Political apathy is growing in democracies around the world. Political apathy, also known as political alienation, describes feelings of separation and disillusionment, a sense of powerlessness and an indifference to politics and political institutions. One sign of political alienation is the refusal to vote or participate in political activities. Teenagers and young adults are no exception to these trends. In many countries in Europe and North America, the youngest voters have the lowest participation rates.
Why are new voters less interested in politics? Several factors are at play. However, a new study from Florida Atlantic University researchers points to one of the most important: parental attitudes about politics.
The study, published in Journal of Family Psychology, indicates that political disillusionment spreads from parents to children. Specifically, parental political alienation predicted subsequent increases in adolescent political alienation one year later for youth who described relationships with parents as warm, but not for those who described the relationship with the parents as distant.
Simply put, in homes where parents and teenagers are close, parents pass on political indifference to their teenage children, which can have the unfortunate consequence of contributing to low political participation of young voters.
In this study, 571 German teenagers (314 girls, 257 boys), along with their mothers and their fathers, each completed questionnaires describing their own political distance from two point in time, approximately one year away. In addition, the adolescents completed questionnaires describing their perceptions of the warmth of their parents’ relationships. The youth are in grades six, eight and 10 at the beginning.
Mothers and fathers did not differ in terms of influence. Both are equally important in shaping teenagers’ attitudes about politics. Influence is a one-way street: teenagers do not contribute to the political alienation of either parent.
The findings from this new study are important because they point to a potentially promising new way to increase political participation among young voters: targeting the political attitudes of those who their close ones, especially their parents.
“The logic is straightforward,” said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., senior author and professor of psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “Children who are close to their parents are more likely to identify with them and are more receptive to messages from them about politics. We listen to what we want, we engage them in dialogue, we identify with them and we imitate their behavior. .”
Political alienation reflects distrust and lack of trust in political systems and political figures. Political disenchantment can be challenging for democracies because politically alienated citizens tend not to vote. When elections are decided by a small portion of the electorate, disaffection grows, which can further reduce turnout in a vicious cycle. Attitudes about politics are hard to change. Many politically disaffected youth continue to refrain from voting and participating in politics as they age.
The findings from this study are also a reminder that parental influence is a double-edged sword.
“The results of our study are important because despite the increasing importance of friends and peers, many forms of adolescent behavior remain easily influenced by parents,” said Laursen.
“We like to think of parents as positive agents of socialization, and they are often. listening, even in late adolescence. They take cues from parents, especially in families that are close and warm. The political attitudes are another example of the many ways that parents exert a profound influence on the lives of their children.”
Mary Page Leggett-James et al, The spread of political alienation from parents to adolescent children, Journal of Family Psychology (2023). DOI: 10.1037/fam0001098
Provided by Florida Atlantic University
Citation: Political apathy spreads from parents to teenage children, study finds (2023, July 17) retrieved 18 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07 -political-apathy-parents-adolescent-children.html
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