Oct 26, 2020

By Nicole Bitette
The “Kids Pick the President” initiative is entering its 9th presidential election cycle and providing children with a platform where their voices matter.

The 2020 presidential election is the biggest event of the season for many Americans—even kids. A longtime initiative at Nickelodeon has allowed for people under 18 to still have their voices heard in the election.

The network’s Kids Pick the President program, which launched in 1988, allows children to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate via an online platform. The results will be broadcast in an educational Nick News special, hosted by Keke Palmer, about the voting process on Nickelodeon on Oct. 27. The youth of America has a near-perfect track record when it comes to choosing the next president—they’ve accurately predicted seven out of eight of the candidates who won the popular vote.

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, a veteran of CBS’ 60 Minutes who recently joined Nickelodeon as VP of news programming and executive producer of Nick News, said that giving kids a voice in this election will create a generation of informed voters for future elections.

“Let's not underestimate the fact that these kids will be ready when their time comes to cast their vote. I think this will stay with them by the time they're 18. They can be part of it in a certain way right now, as a precursor to becoming part of the real thing,” she said. “This is something that is going to inform a lot of kids about what the electoral college is and why their vote still counts.”

 

Laguerre-Wilkinson spoke to the ViacomCBS Newsroom about the importance of educating children on the voting process, how Nickelodeon is able to boil down the issues in a family-friendly way, and her hopes for the next politically minded generation.

 


Nicole Bitette: Why is it important for Nickelodeon to address the issue of voting?

Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson: Many different households and families find it challenging to address some of these topics with children. We have managed to do so in a language that I think is appropriate and open and doesn't leave kids shut out. They're aware and they can be part of the conversation at home.

NB: The interest in this election for kids ages 8-13 is the highest it’s ever been, according to Nickelodeon research. Why do you think that is?

MLW: For one, being home during COVID-19 has exposed kids to a lot more social media, inevitably. They've just become hyper-aware. I also think that many kids are concerned about not just the health implications of COVID, but the lifestyle implications, like not seeing their friends or being able to go to school. It's the uncertainty of what's to come.

NB: Why should kids cast a “vote” through Nickelodeon even though it doesn’t officially count?

MLW: Generally speaking, Nickelodeon is that safe space for kids. So while it doesn't count in an official way, it counts on our network. This is their place where they know that their voice matters and that their voice is counted. It’s as simple as that. We're happy to provide that platform where they can express themselves.

NB: How does Nick News and the upcoming Kids Pick the President special boil down the issues in this election in a family friendly way?

MLW: The toxicity factor is unfortunately in our general orbit right now. Kids are getting piecemeal versions of a nasty debate between two candidates that's revealing these weird shenanigans that are happening; this is stuff that kids pick up on, and they have all these questions in their heads. We felt that it was necessary to go through all of that muck and get it out of the way, if you will, and actually explain what voting means, just the process itself. It's not getting into who said what. That's for cable TV and talk TV to fill the air. This special is very much a history lesson of why voting is important.

Nick News is a safe platform for children to get all of their facts. So not only are we getting into a history of voting, but we're also explaining what the electoral college is. We're explaining why we vote on Tuesdays and different ways to vote, because we're living in a different time. We've got COVID added into the mix. To be frank, this is as much of a lesson to kids as it is to adults, because I think we're probably bringing up a lot of information that many grown, voting-age people probably don’t know. We're not dumbing it down, but probably some adults will be very grateful that we're answering these questions.

NB: What surprised you from the filming of the Kids Pick the President special?

MLW: What surprised me most is how aware they are. They also seemed really comfortable. All these kids in our roundtable segment via Zoom didn’t know one another, and the conversation just flowed so flawlessly between them. I mean, they were all like old friends. You've got one kid from Kentucky talking to one in New York City, and they were like old pals: just agreeing, disagreeing, and seeing different points of view. It was really fascinating to see how comfortable they felt to discuss this, which just underscored the necessity and the importance of something like this.

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