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Should children be political activists?

Illustration: Carter Klassen · The Sentry

Leave the responsibility to adults

Opinion by Amanda Blackman

When it comes to serious issues, children should not be leading the charge. The entire purpose of activism is to influence those with opposing viewpoints. When that job is doled out to someone with an undeveloped brain, the result will not end well. 

According to Peter Jones, researcher at Cambridge University, brain cells do not fully develop for 25 years. The slowest region of the brain to develop, the prefrontal cortex, controls impulsive behaviors and makes long term plans—a leading principle as to why US presidents must be at least 35 years old. 

People generally want leaders to have both life experience as well as rational thinking. Children have neither. While debating an issue, children have difficulties in guiding others through their thought processes and rationale. That doesn’t mean children don’t have valid arguments, that means that they are just less suited for the job of influencing policymakers. 

Typically, anyone who feels passionately about a topic enough to become an activist for it knows how to argue their opponent. Think of any “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS ___” video. Even the most logical arguments put forth from the asker gets torn to shreds. When that asker is a child with a half-baked idea taken from secondary sources, the person they face will be likely to one, Not take them seriously for their age, and two Destroy their argument and weaken their side of the case. 

If they argue on behalf of a serious issue with a serious following, child advocates damage the perception. When the issue of climate change brings images of children to mind, it makes the issue easier to write off. Children advocate for later curfews and more candy. So why should adults suddenly view them as a reputable source to influence their opinions? 

Children who live through life altering scenarios, like those who survive mass shootings or witness cultural atrocities firsthand have experiences few will. They deserve to voice that experience. Their experience and support of a cause can bolster the arguments of those with agreeing viewpoints, but those arguments need to be asserted by adults. 

Children have a right to be active citizens

Opinion by Benjamin Neufeld

When a young person declares their political standings, it is easy for the opponents of those convictions to imagine the young person as an undeveloped, barely human, teenager with no cognizant control of their arms or legs. Perhaps first amendment rights should not apply to them, at least for now, while they’re young. 

They forget how children stand, with the resolve of a mountain, against any productive activity imposed upon them by an age-granted authoritarian. If a teenager takes the time to protest for something it won’t be because they were paid off by lobbyists, or told to by their parents, it will be because they care. 

Civil participation is a good thing. It helps young people mature in their understanding of the world and their place in it. Young people involved in their community develop into active civil participants with the power of self-advocacy. Well informed citizens threaten the power of incompetent leaders. 

Leaders have failed young people. Cash-corrupted politicians have immortalized the life and death issues of gun control and climate change. Elected officials are actively setting up new generations for disaster. They deny the science-based concerns of youth and dismiss them with the false justification that they are too young to cite credible evidence (even though a U.S. legislator would listen to the concerns of a two-year-old, if provided a high enough campaign contribution).  

Adults have placed the burden of progress on teen activists. Sixteen-year olds, like Greta Thunberg, are shaping the international conversation on climate change. They are not presenting radical ideas of their own; they are simply asking world leaders to listen to science.  

It takes no special skills, college degree, or substantial life experience to read a UN climate report put together by climate experts who do possess those traits. All it takes is the ability to read. If adults took action, teens would not need to.  

Joan of Arc led the French army to victory at age 17. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17. If a game show host who doesn’t know what an apostrophe is can be president, a high schooler can have political opinions worth considering. 

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