Will Kids Pick the President? Shaping Youth Through Politics

kptp2.gifNot sure how many of you have been following the First-Ever Kids’ Primary, which began Jan. 13 on Nickelodeon’s Kids Pick the President site, a Linda Ellerbee hosted series drawing younger kids into the voter process so they’re ready to roll at 18…

Personally, I LOVE the concept of instilling civic concern and inoculating against voter apathy, even if it’s in the usual Nick shoutfest of tween green gross-outs, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, and now, you can pick the President!”

Mind you, the youth winner is a bit of a given, but the ‘Yes we can’ music video has hope/promise/optimism of youth written all over it, with “Have Fun, Do Good” momentum and “honest, open, inclusive” concerns focusing on the process over the experience…Face it, many kids lap up this charismatic stuff…(I’d say ‘don’t we all?’ but risk being flamed again…in Target billboard brouhaha style. bleh.)

Linda Ellerbee (video here) lends her journalistic cred as the grand dame of kids’ media literacy, always a delight, and as Izzy Neis said about KPP they did a solid job building coolness cache, and their ongoing theme of how/why kids should care.

This year, Nickelodeon/KPP’s colorful positioning banner boldly proclaims, “The next four years affect you as much as any adult and could affect your future even more…So WHAT if you can’t officially vote until you’re 18?”

Nick’s site has the requisite “you can have a say” kids’ empowerment voice, amped up videos, kid-friendly meet the candidates bio blurbs, message boards, and ‘how we elect a president’ paragraphs highlighting the caucuses, conventions, primaries, and electoral vote process, all in a tidy data nugget of digestible information…(aka, the usual “soundbite” mentality that’s pervasive in our culture, which gives me the willies in terms of choosing our future leaders)

BUT…this is great if we take our ‘deconstruction/media’ tools along the campaign trail…

ellerbee.jpgEllerbee brings an elegant presence to the show that grounds the Nickelodeon ‘splat/slime’ bit…and adds ‘serious’ chops to an otherwise peer to peer-driven voter influence-fest…

After all, deciding the future of the country is not American Idol…Or Dancing with the Stars…Or America’s Top Model or any of those other reality show popularity polls where people ‘perform’ and be judged, ridiculed, and showed the exit door…

Ok, I suppose politics IS ‘entertainment’ but it also requires leaving the shallow end of the swimming pool and wading in a bit deeper to get beyond the superficial “Miss America answers”…

oba.jpgIt’s heartening to see new media has opened doors for participatory engagement as never before. With live-streamed online forums, townhalls like the incredible MTV/MySpace ‘Super Dialogue’ debates which slam dunked coverage on CNN and ‘mainstream’ channels for live candidate outreach with youth, and ‘choose or lose’ framing of the new TechPresident style of highly personalized conduits to issues of importance to youth. ..you’ve gotta say, youth voter excitement is energizing. (I adore Tech President’s tagline: “How the candidates are using the web, and how the web is using them”)

time-young-voters.jpgMeanwhile, Time magazine trumpets, “Why Young Voters Care Again” as the Time cover story …A media literacy deconstruction story in itself…

Time, Inc. keeps referencing their “national Time poll of under 30 Americans” without giving us numbers, margins, regions, states, socioeconomic levels, etc ; the kids in the photos are heavily weighted to Cal Berkeley and Univ. of Georgia, Athens (c’mon, folks, two colleges? this is social media, do a REAL poll!)…And the ‘Fear Factors’ data graphic doesn’t even mention the environment, which Habbo’s Greenpeace/virtual world poll submitted to the U.N. showed 50,000 teens speaking out as the #1 influencer…I’d say that merits a line-item ‘uh-oh!’…so what am I missing here? real-clear-politics.gifLink/info, please, anyone, for details?

You KNOW I don’t take ‘polls’ as gospel truth under any circumstance, especially where media mandates are concerned–so do enlighten me with the details, if any of you have the research stats, ok?

