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Speaking to young people about the general election

Whether you’re a politics buff or don’t know your ballot boxes from your by-elections, it would be hard to avoid the news that a UK general election is upon us. On July 4, the UK public will take to the polls to vote on the next political party to lead the country. But it can often be a very confusing time for young people. They may have questions about why elections are important or how they work. That is why it is important to create a space for children and young people to discuss the election without judgement.  Here is a guide on how to effectively talk to young people about the UK general election.


Back to basics

Young people standing near the houses of parliament

Back to basics

Young people are curious by nature but politics can be confusing for adults and children alike. Watching people far older than them in suits using lots of jargon and arguing endlessly. It isn’t hard to see why they might switch off at the mention of an election. That is why it is a good idea to try to break it down into simpler language. The more relatable to their everyday lives you can make it, the more likely they are to engage. Try using examples they can understand.  

Topics to cover

Before striking up the conversation, think about the topics you want to cover. We suggest you start from the beginning. What is a general election? Explain what Members of Parliament (MPs) are and how they represent your area and ultimately, who is elected. Why is it Important? You can emphasise that the outcome of a general election determines who makes important decisions about laws, policies, and how the country is run. Lastly, why do we vote and how does it contribute to the overall result? If you don’t know any of the answers, here is a great BBC Newsround breakdown. We have also carefully crafted an election guide for young people.

group of boys sitting around outside laughing

Children at the table

For too long children’s voices have gone unheard. Ahead of the upcoming general election, the UK’s five leading children’s charities – Action for Children, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, the National Children’s Bureau and NSPCC – have come together. We want to make sure the next government has a plan to make decisions for babies, children and young people and put Children at the Table.

To vote or not to vote

Depending on the age of the young person you are speaking to, they may even have already voted or been eligible to vote in an election previously. If they will be 18 on polling day, they can register to vote. This is providing they are a British citizen, a resident Irish citizen or qualifying resident Commonwealth citizen. If they aren't sure, they can use this Can I Vote? Tool. If a young person is concerned about their safety, there is a separate process where they can register anonymously.  

It is important to stress that they don’t have to if they don’t want to. There should be no judgement, but equally, if they decide they want to they should not feel any pressure to reveal who they are voting for.  

If they are voting, do they know for sure that they are available on July 4 when polling stations open? Better yet, do they know where their polling station is? Before the election, they should receive a polling card through the post. This will tell them all the details they need to know. They can also look it up online. Don't forget, there is also the option of a postal vote. For this, they need to register by 11:59pm on 18 June 2024 to vote in this year’s General Election. 

Candidates to vote for

Now it is time to cover the candidates. Do they know who is standing in their area? They can use this tool to find out. Do they know what the candidates and their parties stand for? You might have your own opinions but remember, it is up to the young person to make their own informed decisions not just echo what you believe. But if you don’t feel you know enough about each party’s pledges, you can always refer to their manifestos. These are easily found online. 

Social media’s influence

Social media’s influence

Each year, young people are spending more and more time glued to their mobile phones. Depending on their age they might be on social media platforms. Whether it is a Youtube influencer giving their hot takes on the current government or party ad campaigns on TikTok. Social media has the power to influence how they vote. It has also been found to be a space where misinformation can spread quickly. That is why it is always a good idea to educate children on how they might be swayed by what they see, to help them make informed decisions. 

Teenagers on their mobile phones

Net gains?

But it is equally important to remember the positives too. The content they see on social media is often more relatable than traditional forms of media. It also creates a space where they can discuss their opinions with other like-minded people. There are a lot of very smart political commentators creating informed content online. Disregarding something purely because it is on social media would be a mistake. Our Net Gains? Young people’s digital lives and wellbeing report focuses on safe internet and social media use. 

The general election and young people

So, with July 4 looming, there is no time like the present to strike up a conversation with a new generation of voters or future voters. By being clear and giving young people a chance you can help young people understand the significance of elections and their role in shaping the future.

By Edward Herbert