Voices for change: Listen up!

Spring 2018 Staff Editorial


Photo by Nate Swanson

Graduating seniors and difference-makers Aquena Thomas, Cambria Khayat and Elvis Figueroa Ramos lining up for the cover photo of this semester’s magazine.

The Parkland shooting was a horrific tragedy amongst the many that have plagued American citizens in recent years, but what sets this incident apart from others is the uprising that it’s caused. Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began a momentous crusade against current gun laws, campaigning relentlessly for more stringent regulations to help prevent mass shootings in the future.

This movement has been met with overwhelming support, teenagers from around the country joining in and speaking up about the issue–but, sadly, that support isn’t as unanimous amongst some adults. A few examples of things dissenters have said are: “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs” and “Adults: 1. Kids. There has even been talk that the students are “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

“To all those ‘adults’ who mock or lie about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High (and the waves of sympathetic students across the nation), to all those who rain vitriol down on children’s heartbreak and nascent activism, to all those who spread outrageous conspiracy theories meant to dismiss those who demand to be heard, there is no place for you in civil society,” journalist and former NBC news anchor Dan Rather said.

The majority of the responses to teenage demonstrations are far from being this hostile–but these messages do represent an attitude that seems to be prevalent amongst many of today’s adults. The adage of “stupid teenager” is no rarity–the default expectation many adults have of teenagers is stupidity and recklessness, so it’s no surprise that teenage activists have difficulty being seen as intelligent and well-intended.

This attitude, as stereotypical as it may be, might actually have some legitimacy. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes how those who know the least about a topic or task will be the ones to go about it most confidently, blissfully unaware of their own inadequacy. This is a phenomenon that is seen throughout the entirety of the population, particularly in that aged under 26. Teenagers who are fresh out of school and newcomers to the “real world” are woefully lacking when it comes to life experience, not to mention that their higher functioning cognitive abilities still haven’t completely formed, leading them to be impulsive and sometimes reckless.

Courtesy of Psychology Today

With this possibility for an overinflated sense of their own knowledge, coupled with a tendency towards action without stamina, it’s no wonder that many people are critical of teenagers who catch the public eye with flashy political statements and fervent protest of issues they’ve hardly had experience with.

But, perhaps that’s the exact reason that we should be fostering their activism–they may not be well equipped to take action in and of themselves, but they have every right to try to make change in the world they are meant to inherit. Perhaps even more so than some adults.

Yes, teenagers often lack general life experience (an unavoidable side effect of their age), but their knowledge of and connections with the world are astounding. They are among the first to grow up in the digital age, where they can learn anything with a few clicks and swap ideas with anyone around the globe. Even those who don’t actively seek out news are bound to come across it, whether it be by flipping through Snapchat stories or scrolling through Twitter or Instagram feeds.

The American Press institute actually funded a study to look deep into this issue called the Media Insight Project, the study actually being conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center For Public Affairs Research. They studied a group of individuals all aged under 35 with the intention of determining what journalistic methods to use to reach and hold this group.

“My takeaway is that while these folks live a lot of their life connected on digital devices, they are interested in the world probably in pretty similar ways to previous generations, and maybe even more so,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.

Courtesy of Common Sense Media

Teens are genuinely concerned about the world that they are growing up in and are destined to inherit, a world that they have every right to make change in. The message that recent activists have been purporting is one that, although controversial, is a legitimate response to have in the current political climate–as well as a healthy one.  

Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, detailed why teenage activism is a positive thing. She detailed how it was an effective way to channel their emotions and creative energy, as well as being able to help teens forge their identity in a changing world.

“From ages 14 to 26, the neurons that connect the centers of immediate passion to the higher cortical (thought) regions that slow things down and weigh actions and consequences become myelinated — a process of insulating the wires so that emotion is modulated by reason,” Dr. Beresin said. “This means unsupervised, teens tend to do impulsive, sometimes stupid things. And while they rarely acknowledge it, they do need adult supervision for guidance and safety.”

These teens have a message, a purpose–the harsh reality is that they need help to make it effectively heard. Namely, from adults.

As we’ve seen on the news, in large demonstrations like March for Our Lives featuring speeches from young adults and kids who show poise, intelligence, and dedication to the issues that are a part of our everyday lives, it’s important that adults give them the merit they deserve. While it’s natural to doubt these teens who are only just starting to experience the “real world”, if they wish to educate themselves and others they should be given every opportunity to do so.

“I have been heartened to see children across this country using their voices to speak out and try to create change,” First Lady Melania Trump said. “They are our future, and they deserve a voice.”