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home : columns : dear harriette January 17, 2019

10/23/2018 7:47:00 AM
Teenage son losing interest in voting

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been talking to my 18-year-old son about voting since he was a child. This midterm election will be his first time casting a ballot. I am working to keep him enthusiastic, but it is so hard. Most of his friends aren't thinking about it at all. He has been paying attention to what's been happening politically in our country, and he doesn't like it. (Who does?)

I fear that my son will skip the election because he thinks his vote won't matter. What can I say to change his mind? I have taken him to vote with me since he was born. He sees how committed I am to the democratic process. But all of the negativity of late is a real turnoff for him. -- Motivate My Son, Bronx, New York

DEAR MOTIVATE MY SON: When I was a child, my father used to tell the story of how he lost an election in Baltimore to the tune of 50 or so votes. Later, he went on to win the job of state senator, becoming the first black man in that role. He never gave up. He taught my sisters and me that every vote counts -- always. He grew up during Jim Crow, when times were even more extreme than today. He believed in the power of one vote to make a difference.

Tell your son as many stories as you can that show how every single vote counts. In the midterm elections, many people do not pay attention to the issues and do not vote. Encourage your son to know what he will be voting for. Tell him that he can't complain unless he makes the effort to make a difference. His single vote counts a lot this year. Suggest that he rally some of his friends to vote as well. Peer pressure is real among teens. Encourage him to get his friends to pay attention to the issues with him and to agree to go out and vote together.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I try hard to be lenient and fair with my kids. I set limits for what they are allowed to do based on their ages, grades and behaviors. I spend a lot of time thinking about this. What I get back from them is that I am unfair. I am too strict. All of their friends get to do more than they do. The list goes on and on.

While it may be true that their friends get more freedoms, I really don't care about that. I can't run my family based on somebody else's standards. When I try to explain that to my kids, they shrug their shoulders. I gave in once recently and let them hang out much longer than is the norm, and true to form, they were out of it the next day and completely unproductive. When I pointed that out to them, they refused to accept what had happened. What can I do to guide my kids without having them hate me? -- Drawing the Line, Atlanta

DEAR DRAWING THE LINE: One thing many parents do today that I think is misguided is to try to be their kids' friend rather than their parent. Your children need you to create clear boundaries by which they must abide, or suffer the consequences. You can continue to explain your reasons for your rules, but do not relax your rules. Also make clear what the consequences will be and enforce them. They may say they hate you, but it will be temporary.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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