When the Teenage Angst is Warranted

It’s time teenage voices are taken seriously

Lexi Good, Staff Writer

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   If I use my phone to see how Kendall Jenner spent her summer break, I am ridiculed by adults for being an addicted teen, too impulsive to control my social media addiction.

   If I use my phone to write an essay about how America’s education system should be reformed, I am ignored, told I am too young to know anything about the world, too ignorant to formulate my own opinions.

   Every generation of teens seems to be fair game for discrimination and derision. This notion is not based on concrete evidence but somehow always finds a way to ensure teens know that their voice does not matter.

   The common narrative about teens paints us as irrational, lazy, idle-minded teenagers when in reality teenagers have historically taken noble leadership positions throughout time.

   For instance, Sophia Cruz was just 7 when she navigated Vatican security in order to plea the Pope to encourage Congress to reform immigration policies; Kelvin Doe was 15 when he became a visiting practitioner at MIT. Malala Yousafzai protested against the Taliban in order to change the opportunities for females in Pakistan academia. 

   Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17 by doing something most countries never have the courage to do.

   Although it is easy to be discouraged when adults use phrases like “You’ll understand when you’re older,” we must understand that every generation has faced ageism. 

   Our generation, Generation Z, has been given a unique opportunity to voice our opinions– an opportunity that seldom came to our adult counterparts. We must continue to fight for our voices to be heard. 

   However, some students, like junior Cecelia Arney, do not see an issue with muting teenage voices. 

   “Listening to someone with underdeveloped decision-making skills with issues that will affect an entire population of people isn’t necessarily a good idea,” Arney said. “On top of that, teenagers are less educated on political issues. They aren’t necessarily reading the news, and they aren’t necessarily educated on the United States and how it is structured.” 

   However, Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center shows us that teens don’t magically become well-informed, educated citizens the moment their driver’s license is printed horizontally. They found that 33 percent of adults can’t even name a single branch of government, so age doesn’t play a big factor when it comes to civic education. 

   In contrast, a Tufts University study found that teens might actually be more informed than adults, as 42 percent knew key information like what party currently controls the U.S. House. 

   While it is true that teenagers make mistakes and don’t have the same level of brain development as adults, society tends to completely disregards teens’ opinions on this mere notion — even if it means ignoring valid and complex new ways of thinking.

   “Young people can understand and conceptualize the world in a different lens than older folks, which makes their viewpoint useful,” history teacher and sponsor of Trinity’s Young Republicans Club Brandon Burmeister said. “And that’s what gets lost in the shuffle most times. Young people might have a better way of doing things than the way we did it, but it gets discounted for whatever reason.” 

   He also said that teens have an additional skill set exclusive to their generation: the skill set of technology. Burmeister said that teens bring a “generational knowledge,” and that our ability to manipulate technology in a way exclusive to our generation is a talent worth recognizing.

   Even with teenagers’ ability to see the world in an alternative perspective while still being capable of processing adult thoughts, the leading connotation of teens is not a positive one. However, when we do speak up about the issues we feel passionate about, adults often discredit them entirely due to our age, a completely contradictory notion. 

   Junior Kaitlyn Borck finds it unfair that she has limited say in government. 

   “There are people who will pass away before someone they elected are out of their term, allowing them to take less responsibility for their votes, causing a mess that the new voting generation has to deal with,” Borck said. “It’s not fair that someone who was elected president while I am 17 can’t be picked by me. Yes, teenagers tend to know less about politics, but it doesn’t make sense that I get no say in my own future.” 

   Burmeister listed some of the things the Young Republicans club, as well as the Young Democrats club, has done in efforts to support their cause. These students have been active in contributions such as going door-to-door, ensuring each member of the specific political party will be going out to vote.  

   Ageism against the youth isn’t exclusive to politics. In the medical environment, parents are not legally required to inform a minor of their diagnosis. The AMA Journal of Ethics reports on Adam, who is 13 years old when his doctor explains to his parents that he has Ewing’s sarcoma, a disease with a high cure rate, but at the cost of infertility. Adams parents choose to withhold the diagnosis from him because he is “too young to understand.” In private, Adam tells his doctor that he cannot wait to have a family of his own before undergoing surgery.

   Adults have no authority to strip minors from our own bodily autonomy. No one has the authority to impose on someone else’s autonomy, teen or not.

   However, kids are not exempt from finding the solution. Promoting adults to treat kids’ voices with respect is going to take everyone. It is the responsibility of teens who want to make an impact to power through discouraging and ageist comments against them. 

   Samuel Stewart, sponsor of our Young Democrats club, said he thinks that ageism is natural but that teens must stand up themselves and make a change. 

   “You want to get their attention? Register to vote, show up and participate, and believe me, they will get the message loud and clear,” Stewart said. 

   Although most students cannot vote, there are many ways for teachers and students alike to facilitate an environment that give the podium to all voices. For example, Socratic seminars have noteworthy outcomes, and allowing kids to collaborate and express their opinions on the content learned in class eradicates a passivity that lecture-style learning can instill. 

   Likewise, Tufts University found that young people who didn’t vote were less informed about their governments, showing that taking away the voices of young people directly leads to disinterest when learning about government. On the other hand, it also shows that by giving a voice to young people and encouraging us to vocalize our opinions, society can become more informed overall. 

   Stewart said he thinks that although teenagers face backlash when expressing ideas, they must overcome this if they ever want to make a difference. 

   “I always think there’s going to be that ‘You haven’t got the life experience and don’t know what you’re talking about’ reaction from the older generation,” said Stewart.“That’s human nature. There’s going to be muting that goes on. The question is, do you let the muting stop you?”