Thankfully, Time, Inc. also covers all the stats on this Super Tuesday eve, with “Real Clear Politics” giving an “at a glance” freeze frame of where things stand…

Real Clear Politics is one of many ‘download to your mobile’ types of aggregators of information, so it’s ‘real clear’ that kids have EVERY opportunity to delve as deeply as they want into the country’s vision and hope for a better tomorrow. (check out Street Team ’08 on MTV’s ‘think’ channel to get a feel for youth local, mobile, vocal perspective, too…)

project-vote-smart.gifThe tools are all there…

As I wrote with Project Vote Smart, and last year’s Intelligent Vote, SmartVoter.org, etc. the info is a click away tailored to individual hot buttons, provided we all take spoon-fed data with an amped up dose of heightened critical thinking skills.

People tend to be readily ‘predisposed’ to ‘snap judgments’ without all the information in place…This speaks to me as a much larger ‘snapshot’ of how our culture in general takes in media information; very sound-bite oriented, vehement in stance, almost recalcitrant…

To me, this is somewhat indicative of our very ‘distracted’ society that seems to flit around with the attention span of a gnat in multi-tasking/partial attention, only skimming the surface of the deeper issues.

For example, when I watched the KPP Nickelodeon primary Jan. 13 with my daughter, I knew full well she was already set on one particular contender, without being able to articulate her ‘whys’ in any meaningful manner. (again, she’s 12, so I was watching to see if any other candidates/peer influencers had a snowball’s chance in Hades of swaying her opinion, just for fun)

nickelodeonpnglogo.PNGI stayed silent and literally watched her ‘vote’ thumbs up or down based on a clip from the candidates and a tween ‘supporter’ that reasoned ‘why I like so & so’…

The content was all over the board in topical soundbites and snippets (some eco, some education, some Iraq, etc.) this waved a big red flag to me that kids could easily dupe themselves into ‘comparing apples and oranges’ or set a precedent toward ‘single issue voting’ vs. well-rounded reasoning in a holistic ‘big picture’ view.

That’s something adults do all the time, especially if we’re passionate about one given subject in particular, right? I said:

“Where do you think so & so stands on such & such; or is that even remotely important to you?”

She’d respond with some hemming and hawing and the equivalent of a ‘yah, it’s important but I’m not gonna get up to check it out’ type of response…(kind of like the iCarly phenom of ‘it’s cool you can do it, but don’t make me get up and go get my laptop’ kinda thing, sigh…so much for ‘early adopter enthusiasm’…)

Granted, it’s not exactly her tween priority, and she really ‘watched the show for me,’ but this was disconcerting to think that she could ‘make a concrete decision’ and be vehement about it without knowing all the facts…ahem.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I over-analyze everything (and believe me I get flak about it, which is a bit paradoxical/ironic) given that my scrutiny stems from my disdain for the “sound-bite phenom”…so I go overboard trying to ‘see all sides’ with reason and balance. I research the heck outta things, like a few of my colleagues, and assume others do too…but they don’t.

Put bluntly, adults don’t “do their homework” …why should we expect kids to?

We universally fall prey to insta-speed-reading through imagery and data shorthand to think we’ve ‘got the gist of it’ when a more nuanced response is not only warranted but necessary to understand the interdependence of complex issues.

Judging by some of my recent encounters with a very uncivil American public of media-miscreants on the whole NYT/Target brouhaha, I’m of the mind that people should at least TRY to be informed and well-balanced in both sides of an issue if they’re going to take up space on the planet spewing vitriol and backwash on how fouled up the rest of us are.

In politics this particularly applies…

How many times have you been cornered in a social setting by an emphatically convinced blowhard with a half-baked, opinionated stance? Bleh.

Last thing we need is to have kids become this way speaking in ‘know it all’ soundbites without critical thinking skills…

vote-smart.jpgTomorrow’s Super Tuesday…

I say “explain what that means”…(deconstruct the media messaging, frankly, I think kids have the upper-hand here, since they’re less jaded and more hopeful as a rule)

And for even more fun, take this “Select a Candidate” quiz to raise your own self-awareness on ‘politico-soulmate matchups’…and cut to the chase to see where you stand on key issues influencing the Super Tuesday sphere…

It’s a great way for adults and kids to surprise themselves (and each other) with how close they might really be to common ground.

