How much do your kids know about government? A September 2016 Washington Post article discussed how many Americans are unfamiliar with how our government works. For example, one survey found that only a quarter of citizens could name all three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial — in case you were wondering).
Sadly, this trend has been taking place for many years. Since the 1950s, Americans have drifted apart and been less engaged in their communities. This report shows how Americans sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet in person, do not know their neighbors, meet with friends less frequently, and socialize with family members less often. This is unfortunate since research shows that we are happier when we build relationships and open up with others in our community.
Benefits Of Civic Engagement
There is a clear link between social connection and happiness, so when we interact with our neighbors on issues that impact our lives, we can experience a greater sense of connection to those we otherwise would not have met.
Experts have found that civic involvement helps us build personal connections in addition
to the typical ones we have through family, work, and leisure activities. When we participate in social action, community service, and political groups, we increase personal satisfaction as we engage with others on issues of mutual interest. These activities also involve participating in the decision making process, which has been found to boost our happiness as well. Another connection with happiness comes from helping others less fortunate than ourselves because it gives us a sense of living a meaningful life.
The largest survey on American civic engagement from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government revealed that quality of life and happiness are highest in communities where residents are more socially connected. About 30,000 individuals were asked about their community involvement. The survey found that levels of civic engagement—such as how much residents trusted, socialized, and joined with others—predicted the quality of community life and residents’ happiness better than education or income. The survey also showed that if other individuals in a community had higher civic engagement, the whole community was happier overall.
The connection between community involvement and happiness for children and teens has also been evaluated. According to youth.gov,
- Youth who volunteer are more likely to feel connected to their communities, do better in school, and are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
- Youth are more likely to volunteer if their entire family is involved and this experience results in strengthened family bonds.
- Students who performed voluntary community service were 19 percent more likely to graduate from college than those who did not.
Additionally, Tufts University Professor Peter Levine studied the relationship between civic engagement and psychosocial well-being among college students. He concluded that people are happier if their daily activities tend to be helpful to and valued by society. They also need to feel a sense of belonging and support from their community. Moreover, students who engaged in civic activities that impacted social change had significantly better happiness scores. They felt more connected to others, were more motivated to learn, and managed stress more effectively. He expects civic engagement programs to boost happiness.
Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids About Civic Engagement
Our children will spend some time in school learning about American history and government, but you can enhance their experience from a young age by doing the following:
- Reading books about American politics and government based on their age and interests. Here is a wonderful book list developed by the United States Senate.
- Watching movies and documentaries about history and government.
- Volunteering together as a family to instill community service values.
- Taking them with you when you go vote in elections.
- Encouraging them to join the student government or debate team at school.
- Bringing them to a political event or rally.
- Learning together online using these amazing resources:
iCivics provides a platform to engage students in meaningful civic learning. They provide free inventive resources to ensure every student receives a high-quality civic education. As the largest provider of civics curriculum in the country, it is used in 50 states by over 110,000 teachers.
Kids in the House is a public service website provided by the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Its mission is to provide educational and entertaining information about the legislative branch of the United States Government to students of all ages. Topics covered include the role of the U.S. House of Representatives, the legislative process, and House history.
Center for Civic Education promotes an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy. It develops high-quality curriculum materials, provides exceptional professional development for teachers, and advocates for stronger civic education in the United States and emerging democracies.