convictions.
Do what is right.
I encourage parents to share their experiences with their children. The election coverage has saturated the media, seeping down into grade-school classrooms. Share your perspective—you are still the most influential voice in their lives. Show them how your values and faith shape your politics. Take them with you, if possible, when you vote. Talk about the jury case you sat on. Explain how the system works, debate the merits of the case, share how you came to your conclusions.
Model how a follower of Christ can benefit the democracy of America through faithful obedience and a willing spirit. Our country needs the next generation of believers to engage the culture actively and prayerfully.