Media Simulations Where Kids Cast Their Vote: Silly or Sage?

I vote sage. But you probably figured that. Sunday’s Kids Pick the President Nickelodeon News special fell off my radar…even with Linda Ellerbee’s encouragement to get in the practice of voting, “because the next four years affects your future as much as any adult.” (ahem, maybe more, kidlets!)

Truth is, I missed posting yesterday because kids were pinging me amidst my grant app deadline after landing on my original KPP Primary article, asking ‘how and where’ to vote online, whether I could help them find the links, who I was voting for and such…C’mon, I couldn’t ignore them!

It’s heartening to see such young kids eager to have a say and be heard, even in a playful media-based simulation. Gosh, I’d forgotten all about the KPP voting where Nick News announces their kids choice winner on Oct. 20, so the kids’ queries really snuck up on me.

I figured I’d already covered the media literacy angle of stage-crafting the conventions and was moving on to corporate tie-ins like Dial’s Campaign for Clean Hands and getting involved with fantasy land-apolitical storylines in Dizzywood’s virtual world elections, which as you can see by the release, Shaping Youth is involved with.

Mind you, Ken Marden is the creative mastermind on Dizzywood’s elections, I’m just a pro-bono adviser, but I tell you, it’s been uplifting to peek into their world and see such enthusiasm. Their Explorer’s Journal blog is brimming with back and forths from kids heavily ‘engaged’ in the voter process of who will be “the next Poobah.” (yep, with 170+kids’ comments on the post I viewed, I’d say it’s a huge hit!)

I know, I know…vote for getting ’em outside. Vote for unstructured play. And yes, I agree, but it’s all about balance. The digital playground can be worthy too…especially when collaborative social play is in the mix and simulations teach things in fun fresh ways that kids enjoy.

Dizzywood devotees have their own blog rings and informal learning going on, and to an adult, it may seem silly at first…

I mean, how does one equate Kat De Claw’s campaign promise “to rebuild the road from Wildwood Forest to Canal City” or Cecil Sideshuffle’s mission “to put an end to the evil Emperor Withering’s corruption,” to REAL life candidates and registering to vote?

Again, I’m biased…I find some of these creative uses of digital media to be a wise way to lay positive groundwork for kids to engage in civic expression and community-building at an age appropriate level…

Frankly, I find it much healthier than some of the ‘real life’ sims in younger pre-school and kindergarten mock elections, as I’ve seen kids ‘vote’ in parental mimicry and be ostracized by peers who ‘think differently’… leaving a NEGATIVE impact on kids’ first impressions of voting.

A poor first voter experience can reinforce a ‘sheeple’ approach and work against critical thinking skills from the get-go…Teachers are not always unbiased themselves to intervene appropriately.

I’ve been in classrooms where it’s downright uncomfy to watch some educators skew their own ‘agenda’ instead of focusing on objective neutrality…so I say stick to creative fantasy or educate realistically, but don’t blend the two in fuzzy pedagogy.

Sometimes I think adults forget what strong influencers we are at earlier ages and stages, so if we can err on the side or ‘reach and teach’ over ‘preach and teach’ then virtual worlds might be a nice conduit for gleaning some basic behaviors. (btw, don’t miss the new 48pager from ENISA on ‘Virtual Worlds: What Parents Should Know’

Dizzywood has surpassed 500,000 users since their beta launch about a year ago, and they join a handful of other awe-inspiring fantasy lands in embedding positive cues for kids.

..Wait’ll you see Elf Island, coming soon, it’s AMAZING!Shaping Youth is doing a 3-part series on Eco Child’s Play about Zookazoo, DW, and Elf Island, so if you have more in this realm, send ’em my way! (More on all that soon…I’m rambling and tired from my grant deadline, anyway…

As for kids’ voting sims of all kinds, I suppose there’s always the risk of superficial demagoguery, spewed back classroom chatter, or parent parroting…

But that’s where those Cable in the Classroom e-learning videos, online media literacy curricula and ‘e-lections’ games, come in handy.

I’ve made it a point to ask some tough questions of teens canvassing neighborhoods and volunteering on behalf of one candidate or another (well, ok, mostly ‘that one’)…Especially since they’re too young to vote…I lob some candid media spins their way to see what they do with ’em, in the name of ‘research.’

So far, I must say, I’ve been impressed with kids’ articulation of their candidates of choice. Really. You KNOW I’m not an easy sell. I play devil’s advocate and have been told I can ‘debate with a picket fence just for jollies’ even when I’m on the same side…In fact, in my family, we call this “playing sock.”
Named after my tenacious childhood dog who’d pick up her tug-toy-knotted sock to invite a rousing match of back and forth games…It quickly became an iconic representation for our battles of wits.

The debate-style polarity and intellectual sparring has now become verbal short-hand, particular at holiday gatherings when one might say, “I’m NOT gonna play sock with you on this one.” Which clearly means ‘don’t make me growl or I might bite.’

Still, I suppose these teen-political snapshots of door to door activism are all relative, because youth pounding the pavement for a cause probably DO have a higher level of engagement than the digital sphere, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

As Richard Louv said in his presentation the other night, “We’re creating a media age where kids can click on eco-causes online but they can’t spot poison oak walking outside.”

True. True. Yet I’m quite hopeful that the online to offline bridges are being built, and new methods of education are forthcoming…Digital information gatherers can make important subjects come alive. So it’s really back to balance and grounding ourselves sans stereotypes inter-generationally.

