Children profit from parent involvement in grass-roots politics

URGENT TO PARENTS: In the immediate future, you can contribute to your children's well-being in a very special way. To make this contribution, you will have to go out of your home. You may even need to leave your youngsters briefly in someone else's care.

What is this vital thing you should do?

Vote.

During the next few weeks, many communities will be holding elections. It is not too late to learn about candidates and issues or even to participate as a campaign volunteer.

But, some parents might protest, what does politics have to do with the well-being of my children?

Youngsters today are affected more than ever by what goes on beyond the family circle. Decisions about school curricula, recreational programs, day care, and environmental quality are being made by public officials constantly.

Many children attend school outside their own neighborhoods. With a growing number of two-career and one-parent families, children spend considerable time without direct parental supervision. As social patterns change, even youngsters from more traditional homes are likely to build relationships with people their parents hardly know. There is no way to influence their total experience solely from the hearthside.

It is all the more important, then, for parents to share responsibility in determining who the elected officials will be and to convey to them their continuing interest in matters that affect children.

When my son was small, he understood that one of the reasons for my involvement in grass-roots politics was my concern for the kind of society in which he would grow up. Soon he began volunteering himself and learned about much that has been valuable to him since.

Unfortunately, voter turnout has declined in recent years in America, and the problem is particularly acute at the local level. Yet it is town and city officials and their appointees who have a day-to-day impact on youngsters' lives.

If you haven't had an opportunity to find out what is going on in your community, here is what can you do. Contact organizations such a sthe League of Women Voters, PTA, and party committees, which sponsor candidate forums and provide voter information. Attend meetings of the school committee and other government boards.

Read and listen to news sources that offer a variety of viewpoints. When you find worthwhile candidates, give them your support. For instance, you might invite them to discuss issues with a few of your friends and neighbors in your home.

Don't be tempted to think your vote doesn't count. It does. There are countless cases in which small numbers of determined people have achieved reforms. If you can help to elect a more qualified school committee or a more responsive town council in coming election days, your children will reap the benefit now and for years to come.

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