When David Burrows took on Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand as "mentors" at age 14, his parents wanted to know what else he was doing that might make them ashamed.
Andrew LaGrone's grandmother was an Edmund Muskie delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1972 and was stunned when Andrew became a Republican at 19.
As Jake Wagner was growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., his dad assumed he'd be a Democrat. Not.
While young people have gone "liberal" on their conservative parents for decades, teen crossovers to the GOP are more of a rarity. How do parental Democrats and their Republican offspring manage the familial bond when partisan politics are on the line?
As the Republican National Convention got off to a slow start Monday in Tampa, Fla., President Obama continued his effort to get young people to the polls. Mr. Obama leads Mitt Romney 54 percent to 38 percent among voters younger than 35, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.
No matter. The 21-year-old Mr. LaGrone in Nebraska and 19-year-old Mr. Wagner in New Hampshire are staying busy marshaling campus support for the Romney-Ryan ticket as they look back on where it all began. Mr. Burrows, 50 and living in his hometown of Dallas, has lost both his parents, but he remembers their reaction to his Republican awakening as if it were yesterday.
His dad threatened to cut him off financially once he mustered the courage to tell his parents he had broken from his Democratic roots to become head of the Baylor University GOP in 1983 — and a year later, chairman of the College Republicans of Texas.
"My dad made a comment about, well, the Republican Party's for rich people, so maybe you should get your rich friends to pay your tuition," Mr. Burrows recalled, "and I was, like, uh oh, what have I done?"
And mom? She would drop him off at the library while she went shopping. That's where he discovered Rand and Goldwater, the longtime Arizona senator and Mr. Conservative himself.
"My mom patted me, and she goes, 'Well that's good for you but let's just keep this a secret in the family,' " he said. "I never understood how they lumped in my political views with taking drugs, having illicit sex and cheating on exams, but it somehow carried with it the same 'immoral' baggage."
Mr. Burrows did persuade his mother to vote Republican once, in a show of support for vice-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, and he crossed back over himself for the first time to support Mr. Obama. He doesn't know how he'll vote in November, but he has never forgotten the emotional turmoil of his political estrangement from his parents.
"It was almost like they lost a part of you in a way," he said. "I think it's what they thought."
Mr. Wagner said the first person his mother ever voted for in a presidential election was former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988. When he was growing up, his parents instilled in him an intense interest in U.S. history, presidents and politics. They were lifelong Democrats, and his passion — as a grade-schooler in 2000 — for John McCain was a stunner.
"It's just like passing on anything else that they have, because it's something that they value, their viewpoint," he said. "To reject it an early age, I think, is an insult to a parent."
But Mr. Wagner's dad, Peter, said he admires his son's fire for politics.
"Whether you like it or not, this is his opinion," he said. "You've got to support your son or daughter, whatever their passion is. Vote for Wagner in 2040. That's when he's going to run for president. I told him when he gets to Washington it would be nice if I got box seats to a Redskins game. If they played Buffalo, even better."
Mr. LaGrone is chairman of the Nebraska College Republicans. His paternal grandmother, the Muskie delegate in Miami Beach in 1972, once ran as a Democrat for the Colorado House of Representatives. His dad worked on her campaign. His stepsister is a teachers union leader, and his stepmother is a classic liberal.
His GOP turnaround came when he was a senior in high school. He was president of the Nebraska chapter of DECA, an international organization for young people interested in business, when federal funding for the group dried up and he helped procure state funding to make up the shortfall.
"It opened my eyes to the importance of fiscal conservatism," Mr. LaGrone said.
He was 18 at the time. Before that, it had all been about the family party.
"When I was in fourth grade, there was a mock election. I asked my parents who I was supposed to vote for, and they both told me Al Gore. There was discussion around the home, but it just wasn't very in-depth and policy-driven," he said. "It was more, well, you vote for the Democrat because they're Democrat. I realized that I didn't agree with Democrats."
His dad was "shocked," he said. "A lot of times, I think parents do just assume you'll be what they are."
Mr. LaGrone voted for the first time in 2008, around his birthday.
"My grandmother left me a message telling me happy birthday, and how disappointed she was in my choice — John McCain," he said.
The question of politics falls right in with religion when it comes to tricky parenting, said Jim Fay, co-author of "Parenting Teens With Love & Logic."
What does he recommend parents do when sons and daughters announce political views in conflict with their own?
"It doesn't matter what the kid is talking about if you say, 'Oh, thanks for sharing that, I've always wondered how teenagers saw that.' "
Are most parents that open-minded? "I doubt it," Mr. Fay said.
Remember that guy Mr. Wagner's mom voted for in 1988? Well, Mr. Dukakis now teaches at Northeastern University and cares deeply about public service for young people. He worked on a new, free website, conventions.cps.neu.edu/, intended as a nonpartisan call for high schoolers and college students of any ilk.
How would the Democratic stalwart have felt if one of his three children — now grown — had taken a turn to the right, especially at an early age?
"I wouldn't have been happy, but I would have been happy that he or she was deeply and actively involved in public affairs and public life," he said.
Mr. Dukakis does have a son-in-law who is a moderate Republican: "But I love him dearly."