Teach Your Teen the Responsibilities of Citizenship

Woman arriving at registration desk in polling place
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Teenagers need to learn that as a citizen of their country they have responsibilities they should meet. This isn't an easy lesson for parents to teach their teens as the tasks of normal daily activities tend to get in the way of remembering how important it is to vote or making it a priority to go to a school board meeting. Therefore, children and teens of peaceful areas sometimes grow up seemingly oblivious to what being a citizen means and how being a part of their country affects how they live.

They may celebrate national holidays or watch the leader of their country talk on television, but many lack the knowledge of their citizenship responsibilities.

What Are the Responsibilities of Citizenship?

A good citizen understands that in order for a country or local community to thrive, its citizens have the responsibility to contribute to the common good, learn about their country, defend it and participate in its governmental processes. As a citizen, you not only follow the law, but you understand how laws are made and their purpose within society. While they are often in the background, the responsibilities of citizenship are in our everyday lives.

Teaching Your Teen About Citizenship

Parents can teach their teens about citizenship through their everyday actions by modeling good citizenship behaviors like volunteering to help in the community, being a part of your town's council or school board, voting and other civil activities.

Here are a few ways I suggest that parents use to teach their teens the responsibilities of their citizenship:

  • Talk about the voting process and take your teen with you when you vote. While you may want to keep who you are voting for to yourself, you can share about the election process and take your teen to your voting center on Election Day. There, they will not only be able to learn more about voting, the political parties and the issues currently of interest in their community and country, but they will also see the process at work.
    • Encourage your teen to read books about their country's history and citizenship. These books do not need to be boring or 'too heavy' in nature. Find books like A Young People's History of the United States (compare prices) which are full of interesting historical stories of my country the viewpoints of workers, slaves, immigrants, women, Native Americans and others.
    • Volunteer in your community as a family. There are many opportunities to volunteer in our communities. Take a drive around to your area libraries, food banks, hospitals and community centers. Ask those in charge where your family could help. Set up times where the whole family can lend a hand, whether it is at the same time or at different times.
    • Attend community council and school board meetings. Taking an interest in how your community works and becoming a part of the process is an invaluable lesson for your teen and very helpful for your community.
    • Talk about current national civic and political events at the dinner table or in general conversation. While you may not want to bring up controversial topics while eating - especially if you and your teen's political views aren't the same - you can talk in general about what is going on in the world or in your own community.
      • Help your teen do their taxes and turn it into a civics lesson. Don't just do the math! Your teen can learn something about why citizens pay taxes. Tax money is used for roads, education and many other services people rely on. Without this money our communities and nation would fail to be able to meet the needs of its people.
      • Visit a courthouse and watch a trial. Your teen will learn how the justice system works first hand by watching what goes on in a courtroom. It's not like television; they will actually get to see people putting in the hours of the work it takes to keep the rule of law functioning for its citizens.
        • Use social media to get your teen connected to their community. Have your teen download their local newspaper app, follow local leaders' Twitter pages, 'like' their high school and community organizations on FaceBook, etc. The more your teen feels connected to their community, the more they will value that connection and identify themselves as a citizen.
        • Visit local or national historical museums and events. Learn how your local community or country was born and who were the first persons in it. Talk to people who are a part of the founding families and learn about any struggles your community or country may have gone through. These types of visits make for fun and educational family activities.
        • Encourage your teen to take civics classes at their school. Many high schools or middle schools in the United States require a civics class, but some only offer it as an elective history or social science class. Some schools, however, offer more than one type of civics course. Whichever way your teen's school handles civics lessons, encourage your teen to take the class and get the most out of it by doing their best work.
        • Encourage your teen to become a part of school service projects. High school clubs and organizations often do things for the community. Doing things for others with their peers is a great way to learn the lessons of responsible citizenship.

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