10 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, Martin 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 to.

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.

5. No one has ever produced any really convincing evidence that youth are inferior.

In the free world, proponents of freedom do not to have to prove that granting a freedom will provide a spectacular benefit to society; the burden of proof is on those who argue that a freedom should be restricted. For example, I do not have to advance a killer argument on why people should be allowed to eat hamburgers and how burgerophagy can benefit society in order for eating a Big Mac to be legal; rather, eating hamburgers should remain legal until those wishing to take away that freedom can credibly demonstrate why eating hamburgers is wrong and dangerous.

If ageism were good and right, one would expect that the youth rights opponents would have put forth a moon-hanging demonstration that people under a certain age are immature, irresponsible, not worthy of rights, etc. But all they have been able to come up with are vague statements that "they're just not mature enough", anecdotal examples of teen-age immaturity, circular and etiam in libris appeals to other ageist laws, deceptively manipulated statistics about how raising the drinking age has "saved lives", and junk science about adolescent brains.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) likes to tout the claim that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 has "saved lives", and argue that the statistics prove it, insinuating that 20-year-olds are too immature to drink responsibly. Closer analyses of the statistics, though, make the case against MADD's claim. The early research that led to the adoption of the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA) examined only the states that lowered the age of their own accord before the 21 drinking age went federal, and came too early to examine the states that were coerced to raise their ages under FUDAA. Furthermore, traffic fatality rates rose from 1913 (the earliest year statistics were recorded) until 1969, after which point they began dropping. They even dropped in the early seventies, as states were lowering their drinking ages from 21 to 19 or 18. MADD mentions that after FUDAA passed in 1984, driving fatalities decreased, but this is a canard, as they had already been dropping for years. A 1987 study by Peter Asch and David Levy concluded that by the time all but two states had raised their drinking ages to 21, drunk driving fatalities among 18-to-20-year-olds fell, but those among 21-to-24-year-olds actually rose. They conclude that inexperience with drinking regardless of age is the culprit for driving while intoxicated, not being under the magical age of 21. Other factors than FUDAA had a probable effect on drunk driving fatalities in the eighties: for instance, New York became the first state to make seatbelt use mandatory in 1984 and other states followed; legal BAC's went down that same decade; and Candy Lightner's foundation of MADD in 1980 helped frame drunk driving as a real evil in the public's mind; before that, drunk driving was viewed by society as a minor offense that could be laughed off. Dan Fogelberg's song "Same Auld Lang Syne", released that same year, sings, "We bought a six-pack at the liquor store/And we drank it in her car". When George W. Bush was arrested for drunk driving in 1976, he paid only a $150 fine and had his license suspended for a mere 30 days. The average age at which Americans started drinking decreased from 16.6 in 1984 (the year of FUDAA) to 16.2 in 2002, showing how dubious MADD's assumption "higher drinking age -> teens obeying higher drinking age -> less teen drinking -> fewer accidents caused by young and immature drivers" is. Pete Lorenzo has examined the flaws of the 21 proponents in his excellent blog http://21debunked.blogspot.com/.

Starting in the 1990's, it became fashionable for neurologists to argue that teens had "underdeveloped" brains, and that this was to blame for all the terrible, horrible things teens do. However, in a 2007 Scientific American article titled "The Myth of the Teen Brain", psychologist Robert Epstein debunks this "cerebral determinism". As Epstein points out, the studies that examine adolescent brains, teen-age pathologies, and teen angst do not distinguish cause from effect. Teen-age ills are caused by the restrictions on youth and segregation of teens from adults that got started in the early twentieth century. Teens in preindustrial societies do not show high rates of crime, and spend most of their time with adults. They do not feel teen angst. When Western-style schooling and television are brought to these societies, the adolescent members of these now Westernized societies begin to exhibit delinquency and teen angst. The Inuit living on Victoria Island, Canada had no problem with juvenile delinquency until their community was Westernized in the eighties, and by 1988 they had established their first permanent police department now that the worms had escaped from the can. Epstein also points out that brain imaging studies show only a correlation between age and brain anatomy, not a causal relationship. A 2017 study from Penn State University showed that in Taiwan, crime was at its highest among people in their late twenties and early thirties, not those in their teens and early twenties as in the United States. This all suggests that teen-age pathologies are sociogenic, rather than part of a natural timetable of human development. Nightvid Cole, analyzing a study that compared the abilities of 11-to-13-year-olds, 14-to-15-year-olds, 16-to-17-year-olds and 18-to-24-year-olds to pass the MacArthur Judgment Evaluation (an evaluation used by courts in determining whether a defendant is fit to stand trial), points out that "the population mean for the 11-13 year olds is less than one standard deviation below the adult mean in all three areas" (understanding, reasoning, and appreciation). And, most surprising of all: a 2009 study by Dr. Gregory S. Berns showed that teens who participated in such risk-taking acts as drinking, toking, sniffing glue, staying out late, rollerblading, overeating, leaving school, and having unprotected sex had more adult-like white matter in their brains than their straight-arrow peers. While the orthodoxy in the 1970's was that the brain reached its adult state at 18, and in the 1990's the line changed to "The brain isn't fully developed until 25", research in the 2010's now reveals that a person's brain in fact continues to develop and change for her/his whole life.

