Too Young To Vote? Not Too Young To Act! Three Ways Teens Can Still Make A Social Impact

By Kaia Stueck

Like millions of teens and young adults across the world, I care deeply about a lot of issues. From the Parkland shooting survivors advocating for stronger gun control policy, to Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and female education rights activist Malala Yousafzai, ours is not a generation of wall flowers. But in the United States, at 16 years old, I am too young to vote. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean I can’t make my voice heard. Here are three steps teens can take to support issues they care about and become involved in the political process, even if we are too young to vote.

1. Find an Issue You Care About

Are you interested in the political process, but don’t know where to start? Start by finding an issue you care about. What drives you? What are you passionate about? Start by researching different topics, read news articles, or take a class at your local college. Think about past experiences you’ve had that have a major impact on your life. Maybe you’ll find you are interested in issues that impact women and children’s health, or that you care deeply about immigration or education policy. Whatever your passion(s), learn as much as you can about all sides of the issue.

My interest in activism started in my Honors American Literature Class at Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) and developed further when I had the opportunity to take an Introduction to Democracy and Justice Studies course at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay through my state’s Early College Credit Program. As part of the class, we were asked to write a paper on a topic that was important to us and “crucial to democracy.”

After much research, I learned that child marriage, defined as anyone age seventeen or younger being able to legally marry other minors and adults, was allowed in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Teenagers under 18 years old cannot legally vote in the United States, but I was shocked to learn they can get married. Ending child marriage became a cause that I am deeply passionate about and am committed to work to end.  

2. Participate in Your State’s Legislative Process

Making an impact doesn’t start and end at the ballot box. Consider participating in your state’s legislative process in other ways. Start by contacting your elected officials to voice your support for or against an issue or to ask them to support or not support an issue or bill you care about. This can be as local as the school board and all the way up to the state capital, the halls of Congress, or even the White House.

Create a petition to show lawmakers how much support there is for a policy. If your state government holds a public hearing on an issue, write a letter of support or opposition for the bill being heard. At first participating in the state legislative process might seem daunting, but even as teenagers, our representatives want to hear from us to learn more about the issues we care about.

After learning about the child marriage laws in my home state, I personally emailed all 33 Wisconsin State Senators and 99 Wisconsin Assembly members and asked each of them to support increasing the legal marriage age in Wisconsin. By writing each legislator in my state, I brought awareness to an important issue that few people know about. As a result, a bill to increase the legal age of marriage in Wisconsin to 18 was introduced and referred to the Committee on Family Law.

3. Volunteer for a Local Organization, Campaign or Group

Teenagers can have a major impact in their community by volunteering for a local organization, campaign, or group that supports the issues they care about. Advocacy groups are always looking for volunteers to make phone calls or send text messages in support of their candidate or issue. You can also look for ways to help local organizations with the skills you already have. Are you a creative digital designer? Offer to help with the group’s website or develop a logo. Are you a great writer? Offer to help with grant writing. Are you a social media guru? Help the group produce social media content you know will reach the masses.

Participating in the political process isn’t always easy and can certainly be intimidating. Despite its challenges, being a teenage activist for issues you care about is more than worth it. It’s given me an opportunity to make new connections and have new experiences while making a big difference along the way. Exercising our right to vote is one of the most important civic responsibilities we will ever have. But until we’re old enough to cast a ballot, I encourage other teens to help make an impact by looking for ways to participate in the political process in your community this election season and through the year.    

Kaia Stueck is a teen activist from De Pere Wisconsin and a high school junior at Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA).


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