There’s no need for a digital media generation gap…We just need to seal the media literacy one.

Enjoy…and don’t forget to vote!



  1. Generally speaking, kids in the Nick-set tend to parrot what they hear at the dinner table. They’re still on the young side to develop their own political beliefs. In a few years, of course, they’ll begin to make their own decisions, often in opposition to their parents.

    I always find the Select-a-Candidate quizzes hard to swallow: just now I ran it and the candidate I am allegedly most in-line with is one with whom I have a number of policy complaints. It makes me wonder whether the numbers are accurate, since the candidate selected on behalf is a media favorite.

  2. Agree, Charlie, and that’s why those quizzes should be viewed more as ‘sport’ and ‘entertainment’ rather than any form of enlightenment…They’re fun, and an easy snapshot to get a quick read on where the candidates stand (sound-bite form) but far from accurate…My Dad was shocked, for example that his ‘alignment’ came out reflecting a candidate he thinks is ‘superficial at best’… 😉 And mine came out in a dead heat tie between two candidates with the exact same number of points attributed to each…talk about ‘centrist’…heehe

  3. p.s. Re: Tweens parroting parents:

    Yep, as I wrote on Izzy’s blog after the 1/13 ‘kids primary’

    “Interestingly enough, I watched the Nick special last night with my daughter who tried to tell ME how to vote. It was hilarious. I kept trying to deconstruct WHERE (and how) she was getting her info…Peers? Teachers? Rumors of who was cool and not? etc.

    I purposely flat line in classic ‘centrist’ style so that she has to make up her own mind about some of the ‘big stuff’ (including metaphysical/religious pursuits, politicians, current events…) so it surprised me that she started out ‘in one camp’ (again…not sure where it’s comin’ from) and ended up in a wishy-washy blur of ‘a top 3…”

    “As a media literacy queen, I can’t help but guide her with, ‘yeah, but that was a sound bite on ONE issue…where do they stand on this/that/the other’ you can’t be too quick to judge based on the media context alone…(that’s like choosing a candidate on their smile or they ’seem nice’)…”

  4. The big plus to this type of education is that perhaps the next generation won’t pick as President, “the one we’d most like to go on a picnic with” (That’s from the NY Times – an editorial I can’t locate anymore.)

    Once American’s stop voting with their emotions and more by analyzing the facts the less citizens from other countries will look at us like we’re nuts after an election and we’ll get both qualified candidates and those that actually espouse the values of the whole country…not just a segment of it.

    The more we educate kids on what to consider, the more likely they will be to use their heads not their hearts to vote.

  5. 200% concur!!! You’re my hero for giving the most reasoned, sharp assessment in a (ahem) ‘sound-bite.’

    Absolutely perfect, brava!! (p.s. I haven’t had a chance to post about the 10 Questions.com site and Teacher Tube yet, though I linked to it back in Nov…they’re doing a great job with instilling critical thinking skills early on, too!!!

  6. Anyone read this NYTimes op-ed called, “You’re 16, you’re beautiful, and you’re a voter?”

    NYT Op-Ed Excerpt:

    …”Driving laws provide the best model for combining early beginnings and mandatory education. Many states have had success with a gradual phasing in of driving rights over a year or more, starting with a learner’s permit at age 16. The most restrictive of these programs are associated with a 38 percent reduction in fatal crashes among the youngest drivers, according to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. —Similarly, 16-year-olds who want to start voting should be able to obtain an “early voting permit” from their high schools upon passing a simple civics course similar to the citizenship test. Besides increasing voter registration, this system would reinforce the notion of voting as a privilege and duty as well as a right – without imposing any across-the-board literacy tests for those over 18.”

