The Problem Isn’t (Just) The Kids. It’s a Society That Can’t Reason

We all lose if we idolize or demonize the opinions of an entire generation because of their age.

By Liberty McArtor Published on April 2, 2018

As teens head up the post-Parkland anti-gun movement, many adults question the unconditional influence they’ve suddenly been handed. Those on the left implore us to listen to the kids. To which those on the right counter, our society is idolizing the young, and it needs to stop. 

So which is it? Do the kids have something to say? Or do the kids need to sit down, shut up and learn a thing or two from their elders? 

Both. The problem isn’t (just) the kids. It’s a society that accepts or rejects ideas based not on whether they are good or bad, but on who proposed them — and in the case of the anti-gun movement, how old they are. We no longer know how to evaluate ideas, examine facts and engage civilly with a variety of people. 

A Frustrating Moment in Time

This moment in time is particularly frustrating. Teens live in fear of being shot at school. Some have lost friends, siblings and teachers to mass killers. They desperately want to create a safer society. They see guns as the main culprit behind their pain, which fuels their activism against pro-gun organizations, politicians and neighbors. 

On the other hand, millions of Americans grew up responsibly using guns for sport, hunting and protection. They know that many of the “facts” spouted about guns and gun owners just aren’t true. They’re tired of being lectured by teens who obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. And they’re tired of seeing adults in politics, education and the media glorify them. 

In the case of the Parkland teens and their fellow activists, many of their ideas are demonstrably wrong. And one very common knee-jerk reaction to the ludicrousness of those ideas is to argue that no teens should contribute to national conversations. They’re just too ignorant and immature.

But we shouldn’t discount the arguments of all young people just because they are young. Just as we shouldn’t discount the opinions of older people just because they are old.

Teens Can Have Good Ideas — And Even Change the World

Young people can have good ideas. They can even lead! Throughout history, young people have played influential roles in winning wars. They’ve spurred positive social change. They’ve altered history with innovation, and they’ve been on the front lines of ministry.

Of course, not every teen will lead battles like Joan of Arc, or found groundbreaking companies like Mark Zuckerberg. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them. Young people bring fresh perspectives to issues. They have their finger on the pulse of burgeoning trends about which older generations may be clueless. They often overflow with optimism about the future, balancing their elders’ decades-old cynicism.

Rather than accepting or rejecting someone’s ideas because of their age, we should evaluate each person’s arguments carefully. Is what they are saying true?

So while teens need guidance, correction and sometimes pushback, we can’t argue that their youth alone disqualifies them from civic engagement or even leadership. It’s not fair. It’s not honest. And it’s discouraging to millions of other young people who have much to bring to the table. 

Judge Ideas Based on Merit, Rather Than Age

What we should do instead is highlight the need for reason, thoughtfulness and civil debate. As evidenced by current events, all three are seriously lacking in our culture. 

We should listen to people outside our own generation. Their different experiences give them a unique outlook that may illuminate some truth we didn’t see. 

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And let’s evaluate each person’s arguments carefully as arguments, not according to the person’s age. Is what they are saying true? It doesn’t matter if it feels true, though that opinion reigns supreme in our cultural psyche. We determine if it is true by examining data. Following logic. Observing the effects of the argument played out in real life. Consulting experts who know more than we do. 

Of course we should do all this civilly. Adults shouldn’t bully teens just because they disagree with them. And teens shouldn’t disrespect their elders just because they think they can get away with it. Sadly, today’s hostile teen activists are following a bad example that’s been set by too many adults.  

Return to Reason

In a free nation, it’s crucial for people of all ages to be engaged. Teens can contribute to society, and adults can value their ideas — not by treating them as infallible, but by exemplifying the civility so crucial to a constitutional republic. 

We can idolize or we can demonize the opinions of an entire generation because of their age alone. Either way we all lose. Thankfully those aren’t our only options. We must return to a society that knows how to evaluate ideas no matter who they come from, rejecting bad ones and adopting good ones. We must remember how to balance open-mindedness with critical thinking. And most importantly, we must re-learn the art of civility while we do this.

Hopefully that’s something both the kids and the old folks will take to heart. Will you?

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