Indeed, youth rights opponents rely largely on trite but shoddy arguments for the anti-YR position, such as "Being a minor is only temporary", "You can wait", "16-year-olds will vote like their parents", "Young people think they're immortal", "I supported youth rights when I was younger but then outgrew that position", "You'll change your mind when you're older", "The only adults who still support youth rights are pedophiles", "If 16-year-olds are deemed incapable of signing a contract, how can they be mature enough to vote?" (the de jure fallacy), "My house, my rules", "Emancipation will solve everything", "Kids aren't oppressed -- they don't have to pay bills", "Teens were eating Tide Pods a week ago", statements beginning "Society has decided . . .", and the red herring question "Bah, what about child labor?" If there's truly a good case that teens don't deserve more rights, I haven't heard it.

6. Youth rights are in keeping with the U.S. Constitution.

There is nothing in the Constitution that says the First Amendment applies only to people above a certain age. While some specific ages, such as 21 (later 18) to vote or 35 to become president, are enumerated in the Constitution, this does not apply to the Bill of Rights (except perhaps for gun ownership under the Second Amendment, with the ownership of guns being traditionally tied to suffrage and jury duty in Anglo-American law, although whether the Second Amendment actually gives individuals the right to own a gun is a sticky issue that we won't get into here). The Constitution may not state that restricting drinking or voting by age is unconstitutional, but there is not a single word in either the original Constitution or its amendments that states that the law is exempt from granting certain people freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom of press based on age.

Youth rights opponents like to argue that under the Constitution, minors are an "extension" of their parents, just as African-American slaves were an extension of their slavemasters and married women an extension of their husbands when the United States was first founded, and that a minor only has a right if her/his parents want her/him to. They argue that these people were not "persons" when the Constitution was written, and since people under the current ages of emancipation (18, 19, etc.) in their respective states haven't been emancipated by either legislation or a Supreme Court decision, they're still not persons. This may have been the case when this country was founded, but in 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, which spelled out that all people are persons: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside". It is also worth noting that the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolishes slavery. What is slavery? The institution of human beings as property. It actually became unconstitutional in the 1860's, by the word of the Constitution, for women to be property of their husbands, or for minors to be property of their parents, even if the states and Supreme Court did not recognize it yet.

Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority opinion for Tinker v. Des Moines that: "In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are 'persons' under our Constitution." Sadly, Fortas' statement that speech that "materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech" stabbed a loophole in the fabric of students' rights, a hole that grew and grew as subsequent cases ate away at First Amendment rights in school. Warren Burger's majority opinion in Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986), for instance, revolved around a social conformism not grounded in the Constitution: "The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society's countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior". Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor wrote at a 2008 Second Circuit Court of Appeals case on free speech at school that although she recognized Tinker as a precedent, schools have an obligation to foster such "shared values" as a "proper respect for authority". As far as the Constitution is concerned, she pulled that out of thin air. The reason students' rights are violated is not that the Constitution, as written, says they don't have rights, but that judges arbitrarily disregard the Constitution when it comes to students' rights they may not like.

7. Youth rights has worked where it has already been tried.

Since Austria lowered its voting age to 16 in 2007, 16-to-17-year-olds have been more likely to come to the polls than 18-to-20-year-olds. When Norway set its voting age for local elections to 16 in 2011, 58% of 16- and 17-year-olds voted, a little lower than the general turnout of 63%, but still higher than the 46% of 18-to-20-year-olds. When Scotland first extended the vote to 16-year-olds for its Independence Referendum in 2014, over 40% of 16- and 17-year-olds intended to vote differently from Mom and/or Dad -- confounding the platitude that 16-year-olds "will vote like their parents". A mere 7% of these 16-and-17-year-olds had never talked with anyone about the Independence Referendum. Scotland has also had an age of majority and age of emancipation of 16 since 1991, and while many Americans might imagine chaos has been beset upon Scotland by savage teens without their parents to restrain them, by all accounts it hasn't.

