Teens advocating for reform are unjustly infantilized

March 26, 2018 — by Alexandra Li

On Feb. 14, one of the world’s deadliest school shootings left 17 people dead and 17 more injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Following the shooting, dozens of teens from the school stepped up, with Stoneman Douglas High School’s senior Emma Gonzalez delivering a viral speech at a gun control rally on Feb. 17, and freshman Christine Yared writing a moving opinion piece in The New York Times, advocating for gun control.

Since then, a battle has raged between teenage activists and those opposing gun control, including the National Rifle Association, creating the Never Again movement in hopes of making this school shooting the last in America.

Some opponents have outrageously accused the teens of being so-called crisis actors, or adults hired to mobilize an anti-gun movement. The NRA, meanwhile, has adopted a condescending tone as it continues to argue that their main focus is protecting a citizen’s right to a gun.

It’s impossible to miss the rude nature of many of the NRA’s and other politicians’ responses to the teens standing up for what they believe in. However, this claim of a lack of maturity in teens, although possessing major holes, is not completely unsupported.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the frontal cortex of the brain controlling reasoning develops slowly and causes teens to process information with the amygdala, or the emotional part of the brain. Supposedly, teens are more likely to act on impulse without thinking or engage in dangerous activities without considering the consequences.

But this does not mean that adolescents are unable to think logically. According to psychologist Robert Epstein in a Wall Street Journal article, teens are just as competent as adults in regards to handling responsibility and leadership, as raw intelligence peaks around the age of 15.

Instead, Epstein argues that the apparently irresponsible stereotype surrounding teens originates from their carefree and unburdened lifestyles with no expectations placed on them. Teens are often viewed as glued to the screens of mobile devices, unable to take the time to focus and understand deep topics like political issues.

With such misconceptions held by adults, teens are often told that they are unable to make logical decisions regarding politics. While this may be applicable to some, many are capable of forming their own opinions and taking action.

In the political stage, teen-organized movements are nothing new. In October  1963, a group of 250,000 Chicago students participated in a walkout to protest segregation and equal resources for black students as one of the largest yet overlooked protests in the Civil Rights Movement. The following year, over 450,000 black and Puerto Rican students protested segregation in New York City’s public schools.

In 2012, undocumented youths participated in sit-ins in law offices, risking deportation and arrest to plead for an executive order to stop the deportation of the youth, or DREAMers. In other words, teenagers have been at the forefront of countless radical political movements and should not be disregarded as incapable.

It should be no surprise that the youth of America are again taking on the role of enacting change when countless politicians seem to put in minimal effort in addressing the nations issues. Rather than face the teenage movements with skepticism simply because of age, adults should accept the growing role of teenagers in society and face these movements with seriousness and a willingness to respond.