Exploring the teen suffrage movement


Our nation’s largest political disconnect lies with the very groups of people that should be building partnerships together to move this country forward—adults and youth.


Since day one of elementary school, have been told the common cliché: You are the future. However, what exactly defines “the future?”Is the future when students graduate from college? Or when they begin driving?Or when I wake up the next morning? Many young people are changing the conversation and asking: How about right this moment? In fact, the Search Institute’s Teen Voice 2010, found that 80% of teens have at least one cause that matters to them, yet only 22% are comfortable with sharing their ideas with adults. From this information, one could conclude that teens are not comfortable sharing their ideas with adults. For adults, the solution seems simple: reach out to a young person, authentically listen to what he has to say, challenge him, and offer an opportunity to engage him. This is what works for a typical adult-teen relationship, why shouldn’t these principals be applied to a United States government system ran by adults.


Myth #1: “If [teens are] lucky, they will have had one civics course before 16, and many won’t have that.” — Curtis Gans, Director, Center for the Study of the American Electorate

To be honest, how much does the average adult remember from his first civics class? This statement completely undermines the fact that though teens are young, we are still citizens of the communities in which we live. Simply put, before a Minnesota House subcommittee in 1991, 14-year-old Rebecca Tilsen had this to say:

“If 16-year-olds are old enough to drink the water polluted by the industries that you regulate, if 16-year-olds are old enough to breathe the air ruined by garbage burners that government built, if16-year-olds are old enough to walk on the streets made unsafe by terrible drugs and crime policies, if 16-year-olds are old enough to live in poverty in the richest country in the world, … and if 16-year-olds are old enough to attend school districts that you underfund, then 16-year-olds are old enough to play a part in making them better.”


Myth #2: “They’re not parents, not homeowners, not raising children,and they’re not in any responsible jobs.” — Curtis Gans, Director, Center for the Study of the American Electorate

This statement may be implying that being a parent, owning a home, and having a “responsible” job makes someone qualified to vote. If so, even beyond senile, neurotic, and psychotic adults, regular adults often do not meet the unrealistic standard opponents to youth voting propose.

Teens are subject to some of the same taxes as adults (like income tax) but have no legal voice in deciding  who represents them in government. In fact, teens pay an estimated $9.6 Billion dollars in sales taxes alone and teens do work; 80% of high school students work at some point before graduation.


Myth #3: Teens could just wait two more years to have a say in the government system.

At the age of 18, many leave the comfort of their hometowns in which they have lived for their childhood to pursue their educational career. This environmental change presents challenges that make young adults less inclined to vote. Conversely, the beliefs and priorities of16 year olds as a class are unique to them. It is not reasonable to expect former 16 year olds to have as accurate a perspective as those who are currently 16.


Myth#4: Adults cannot trust the youth vote, since teens are not mature citizens.

Remember there are no “right” votes.Americans respect one another’s beliefs better than most countries, thus, this standard should apply to young people as well. Moreover, by and large, those individuals with no interest in politics and no knowledge on the subject will simply stay home from the polls and not vote. Consequently, there is no chance the next big pop star may be our next president.


Myth#5: Lowering the voting age will not increase interest in politics among young people.

Although there are some ways for youth to share their ideas already – government youth advisory councils,student petition campaigns – lowering the voting age will only increase these civic habits. In fact, about 94% already feel it is very important or somewhat important to vote. Including youth in a real,substantive way in politics will lead to even more interest as they take their public-spirited nature into the political realm. These civic habits will be carried with our young people throughout adulthood.


Today’s youth simply want a meaningful voice in the issues that impact our lives. The importance of being recognized as citizens who are capable of making a difference is ingrained in every individual, including young people.


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