Look for Stephen Strader on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, and you won't find him at the mall or a football game or anywhere else you might find your typical teen-ager.
Instead, you'd find him hammering away at campaign signs at the Republican Party's Richmond County campaign headquarters or driving around the county to set up the signs where potential voters will see them.
Stephen, a 16-year-old sophomore at Westside High School, has been volunteering for political campaigns since 1996. But he knows he's not a typical teen in that regard. And he doesn't have a lot of peers showing up at the campaign headquarters.
"A lot of teen-agers don't get involved in this," he said, sitting on a folding chair in the main room of the Gordon Highway building. "A lot of them aren't interested in this stuff. I think people my age should start learning about it, so when they turn 18, and they're allowed to vote, they'll know what's going on."
Many teens can give the "right" answer when asked if they care about the outcome of the Nov. 7 election: The results affect the future and determine who will be the leader of the free world. But dig a little deeper, and many admit they know little about the candidates or the issues, as Xtreme Teen Board members found out when they interviewed their peers recently.
Some students admitted they wouldn't bother voting, even if they were old enough.
"I honestly don't know much about the qualities that current candidates possess because it seems the only time I hear anything about them, it's about the unimportant things like their race, religion and sex," said Claudia Winkler, a 15-year-old freshman at North Augusta High School. "The only thing I know about the candidates is that (Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph) Lieberman is Jewish."
Some teens just don't care, and it's hardly news that young people are apathetic. A recent MTV poll showed that one-quarter of people ages 18 to 24 couldn't name the presidential candidates without prompting, and 70 percent couldn't identify candidates for vice president.
"I don't pay any attention," said Manisha Mowrya, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lakeside High School. "I don't see any difference."
It's that disheartened attitude that colored many of the answers from students who disavowed interest in the political process. They say politicians don't care about their concerns; teens can't do anything that really makes a difference; mainstream politicians are so alike - particularly as they try to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters - that they're all pretty much the same anyway.
"I don't see a reason to vote for either of them,"said Garon Muller, 14, a freshman at Evans High School.
Interest in third-party candidates - particularly the Green Party's Ralph Nader - was high, even as many students said they didn't have much information about candidates other than Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. This is a generation that grew up with Ross Perot's siege on the two-party system and watched Jesse Ventura take a governor's seat in Minnesota, and they're used to the idea that an outsider could be a viable candidate. Almost all were indignant that other candidates weren't allowed to participate in televised debates between the Democratic and GOP candidates.
The larger society and the media, on the other hand, still seem to have their sights locked on the two major parties.
"I think it's terrible, as a country that tries to make democracy safe around the world, we sure do a bad job in our own country," said 15-year-old Nathan Hendricks, a sophomore at Lakeside High School who said he would vote if he was old enough. "... How un-American of us!"
Many teens exhibited the same distrust of politicians that taints politics for older people. They listed honesty, integrity and intelligence as important characteristics for a candidate - and looking around, they don't see much of it.
"No, our candidates do not show it," said Jennifer Delaigle, 15, a sophomore at Burke County High School. "They want to lie their way into office."
Added 17-year-old Jason Lairscy, a senior at Burke County: "I don't see honesty in any politician. Politics is a job where people will do whatever they have to. They say that they will do certain things, but they know they won't. They think about four to eight years down the road, but you need to think farther into the future to get anything really done."
Jason, who will turn 18 on Friday, said he intends to vote.
The picture isn't completely bleak. There are other teens, like Jason, who intend to participate in the process, even as they point out its flaws. Some are already looking ahead to how the policies implemented by a new administration will affect them.
"It doesn't (seem important) to most teen-agers because they don't see the immediate effect it has on them," said Barbara Castro, a 17-year-old senior at Glenn Hills High School. "Whoever gets elected will make a lot of changes in education and taxes, and, one way or another, it will affect me."
Xtreme Teen Board members George Dean, Breonne DeDecker, Jerod Gay, Emily Gray, Tracy Hinds, Courtney Holland, Jay James Jr., Violet Pu and Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington contributed to this report.
The Xtreme Teen Board listed issues its members felt would be important to teen-agers, including energy, because of fuel consumption and gas prices; education, particularly standardized testing and teacher credentials; and abortion. Here are the positions of presidential candidates on these issues.
Energy: Wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil by opening up U.S. resources, including 8 percent of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
Education: Supports state-mandated standardized testing. Supports the use of public funds for school vouchers. Wants to increase funding for teacher training.
Abortion: Opposes except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life. Supports parental consent or notification. Opposes abortion drug RU-486.
Energy: Supports tax credits for fuel-efficient automobiles.
Education: Supports standardized testing for students. Opposes the use of public funds for school vouchers. Wants more rigorous tests for teachers and periodic reviews of their performance.
Abortion: Favors legalized abortion. Opposes parental consent or notification. Supports approval of RU-486.
Energy: Supports raising fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles to increase miles per gallon.
Education: Opposes standardized testing. Opposes school vouchers.
Abortion: Supports legalized abortion.
Energy: Supports opening domestic resources such as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to exploratory drilling. Would consider suspending gasoline taxes.
Education: Wants to abolish the Department of Education and turn its funding over to state and local boards. Opposes programs such as School to Work that emphasize skills over traditional education. Opposes national testing and teaching standards.
Abortion: Opposed to abortion; supports a Human Life Amendment that would protect the unborn.
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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