The skeptical attitude toward the next generation is especially baffling when we see teens like Greta Thunberg, or the students from Parkland, Florida, consistently demonstrate independent thought, deep understanding, clear convictions, and tremendous maturity and poise in the national and international limelight (even amid jarring criticism and judgment from adults).
These exceptional young people are far more informed than the average adult when it comes to key issues of our time and, of course, are far more engaged than many of their peers. Never mind that the claims about young people being ill-informed and inexperienced essentially reprise the same complaints that were made when women and African Americans sought suffrage. Never mind the fact that a fair number of 16-year-olds are taxpayers who have no say in the election of the officials who determine how their tax dollars are spent. Never mind that the decisions those officials make are affecting the day-to-day lives of 16-year-olds today. In fact, these 16-year-olds will be living with the consequences of those decisions for far longer than today’s lawmakers and vast majority of the current electorate.
Science tells us that adolescents are primed to demonstrate the level of engagement we hope to see in the voting public. A recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine shows that adolescents have an increased capacity to exhibit complex reasoning, strategic problem-solving skills and use of evidence to make significant decisions. Adolescents also have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and risk, both of which are essential to participating, and engaging, in a healthy electoral process and discourse.