Granted, we’ve all seen the late night comedy street-beat queries of ‘dumbed down’ voter age-youth who can’t tell us how many states there are…

…But I’ve seen far more activist-driven heroic efforts, like Alex Steed’s project Millennials Changing America, criss-crossing his way across the country documenting other positive agents of change.

And AGE is certainly not the bellwether…

Some teens and millennials pass the litmus for political expression chatting on the web in forums and politico hangouts like My Political World with ease, whereas other ADULTS are ‘deer in the headlights clueless’ revealing their ignorance of basic governance in mainstream media shows.

Example? Last Friday’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics on 20/20 with John Stossel was eye-opening in a ‘Halloween fright night’ kind of way.

He was joshing about the efficacy of the Rock the Vote campaign, and asking aloud whether some of the simplistic mindsets in play are doing us any favors by voting. Thankfully, he extended his inquiry beyond youth to young, old, and in-between:

Should some people just NOT vote? Should the uninformed abstain altogether? At the risk of sounding like a benevolent dictator, his interview made a strong case for same. You can see it here.

But again, media literacy reminder, folks…sensationalism sells. So filter. Filter. Filter.

Now, for all of you ‘sock players’ out there who can’t get enough debating here’s the ‘millennial messaging media smackdown’ in tug-o-war style, from the recent American Enterprise Institute session: Millennials: The Dumbest Generation or the Next Great Generation?”

Sounds like a logline for a new reality show series, eh?

AEI Director of Education Policy Studies Rick Hess, pits the opines of two respected polar opposites: Emory Univ. Professor Mark Bauerlein who wrote How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Futures (L.A. Times story here) and Life Course Associates founder Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. (NPR review here)

Here’s the full video presentation and slide deck.

Meanwhile, I’ll take the other end of the sock and ask with already established bias…

“Do you feel it’s a service or a disservice to engage non-voter youth in civic simulations in or out of the digital sphere?”

Do you think efforts to empower kids as global citizens early in their lives is sanguine or superfluous? Or somewhere in between?

Go ahead. Pick up the other end of that sock if you wish. I don’t bite. Barely even growl. It’s all part of the ‘game’ of finding balance in media messaging…Your thoughts?

Related Resources

From “KOL tv” (Kids+AOL=KOL, clever)

Other Related Links

PolitiFact Truth-o-Meter

Education Video clips of author/AEI digital debates

Shaping Youth/Dizzywood Elections Press Release

Dizzywood Explorer’s Journal Blog

Dizzywood Wiki

Secret Notes Dizzywood/User Blog

Alex Steed’s Project: Millenials Changing America

The (Law Prof blog)

Teen Lab at Alcatel-Lucent: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers Vs. Millennial Internet Use

Visual Credit: PinkyFlower 95/DW blog

Oh, and btw, if you’re wondering what a Chief “Poobah’s” duties are?

“As Chief Poobah, a candidate must first and foremost decide where the magic and technological resources of Dizzywood should go.  That means organizing and convincing all of Dizzywood’s various Weather Wizards, Elixir Mechanics, Steam Engineers, Crystal Crafters, Pathfinders, and Skyland Aerialists to pool their efforts into a civic cause.  In addition, a qualified Poobah must warn citizens of plots by Emperor Withering, attend new airship launches, lead parades, and give the kick-off speech at the annual Winter Festival.  It’s a very important job!–” etc.

Whew. Sounds exhausting. Good luck, kids.



  1. Please consider posting this video and passing it along, it’s amazing. It’s great at showing the distinction between MaCain and Obama in regards to the abortion issue. Please pass this along to everyone you know. We have to get McCain elected…

  2. We’re a nonpartisan, nonprofit, non-religious-based consortium, so our policy is not to engage in the political battleground.

    It’s a sound policy, and since I’m personally a staunch PRO-CHOICE child advocate, you can see how this policy works in everyone’s favor…Hope you understand. –AJ

  3. All: I should add that in other election sims with kids, here are the voting tallies:

    Scholastic Kids Votes: (almost 1/4 million kids voting)

    Girls Inc: She Votes:

    And we’ve had quite a few kids vote splitting on both ends in other posts we’ve done…not sure why they’re not on this one…but I’ll look back into the comments to see where they’re landing in prior posts…

    Oh…and here are the “kids votes” in swing states only per the Scholastic site:

    Results from key swing states are as follows:
    Colorado: McCain 61% Obama 36% Other 3%
    Florida: McCain 41% Obama 55% Other 4%
    Indiana: McCain 51% Obama 47% Other 2%
    Iowa: McCain 48% Obama 49% Other 3%
    Michigan: McCain 40% Obama 57% Other 3%
    Missouri: McCain 49% Obama 47% Other 4%
    Ohio: McCain 47% Obama 51% Other 2%
    Pennsylvania: McCain 46% Obama 50% Other 4%

    “Be sure to follow Election Night results with the Kid Reporters on Scholastic News Online throughout the evening of November 4.”

    I’ll look into Dizzywood’s sim soon and report back as well!

  4. Oh, I should add the most obvious…the subject of this article…

    Kids Pick the President on Nickelodeon recorded 2 million children voting came veeeeeeeeeeery close.

    Obama won 51% McCain had 49% !!!

    According to Linda Ellerbee’s report, adults are watching closely because kids have picked the last 4 out of 5 Presidential Elections correctly per their votes! 😉

    We’ll see on Nov. 4th!!

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