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OK, I admit it: I’m a political junkie. I get an adrenaline rush from watching presidential debates and primary returns. I actually like listening to the talking heads who do the play-by-play analysis of every poll percentage point in a big election year. I love following candidates and campaigns, positions and posturing, and the circus of media coverage. This isn’t anything new. When I went on a church youth group canoe trip in high school, I was actually given an award for being able to last more than a week without a newspaper.
Things haven’t changed much since then. I check news on the Internet intermittently all day, listen to news on the radio while driving, and flip on a television news channel at least twice a day. Suffice it to say that I like to know what is going on. Most of our kids hang around for a little while when I turn on the news. But they leave the scene in pretty short order. News just isn’t interesting to kids. And people making political speeches isn’t exactly what most kids find engaging.
This year, though, something was different. After many years of nose-holding votes, I finally found a candidate I could support with enthusiasm. The whole thing took on a very different feel. Suddenly, when I put on “debates” night after night, the kids — even the youngest ones — sat down to watch. When I checked Web site videos and posts daily, donated to support my candidate, or followed the early primaries and caucuses closely, they did too.
What’s more is that the kids began to ask questions. What plan did our candidate have to address illegal immigration and border security? What did an opponent have to say about taxes or health insurance? Which made better presidents, governors or senators? Is that guy’s hair real? They began to form their own opinions too. Loyal to the candidate I was supporting, a few of them developed and expressed some real disdain for a few of his opponents. They rooted for our candidate with sincere interest, and kept track of whether the fundraising goals were being met. One even made a few phone calls to voters in South Carolina.
Anybody who has ever seen a mock presidential election held at a school knows that the way kids vote is a pretty clear indication of their parents’ opinions. Children imitate what they witness. They are formed by the life we share with them, and often see the world through the eyes of their parents. But while we seem to have no problem raising good little Democrats or Republicans, somehow we are at a loss about how to raise Catholics.
It all boils down to one thing: active participation. The reason my kids became engaged in politics this year is because they saw that I was. They began to pursue it as an interest simply because they witnessed me pursuing it. They thought complicated issues through at their own levels, and asked questions based on how they understood things. The presidential race was a subject of dinner table conversations. Comparing the various candidates, exploring the issues, watching the campaign ads became something we did together. The processes and personalities were no longer distant or irrelevant. They had become familiar, and even fun.
The same approaches are how parents evangelize their children. If young minds are a sponge, young souls are even more so. They absorb whatever surrounds them. If our kids see that we are invested in our faith, they will become interested in the spiritual life too. If we tell them that we have chosen Christ, and decided to give our lives to him, they will be more likely to choose Jesus for themselves. If our conversations include what Jesus means to us, what God has done for us and for them, the cast of characters and the processes of salvation become familiar and alive? When things relevant to the faith are obviously relevant to us, faith is suddenly relevant to those around us. For as devoted subjects of the king exercising our citizenship in the kingdom, we discover that heaven is found not only everywhere around us, but among us, and even within us.