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Happy April 14. In addition to being Inner Bruise Day, it's National Youth Rights Day!
Check out these essays from NYRA's website:
Ten Reasons to Lower the Voting Age: https://www.youthrights.org/issues/voting-age/top-ten-reasons-to-lower-the-voting-age/
Ten Reasons to Challenge the Drinking Age: http://www.youthrights.org/issues/drinking-age/reasons-to-challenge-the-drinking-age/
And then, read this essay I, [private], wrote for the day.
Ten Reasons to Support the Youth Rights Movement
1. Youth rights is an historical inevitability.
In 1800, civil rights for African-Americans and women looked to many observers as if they would never happen. Yet in 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment freed African-Americans from slavery, in 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to American-born people of all races (except those on Native American territory), and in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment gave American male citizens over 21 the right to vote, regardless of race. In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education ruled that "separate but equal" schools were in fact unequal. The snowball got rolling with the Alabama bus boycott, the desegregation of Ole Miss, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and ultimately the Civil Rights Act of 1968, until discrimination on the basis of race became illegal in all circumstances. And women's rights? In 1840, Texas passed a law allowing women to own property in their own name. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her Quaker friends hosted the Seneca Convention in 1848, which was followed by women being allowed to inherit property in 1860, Wyoming becoming the first state to enact female suffrage in 1869, the opening of the first birth control clinic in America in 1916, and women across the country getting the vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed most forms of discrimination on the basis of gender. In 1970, California became the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law. And from the 1970's through 1993, spousal rape became illegal in the United States. In the 1920's, most Americans believed homosexuality was wrong and thought the idea of gay rights preposterous; even in the nineties, [private] Luther King, Jr.'s niece, Alveda King, argued that homosexuality was different from the African-American civil rights movement because it flew in the face of "family values". Yet in 1961, Illinois became the first state to repeal its sodomy law. In 1973, homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in the DSM-II; in 1982, Wisconsin became the first law to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; in 1995 the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, which covered sexual orientation among other demographic variables, was passed; in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas struck down all sodomy laws across the United States; in 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage; in 2011, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed; and in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges gave same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual ones.
The civil rights movements of the past have succeeded, even if they looked like jokes to many people hundreds of years ago. Everything from equal rights to peasants and the poor to equal rights for LGBT Americans has come to pass, and even animal rights has made strides. Every time a new movement to grant rights to more people came along, the objectors bellowed, "But this is different!" And yet discrimination was thrown out in the end.
Even youth rights itself has already started to become a reality across the globe. In the 1950's, the voting age, and legal age for many other things, were 21 in most countries of the world; during the time of the Vietnam War, however, these started to be lowered to 18, jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Now more and more countries are making the move to 16. Countries that have already lowered their voting ages to 16 include Nicaragua in 1984; Brazil in 1988; the Isle of Man in 2006; Austria and Guernsey in 2007; Jersey and Ecuador in 2008; Argentina in 2012; and Scotland in 2016. In 1991, Scotland lowered its age of majority to 16. In 1985, the House of Lords in the U.K. ruled in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority that parents' authority over their minor children is "not absolute". And when Somalia became party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on October 1, 2015, every UN member in the world except for the United States had ratified it. The UNCRC grants all people regardless of age the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to listen to what music they want, freedom to draw what they want, and many more rights that only in the United States may be restricted under the banner of parental authority.
Even in the United States, cities and states have started to recognize that teens are people too. In 2013, Takoma Park, MD became the first city in the U.S. to allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections; this was followed by Hyattsville, MD in 2015 and Greenbelt, MD in 2018. In 2017, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law bills to allow unaccompanied minors at concerts and music festivals where alcohol is being served, and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work without parental permission. Even children have newly had many freedoms protected in Utah, which legalized what Lenore Skenazy calls free-range parenting in 2018. Today most Westerners look down on the myriad people who accepted and defended racist laws or women's rights violations as unable to rise above their time. People looking at the big picture of youth rights would do well to consider if they want to be on the right side of history.
2. The things that are done to someone during her/his youth with last with her/him for her/his whole life.
Ageists often use the argument that being a minor is only temporary, so unlike racism or gender discrimination, ageist laws are acceptable. Among the many flaws with this argument are the fact that your world does not become a clean slate again once you reach the legal age to do something nor even when you reach full adulthood; rather, the discrimination from the past carries on. A butterfly that flaps its wings when you are 13 will still have the ripple effect going when you are 40. For example, if 15-year-old Rachel's parents restrict her from taking the courses that competitive colleges like by refusing to sign her course selection form until it is whittled down to the dumbed-down classes that satisfy their anti-intellectualism, Rachel will have a very hard time getting into the colleges she wants by the time she's applying for colleges her senior year. As an adult, her opportunities will be limited against her will because of the choices her parents made for her against her will as a teen-ager.
In 2016, a 16-year-old boy named Gary Ruot was diagnosed with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), an ocular disease that causes rapid degeneration and ultimately leads to blindness. The only hope for Ruot was a treatment called gene therapy, for which GenSight Biologics was running a trial for the treatment of LHON. However, the FDA had only approved the gene therapy LHON trial for patients over 18. By the time Ruot would turn 18, it would be too late, and he would be blind. Ruot's relative, Avery Wilson, posted a petition on Change.org, demanding the FDA lower the age for this trial to 16. Less than three months later, the FDA did the right thing and lowered the age for the trial, and Gary Ruot was saved. But what if the FDA had not reduced the age to 16? By the time Ruot was 18, he would be blind, and it would be too late for the gene therapy to save him. He could turn 21, 25, 30, 50, 75, and 100, and he would still be blind. Or suppose a 15-year-old boy living in a state where the age of medical consent is 18 has parents who want to take him to get a circumcision, and he says no. Judging by their "Being a minor is only temporary!" argument, ageists seem to believe the boy's foreskin will magically regenerate on his eighteenth birthday.