The concept of adolescence is only a little over a century old. For most of history, people went immediately from being a child to being an adult -- the teen-ager as we understand the concept today originated in the 1920's, while the word "teen-ager" was not coined until the 1940's. In the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, Anne is considered an adult as soon as she turns 16. (See the paragraph about adolescent brains above for adolescents in traditional societies around the world today.)

In centuries past, what did people whom we would call teen-agers today do? They plotted anabases and katabases and became martyrs for Christianity. Joan of Arc was 17 when she led the French army, and was auto-da-féd at 19.

Although such accomplishments as Jordan Romero's climbing Mt. Everest at 13, Louis Braille's inventing a writing system for the blind at 14, or Malala Yousafzai's winning a Nobel Peace Prize at 17 may be the results of them being exceptional people, not necessarily representing the norm for teen-agers, historical evidence suggests that even random, ordinary teens will rise to the challenge when the situation demands it. When Alexander the Great's father Philip left the 16-year-old Alexander as regent, Alexander, not yet 17, drove the Thracians out of Macedonia and founded Alexandropolis. Philip was a king, mind you, so Alexander the Great was in this position not by merit, but by the accidents of genealogy. If only exceptional teen-agers could handle such tasks, it would seem statistically unlikely that a 16-year-old boy who was pushed into this position by circumstances rather than great inborn abilities would have handled it so well.

8. Millennials are one of the smartest, most morally-endowed generations of youth ever.

One of the most frequently heard arguments against youth rights is that today's kids, be that generation Silents, Baby Boomers, Jonesers, Xers, or Millennials, are the worst ever, plagued by unprecedented retrogression and pathology. As common as this argument is, it is demonstrably false.

From 1982 to 2012, crime rates among African-American youth plummeted: property offenses declined by 51%, assault declined by 59%, robbery declined by 60%, rape declined by 66%, and even murder declined by 82%. From 1964-1969, children and teens 10-17 (Boomers born 1948 through Jonesers born 1959) were 69% more likely to commit a major crime (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson) than people in the 18-64 range. In 2005, children and teens 10-17 (Millennials born 1987 through 1995) were only 9% more likely to commit a major crime than people in the 18-64 range. And even though Donald Trump said in 2017 that "The murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years", the murder rate in America has in fact been halved since its 1991 peak. Far from the fabled heathens who have no morals because their parents didn't spank them (lest CPS take the kids away from their parents), Millennial teens and twentysomethings, whatever their race, have too many moral compunctions to murder, rape, burglarize, or assault someone or set fire to someone's beloved belongings. Sadly, the stereotype that today's youth, especially boys and especially African-Americans, are "superpredators" persists, and has cops and security officers shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray.

Teen pregnancy in the U.S. is at its lowest point since they began keeping data, down to 29.4 births per girls 15 to 19 in 2014. It has been dropping for decades, way down from when Boomers were teens.

Older Americans often indulge in saying that the Millennial Generation (born 1979-2004) and the Fifth World Generation (born 2005-today) are a generation of Eloi, genetically attached to their smartphones, phones that are smarter than they are. Mark Bauerlein may have titled his book The Dumbest Generation, but Millennials are also getting smarter than previous generations. As per something called the Flynn Effect, the average IQ of people in developed (and even developing countries) has risen since IQ tests were first administered. The raw score on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children test for a 15-year-old Millennial in 2014 was higher than the raw score for a 15-year-old Xer in 1991, which was higher than the raw score for a 15-year-old Joneser in 1974; the average raw score rose each time the test was updated. Co-champions were declared at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2014, 2015, and 2016, for only the fourth, fifth, and sixth times since the bee's inception in 1925. Word lists got increasingly harder; the winning words from 1935 to 1941 were "intelligible", "eczema", "promiscuous", "sanitarium", "canonical", "therapy", and "initials", while the winning words from 2007 to 2013 were "serrefine", "guerdon", "Laodicean", "stromuhr", "cymotrichous", "guetapens", and "knaidel".

