March 28, 2014

You Just Don’t Get It

Filed under: What the hell?,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 10:48 pm

I find myself thinking this in exasperation in youth rights spaces sometimes, whether on NYRA’s Facebook page or elsewhere. Someone seems to agree with most that is posted or discussed. And sooner or later there’s a post that makes them flip their lid.

It goes something like this: “Ah, lowering the voting age to 17? Cool, neat… Ugh! What that school did to that girl was awful! They should be stopped!… … Wait, what? Lower the drinking age? Are you crazy? Teen brains are still developing!!!!111!!1!!”

You know, there can certainly be some leeway when it comes to people relatively new to the cause. I know when I was first getting involved some issues made me wary until I had the chance to think about and discuss them some more. But some people are determined to be intransigent on some irrational blind spots in their youth rights view. There’s a guy who has been with the movement for years and supports abolishing the voting age but for some reason supports corporal punishment.

I’m all for a “big tent” in the youth rights movement, since it’s a huge subject matter and so a big tent is just good sense. But someone whose support for lowering the voting age is based on believing it will get more Democrats elected is not a youth rights supporter. Someone whose support for homeschooling or unschooling is based on protecting parents’ rights is not a youth rights supporter. Someone who supports lowering the drinking age only in order to “stop unsafe drinking” is not a youth rights supporter.

Such people are certainly useful allies in specific campaigns, of course. And they could easily become youth rights supporters if we play our cards right and if it turns out they are so inclined after all. But they aren’t there yet.

Where exactly? While youth rights may be a big tent, where a variety of ideas and viewpoints are welcome and valid, there are some things that are necessarily non-negotiable. In this case, this would include the simple tenets that discriminating against young people is wrong and young people are and should be respected and recognized as autonomous individuals. No exceptions. Other details and views may differ greatly, but to be truly a youth rights philosophy, it absolutely must revolve around these ideas.

So that’s why I get so annoyed when I see people who may support one or a few genuine youth rights issues but then turn around and say or do something blatantly ageist or at least disrespectful to youth. Because they just plain don’t get it. The support we do get from them is often for the wrong reasons, and here is exactly where and why that matters. For example, there are self-identified champions and advocates of children’s rights out there, all about educational freedom, totally opposed to harsh punishments and infant circumcision and the like, and I certainly agree with them there completely. That is, until it comes out that they see young people as some sort of delicate fragile beings in need of constant protection, and that this is the real basis for their few pro-youth rights positions. In other words, they don’t actually support young people’s freedom and autonomy, even though they may think or say they do, but in reality they only want young people autonomous on their own (adult) terms. They want freedom for young people in some areas and (ostensibly beneficial) restrictions on young people in other areas, the difference being… because they said so.

This isn’t to say that perfectly fine youth rights supporters don’t often get uneasy about some further away extreme goals or even just hypothetical situations associated with our ideas about autonomy for youth. And in many cases, such distant scenarios may have genuine pro-youth rights concerns on both or all sides of the issue. But we know that isn’t at all a reason to abandon our cause or rationalize away any of its tenets. We either just accept that we have our reservations, demonstrate that such concerns stem from genuine youth rights grounds (even if this is often shaky), or just ignore it (if possible). But whatever we do, when we’re doing it right, we still stick to the basic core values of youth rights, of youth autonomy, of youth equality. Even if it makes us uncomfortable or unpopular!

But I digress. Maybe I should appreciate these almost-supporters a little more, since even they with all their faults are better than most.* It’s not that I don’t appreciate them. It’s just that I worry about our little movement getting derailed and misrepresented, when our most important core values are diminished or outright forgotten. When “empower the children” gets turned into “protect the children”. When “hooray for youth voice” is followed by “unless they say something other than what I want them to say”. When “involve/engage the young people” becomes about “it’ll keep them away from TV and video games/etc.”.

Of course, there is an obvious solution to this. It’s just a simple matter of the ol’ “fight bad (or merely inadequate) free speech with more free speech”. So, seeing as these people just plain don’t get it, let me spell it out…

Why do we support lowering/abolishing the voting age? NOT because it’ll increase voter turnout. NOT because of any theories as to who or what they would vote for. Because they are citizens just like their elders and as such are entitled to the same right to electoral participation!

Why do we support lowering/abolishing the drinking age? NOT because we want more people getting drunk or being irresponsible. On the flip side, NOT because we want to “fight unsafe drinking” which implies that teenagers are incapable of responsibility when adults aren’t around to hold their hands. Because it’s their body and therefore their choice as to what substances do or don’t go into it, and this personal choice should not carry legal penalties just because they’re the wrong age.

Why do we support students’ right to determine their own schooling or even opt out entirely? NOT because they’re learning things they “shouldn’t have to learn“. Definitely NOT because their parents should be more in charge of their schooling. NOT even because of anything having to do with what the school environment or culture is like. Because everyone regardless of age should be free to determine their own education and should not have it forced upon them.

Why do we support teens’ reproductive rights? NOT because we need to “prevent teen pregnancy” so they can “stay teens”. NOT because we want teens to have abortions because teen moms are icky. NOT because we want or encourage teens to have sex or have babies. Because everyone regardless of age must have absolute rights over their own bodies, including the right to decide whether or not to become or stay pregnant.

Again, as you can see, this all comes back to autonomy and equality. Don’t get me wrong. Other reasons and points in favor of such rights have significant value, particularly when first introducing others to these ideas when the core values might scare them off. Or, of course, when standing in a town hall giving a testimony. In any case, yes, it is beneficial for the movement to have as many good arguments and talking points as possible for our goals. But we must not lose sight of the indispensible core values of youth autonomy and equality that underscore everything we do and at the end of the day are where our loyalties lie. This is the anchor that holds our cause in place though it may sway freely in other areas. Otherwise it may drift away into something else entirely.

* = The almost-supporters with all their faults are better than most, except for those who don’t seem to care much for youth autonomy in general but are gung-ho for lowering or abolishing the age of consent. These people are predators. They can get fucked with rusty scimitars.

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