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'Dr. Fad' envisions Adopt-a-Vote giving kids a voice

STYLE & CULTURE

July 13, 2004|Samantha Critchell | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Adults wonder why children aren't more interested in politics. After all, they are the voters of tomorrow. They are the ones who'll carry the torch of democracy into the future.

Here's an easy answer: Kids have no say today, and in a world of instant gratification (and instant messaging), tomorrow is, like, a long time from now.

"Voting statistics for younger voters is pathetic," says Ken Hakuta, a toy creator and former host of a PBS science series. "I don't even know if my three kids of voting age, they're in their early 20s, will vote."

Hakuta, who might be familiar to children as "Dr. Fad," wants to reverse the apathy. He launched a program called Adopt-a-Vote, which aims to give kids a voice in this presidential election year.

Other initiatives, such as Rock the Vote, have targeted young people of or close to voting age, while Hakuta sees his program as sparking conversation among the middle school set.

"Everyone underestimates the maturity of kids. When I did inventions, I always thought only of the invention itself, but the kids would ask for marketing materials," he says with a laugh.

He says that California briefly flirted with -- then backed away from -- the idea of giving younger children a partial vote in November's election. "It's an intriguing idea.... California starts a lot of trends," Hakuta says.

The next best thing, according to Hakuta, is having children and parents enter into an agreement pledging that the parents will vote according to their children's preference as long as the children have done their homework.

Such a pledge is available at Hakuta's website, Kidsvote 2004.com. The website also features a poll that asks children about their positions on gun control, violence in the media, smoking and parents, and short bios of President Bush, John F. Kerry and Ralph Nader.

"I hope to promote discussion. I want parents to ask kids the tough questions: What do they think of Iraq in terms of economics, security and sacrifice?"

"Parents are averse to discussing hard issues with their kids, but parents -- who are reluctant even to talk about sex -- will find out that their kids really want to talk about gay marriage, Iraq, steroids in major league baseball, the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and Howard Stern, and Janet Jackson."

Meanwhile, candidates don't want to talk to youngsters because they'll demand straight talk, which candidates don't usually offer, Hakuta says. "Young people don't want to have to read between the lines."

Adopt-a-Vote could be a supplement to school social studies programs in the fall, Hakuta suggests.

Parents and teachers who are used to talking at children might be surprised to find out that today's teenagers have strong opinions and there is no cookie-cutter thinking, Hakuta says. Some children are very conservative, others are liberal and still others take the middle road.

Hakuta makes the case that youngsters are more true to their convictions than grown-ups. They're also more likely to care about the future and issues affecting the future, including the environment and Social Security.

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