In 2018, Americans were sprayed with media frenzies over teens eating Tide Pods and snorting condoms. The moral panic over these "trends", however, has turned out to be a tempest in a teapot. Reports of being poisoned by laundry detergent pods were actually down in 2018, at the same time the media hype over this alleged teen fad was spiking. The trend stories were trend pieces reporting on previously written trend pieces, with acts of detergentophagy less common than the media would have their unwitting dupes believe. The stories on condom-snorting quoted one Stephen Enriquez, a state education specialist who said, "Because these days our teens are doing everything for likes, views and subscribers . . . As graphic as it is, we have to show parents because teens are going online looking for challenges and recreating them". But as the Washington Post wrote: "There's just one small problem, however: Those headlines were wrong. The only thing viral about the condom challenge right now is the moral panic about the idea of teens doing the condom challenge. In a matter of days, word spread from a single local news report to a small army of local and national publications across the world, all warning about a challenge that, in 2018, barely exists." An article in a university paper describes the act of condom-snorting as early as 1993, when Xers were teens. These aren't the first "teen challenge trends" that are built on no data of real trends at all. In the past, the media has seen stories on the Blue Whale suicide game, smoking bedbugs, vodka-soaked tampons, and sex bracelets. There's not even any evidence that rainbow parties are any more than an urban legend. Sorry, but real youth are not as dumb as urban folklore makes them out to be.

9. Youth rights are human rights.

Many of the things minors are or can be restricted from doing in the United States are basic human rights that are for every human, not just adults. Yet too many Americans allow even the most flagrant affronts to human freedom and dignity to go on when they are applied on the basis of age, even as they'd find them unacceptable if done to anyone who wasn't a child or teen. When Islamic theocracies have people arrested for blasphemy or for practicing Christianity or Baha'i Faith, it is seen as tyranny by Westerners; when an American minor is arrested for insubordination because she practices Blebdahism although her Sporgalist parents won't let her, many of those same Westerners who howl about those theocratic countries defend this as rightful parental authority. When Gordon Hirabayashi was arrested for breaking the Japanese-American curfew during World War II, this is seen now as a dark spot on American history, similar to Japanese-American internment; when San Diego imposes a curfew on under18s today, American ageists don't bat an eyelash. When Uganda has gay men arrested under sodomy laws, it's (rightly) seen as a human rights violation; when a parent grounds his teen-age son for making out with another boy, American ageists write this off as simply a parent's right. When North Korea tells its citizens they can't have hair that's too long, it gives American patriots one more reason to hate North Korea; when American schools ban long hair on their students, American ageists become apologists of the policy, saying it's "preparing students for the workplace", even if the work they'll end up doing is playing in a rock band.

People often say "I support teen rights; I just don't support adult rights for teens". Many of the ageists who use the term "adult rights" are referring not just to things like drinking, smoking, or gambling, but to every right that is currently age-restricted in the United States. But expressing a political view without being arrested because someone (your parents) won't let you express what you want to say is not an "adult right"; it is a human right. Saying yes to a life-saving operation that your parents don't want you to have because of their religious beliefs is not an "adult right"; it is a human right. Saying no to an operation that will permanently leave you minus your spleen is not an "adult right"; it is a human right. Being tried by a jury of your peers who will give you a fair shot at acquittal if you are indeed innocent is not an "adult right"; it is a human right. Being safe from getting dragged off into a gulag school is not an "adult right"; it is a human right.

Proponents of youth rights violations often argue that age discrimination is different from other forms of discrimination because being a minor is only temporary. Aside from the points above about how the things that are done to someone during her/his youth with last with her/him for her/his whole life and how lost time is never found again, this argument is unconvincing because, with race and ethnicity as the Platonic prototype of a reason to be discriminated against and racism the Platonic prototype of discrimination, every other demographic variable is unique in its own way. Yes, age and ageism are unique because a person's age changes over time. But gender and sexism are also unique because the gender an individual is assigned at birth will be the same across all countries and cultures (whereas the same person might be seen as Mulatto or Mestizo or Black in Cuba, but as Hispanic in America; different countries have different legal ages for things; and what is seen as ADD in the context on one culture is "normal" in the context of another). Religion and religious discrimination are unique because people choose their own religion (but don't choose their gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or, unless they deliberately stab their eyes out, disability.) Sexual orientation and homophobia are unique because homosexuality and bisexuality revolve around certain behaviors that many people believe are morally wrong, being about what someone does rather than just about what someone is. Disability and ableism are unique because a person's disability often renders her/him by definition unable to do something such as driving (and the term "bona fide discrimination" is in use for discriminating against disabled people in cases like these). Human rights supporters today don't say that being free from anti-Islamic discrimination isn't a human right because people choose their religion, or that being free from sexism isn't a human right because gender is a biological reality instead of just a social construct.