    In some senses I feel like ADULTS should ALSO be given an ‘aptitude test’ before earning the privilege (vs. “right”) to express themselves by voting…(see MC Milker’s comment above…spot on!!!!)

    What do you have to say on the critical thinking skills/media literacy front? Are kids ‘seeing the whole picture?’ Are educators/parents/media helping them or distilling into sound bites? How media literate is your home?

  7. Here’s another new post on ‘candidate bingo’ from Moms Rising which scores candidates based on their acronym of meaningful issues pertaining to childcare, etc. fyi, as the ’08 race narrows…

    “Dear MomsRising member,Wow. Record voter turnouts this past Super Tuesday in twenty-four states, a thrilling horserace of an election, and stand out candidates. What more could we want? A winning candidate who puts family-friendly policies first. You can help make that happen by being part of MomsVote ’08.

    There are 80.4 million mothers in our nation, and women comprise 54% of the vote. But, our issues are still taking a back seat on the campaign trail, even as the maternal wage gap continues and as families continue to struggle economically. We have the power, and the numbers, to have our voices heard and to make an impact.

    Just imagine what we can do together. In fact, we’d like you to do just that by sharing what MomsVote 08 activities most interest you.

    Take a couple of moments now to let us know how you’d like to be involved in the election by clicking below:


    The candidates are all talking about Change (with a big “C”), and we applaud them for that because real families need real change. Now let’s get the candidates talking about how exactly they’re going to make those Changes. Paid family leave, childcare, flexible work options, and healthcare are real changes that real families need–and they’d make a big difference in the economic security of our nation’s workforce.

    MomsRising, through our MomsVote08 program, is making sure moms have an impact. This past week we launched Presidential Candidate Issue Bingo, and moms set up the Power of ONEsie display at the debates in L.A. with much fanfare (see below for quotes from the field).

    *You can read the Bingo score reports from our members online by clicking here: http://www.momsrising.org/candidatebingo This isn’t the last time we’ll play Presidential Bingo. Be ready to break out (or download) your MomsRising Presidential Bingo cards for the next debates.

    We’re ready to do more with MomsVote ’08 and want to hear your priorities for the next steps.

    Here’s that link again to tell us what you think: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/questionnaire.jsp?questionnaire_KEY=504

    —so is ‘family friendly’ a single issue voting policy?

    What do you think? It encompasses quite a few categories, so cuts a wide swath…the bingo idea was a great media tool…I could see something like that engaging kids in a big way…especially in issues specifically of interest to them…

  8. Really good resource roundup for kids to understand caucuses and such here:


  9. im good at playing sports

  10. im good at playing sports

  11. well, hey Luke…so am I!

    Welcome to the Shaping Youth blog…I’m glad you’re researching how the government works, and hope you have fun learning with all the interactive information out there! Who are you voting for so far??? Do you know yet? Are you voting on Nickelodeon’s “Kids’ Pick the President?”

    We’re always eager to hear from kids so feel free to leave a comment at any time. Here are some other fun/educational sites you might like about “how stuff works”…

    I wrote about them here on Shaping Youth:

    (You can also click on our ‘eco-kids’ sidebar for a bunch of ideas for outdoor fun and sites too!)

    🙂 Come back and visit!! Your friend, –Amy

  12. how do i vote

  13. Anne, go directly to their site here:


    Then they’ll announce the KPP winners on 10-20!! Also, if you’d like to participate in the election process to see how it’s handled in a tween 8-12 ‘virtual world’ we’re teaming with Dizzywood to get kids thinking about citizenship and voting before they’re ‘of age’ too! So you can log-in and see what’s happening there at http://www.Dizzywood.com

  14. obama yaaaaaa

  15. I think that Jhon macain should be the perasdent so he has the same thought as me.

  16. I think that Jhon macain should be the perasdent so he has the same thought as me. I love picking the persdent. Me and my mom and dad voted for jhon mcain

  17. rowan normanq says

    i would like to vote for john mccain. i think he would make a great president. thank you for hearing my vote.

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