The emotional enscarment that comes from being hurt by age-discriminatory laws will also last for the rest of one's life. If someone goes through a gulag school where he is subject to waterboarding, electroshock therapy, straitjacketing, and sensory deprivation, he may eventually be out of it as an adult, but by then the damage will be done. He will suffer the trauma for the rest of his life. Survivors of conversion therapy may be past conversion therapy, but by now they're 8.9 times as likely as their peers to consider suicide. I'm 38 as of this writing, and I still think back weekly to run-ins with authoritarian teachers that happened during my school years, causing me to yell, bite myself, punch my skull, and punch my abdomen as if slicing open a watermelon.
People who have been arrested under status laws may feel the effects of the arrest for the rest of their lives. Many employers would not hire a 30-year-old if they dug in his records and found he had been arrested for underage drinking at age 19. In California, where Proposition 21 eliminated the automatic sealment of one's juvenile record upon reaching 18, a conviction for breaking a city's curfew law at age 15 could put off potential employers. And the social stigma will attach to the arrested ex-minor from many people who know, firsthand or secondhand, about the arrest.
The choices adults make for minors may even last beyond their terrene life and carry beyond the grave. For example, a recently deceased 17-year-old may have his organs harvested for donation against his consent. Or imagine that Blebdahism is the one true religion, that God is a Blebdahist and believes anyone who betrays Blebdahism is sentenced to Hell. But one young person who believes in Blebdahism deep down in his heart may have parents who are Sporgalists. In the United States, the parents may, by law, force their child to practice Sporgalism even though it is wrong, which would thereby condemn not only the parents, but also their child, to Hell for refusing to practice the rituals of Blebdahism. Since no one knows God's exact sentiments, one could not promise children that God would understand if they betrayed their religion only because they were forced; it could very well be that God thinks conforming to parental force is no excuse for not following Blebdahism, even for part of one's life, and still refuses to let those youth into heaven, regardless. Of course, it may very well be that God understands people who betray their religion because of coercion by authority, that several religious paths lead to "heaven", or even that heaven does not really exist . . . but what if those aren't the case? Or suppose, arguendo, that God does let people into Heaven who practiced Sporgalism as minors but converted to Blebdahism as adults, but not people who were still practicing Sporgalism when they died. What if the child of Sporgalist parents who wants to practice Blebdahism gets hit by a truck at age 15? She'll never get another chance at practicing Blebdahism, and will be stuck spending an eternity in Hell. And the Blebdahist child of Sporgalist parents will probably be buried, in accordance with her parents' wishes, in a Sporgalist cemetery, where her body will lie forever . . . and ever . . . and ever.
3. Lost time is never found again.
As a sort of extension of the above point, everyone only has a finite time to live -- at least until human life extension technology is invented, and we don't know how soon that will be. If the first 18 years of a 90-year life are spent in chains, that's one whole fifth of your life -- lost forever. Say a girl named Danielle wants to wear dreadlocks starting at the time she begins high school in September of 2016, at the age of 14 years and 6 months, but her school clamps down and forbids her to wear dreadlocks because they are against the dress code. Danielle graduates in June of 2020 at the age of 18 years and 3 months. She is then free to wear dreadlocks, until she dies the day after her eightieth birthday. She got 61 years and 9 months to wear her dreadlocks, but if her high school hadn't disallowed them it would have been 65 years and 6 months of her life. God is not going to magically add 3 years and 9 months to her life, allowing her to live to 83.75, to make up for the years she could have spent dreadlocked but was wrongly denied the right too.
Youth rights opponents often argue that it is the responsibility of parents, school faculty, and child and adolescent psychiatrists to guide kids with a firm hand and decide what level of freedom they think is appropriate for their child/student/patient. They believe that if you are not deemed old enough to be independent and have not proven yourself capable of independence for an emancipation, the adults in your life have the right to restrict any freedom they want, not letting any sunshine into your life. But does a person really have to be paying the bills to deserve the freedom to walk outside and enjoy nature? To savor the taste of a tiramisu? To make artwork, even if her parents object to what she is drawing for arcane religious reasons? To enjoy a concerto by Tchaikovsky without his parents telling him he can't listen to the Russian composer's music (after all, Pyotr had a gay lover)? Life can be a beautiful thing, but only if one is not unnaturally closed off from it. If you're debating whether to eat the pie or not to eat the pie, eat the pie -- you might not be alive to eat it next week.
4. In order to pursue age-discriminatory laws, Americans have often compromised their most deeply-held values.
Many ageist laws violate fundamental American principles of freedom and fairness. For example, if a White parent grounds her/his 16-year-old daughter for dating a Black boy, and in defiance the teen-age girl goes out anyway and gets arrested by police as a runaway, the U.S. government is effectively enforcing a racist rule. This violates the principle of racial equality. A similar situation happens if a parent wants to force her/his child to participate in a hate group. Laws punishing parents for the crimes of their children violate American principles of personal responsibility and the sacred tenet that Person A not be punished for the actions of Person B. Almost every American agrees that if Alice steals money from her employer, but Bob, who had no involvement in the theft of anyone's money, goes to jail for it instead, it is an outrage. Yet when innocent parents go to jail because their minor child assaulted someone, people just write it off as the law of the land.