10. People need to be free to make their own choices; whether their choice was a "good" one is irrelevant.

Opponents of one form of youth rights will often make etiam in libris appeals to other ageist laws ("A 16-year-old is deemed too immature to vote/sign a contract/drink/buy a lotto ticket, so how can s/he be mature enough to decide what should be done with her/his body?"), without even considering the possibility that it is the conceit that a 16-year-old is too immature for the other things, rather than the conceit that a 16-year-old is mature enough to have bodily autonomy, that is in error. Indeed, today's teens are less pathological and smarter than previous generations, and are handling freedom well in the parts of the world in which they already have it. And in a 2010 academic study titled "American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote", Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins found that 16- and 17-year-olds are "generally indistinguishable in their capacities to function as citizens and to vote responsibly from the youngest adults (18-year-olds) who are entitled to vote". Studies about teens' brains being flawed have been revealed to themselves be flawed. But just suppose your average 15-year-old or 17-year-old weren't so bright, morally endowed, and capable of using judgment. Then would it be acceptable to deny her/him the right to smoke weed, stay out late, live away from her/his parents, or choose what is done to her/his own body?

Many people say violating a minor's wishes and freedoms is acceptable because it's "for their own good". But if something is a personal choice that doesn't harm a second party without her/his consent, it's not morally wrong, and therefore should not be illegal. Suppose a scientific study showed that 90% of women who wear red lipstick pass an arbitrary neuroscientific test of intellectual maturity, 70% of women who wear tan lipstick pass it, and only 40% of women who wear pink lipstick pass it. Should women who wear pink lipstick be denied the right to drink, smoke, gamble, choose what clothes (besides lipstick) to wear, sign a contract, leave a will, or (if married) move away from or divorce their husbands? Some people would say no, since just because a majority of pink-lipsticked women are that way, that doesn't mean those who are capable of good decisions should be discriminated against on a sweeping basis. Some others would say yes, since the government needs to make decisions that are in these women's best interest, decisions they are too incompetent to make, and if the law made an exception for the compos-mentis pink-lipstickers, it would have to make an exception for everyone (i.e. the non-compos-mentis pink-lipstickers). I say no, since these are personal decisions that these women wanted to make, even if the results aren't judged to be in their material best interest; it's not an unethical decision, assuming that those who drink or toke don't drive under the influence, that those who gamble don't break into their husbands' bank accounts to finance their habit, etc.

If a teen wants to get her navel pierced, even knowing the risk of infection, it's a decision she should be allowed to make, not because it's a well-thought out decision, but because it's her decision. (Concerns about her parents having to pay for treatment if the navel gets infected will be obviated once youth rights is instituted and the age of emancipation is reduced.) And if the navel does get infected, then who's to say that the infection was not worth the payoff of being happy about the hip way a piercing looks? What's appalling is that many youth rights opponents will say the teen shouldn't have gotten pierced after they watched the navel get infected, even when the teen declared upon the infection that the trip to the piercing clinic was "worth it".

Also, what is in a person's best interest physically is not always the same as what is in a person's best interest emotionally. If I were blinded in one eye in an accident as a kid and had the eye surgically removed against my wishes, physically I would avoid going blind in the other eye, but emotionally I would be unable to accept myself, engage in self-loathing for having a glass eye, and live the rest of my life in resentment. If the doctor respected my wishes, however, physically I would eventually go blind in the good eye from sympathetic ophthalmia, but emotionally I would calmly accept myself, knowing I still had both my eyeballs in their sockets. Who's to say that the physical good is more important than the emotional good and therefore a child or teen shouldn't be able to make a medical decision for her/himself?

And punishing people hurts them -- emotionally, in terms of future employment prospects, and in the way they are viewed by society, which attaches a stigma to getting in trouble. Autonomy is a beautiful thing in and of itself, even when the details of how it works out aren't always what older people tell youth the latter should want. As Sir Isaiah Berlin put it, "those who have ever valued liberty for its own sake believed that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human".

(C) 2018, James Landau