The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Generation X

Posted by on February 17th, 2017

Book cover of The Manager's Pocket Guide to Generation X

I recently found a secondhand book called, The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Generation X, by Bruce Tulgan. The publication date was 1997 — not surprising, as the cover looked like a screenshot from one of the Health videos I watched in middle school.

Much of the book deals with misconceptions about Gen X, which at that time was entering the workforce. They were “disloyal,” “arrogant,” had “short attention spans.” These insults were all very familiar to me. Of course, I’d always known that Millennials were not the first generation to be portrayed negatively by the media. But I was still delighted to hold proof in my hands.

The author does a fair job of explaining the situation Gen X faced in the 1990s. A changing economy, more uncertainty, etc. — all of this led to a unique set of rational decisions that only seemed irrational to the older generations. And he argues that they did not deserve negative portrayals they got. In his introduction he even takes something of a stance against age segregation. “My work… is not about driving a wedge deeper between the generations… but rather about closing that gap and bringing the generations closer together for everyone’s mutual benefit.” For this reason alone, the book impressed me. It’s rare for a person in any time period to speak out against generational stereotypes.

Looking deeper, I found another point of interest: the author himself was an “Xer.” His audience, oddly enough, would have been mostly people older than himself. These were the Baby Boomers who were overwhelmingly hiring Xers in 1997.

Something about this — the fact that the author was writing about his own generation — made me feel uneasy. Maybe he can defend a generation when it’s his generation. But has he been able to keep up this commitment to foster community between the generations? Can he do it now that it’s no longer his generation that’s under the microscope?

Putting youthful idealism to the test

I looked him up, and found his most recent book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials. I was right to feel uneasy. Thematically at least, it was the same book he’d written in the 90s, just shifted up one generation. But even the title was enough to tell me something had changed. Let’s compare this title to that of the similar book he wrote on Gen X, published in 1995:

1995: Managing Generation X

2016: Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials 

Again, both books seem to have essentially the same content. Both have sections dedicated to dispelling misconceptions about the generation in question. Why such a different tone? Why the cheap shot at Millennials? Isn’t his goal to open up communications with them?

Just so people won’t think I’m making too much of the titles, which, after all, may have just been the editor’s decision, the books themselves reflect the same change in tone. Despite its apparent similarity, the newer book has an undercurrent of disdain. Let’s compare thesis statements from each:

1997: “The new workplace bargain Xers seek… offers tangible day-to-day rewards in exchange for daily contributions of time, labor, and creativity. Management strategies must evolve to facilitate the effectiveness of today’s workers…”

2016: “The message of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy is simple: if you want high performance out of this generation, you’d better commit to high-maintenance management… They need you to guide, direct, and support them every step of the way.”

Again, we see a difference in tone. Accommodating the new generation goes from something that “must” happen, like a force of history, to a sales pitch for a sports car. It may be high maintenance, but it’s also high performance.

In Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, he goes on to list a number of other tips for managers. Most of these seem to be the same as they were for his generation, though a few are new and bizarre. Perhaps the most troubling is something called “‘in loco parentis’ management,” which invites managers to think of their employees as though they were children. I could not find anything like this in his advice on Gen X.

What has changed?

Have young people really become more like sports cars? Or has the author, in spite of his expertise, allowed his irrational side to fall for the media’s story? Has he developed a subconscious disdain for Millennials that he could never have felt for his own generation? It’s hard to say. All we can know for sure is that something has changed.

Perhaps the saddest loss during that time period was the author’s original goal of unity: “My work… is not about driving a wedge deeper between the generations… but rather about closing that gap and bringing the generations closer together for everyone’s mutual benefit.” His new book does not convey this mission. It’s sheer irony that it claims to teach people how to market to and communicate with Millennials. Entire chapters deal with “sending the right message.” And yet the title alone proves that when it comes down to it, Millennials are the only ones to whom he is truly unconcerned with “sending the right message.”

Of course, we have to admit that he made a bold promise in 1997: to bring the generations closer together. In many ways, generations are not like the categories of “young” and “old.” If today, I want to be friends with people of all ages, how can I promise that I will always feel the same way? Generations shift, and I myself may change, until one day the people belonging to the groups “young” and “old” are no longer the friends I once knew. Maybe the author has found himself in this position. He may still be working to close the generation gap — or at least saying so in order to save face — and yet maybe his heart isn’t in it anymore. It takes an extraordinary person to keep the kind of promise he made in 1997, and to truly live by it for so long. And unfortunately for him, he’s right about one thing: not everyone gets a trophy.


NYRA Twin Cities: From Start to Success

Posted by on September 12th, 2016

Hello, my name is Amy O’Connell, I am the chapter leader of NYRA Twin Cities. I started NYRA Twin Cities when I was in middle school. I got involved in NYRA in 2011 after a teacher at my middle school was complicit in a bullying problem and I searched for “youth rights” to see if I had grounds to sue them. Sadly, the results I got did not give me the information I needed to know whether or not I could sue them, but instead showed results for websites about the youth rights movement.

NYRA was one of them, but because it is a D.C. based organization, I felt distant from the action as NYRA and so I started my chapter, NYRA Twin Cities, The first meeting for NYRA Twin Cities was on Sunday, February 5th, 2012 via video chat. Most of the new members that joined my chapter were connected to me via the NYRA membership list. An email blast about my chapter was sent out to the Twin Cities members of the NYRA membership list, and from that email blast, I got two of the founding members, Ashley and Robin, who are great friends of mine to this day.

After starting the chapter, I had to learn how to set up a business social media presence for my chapter. This was actually perhaps the easiest part as Facebook and Twitter both have great articles about how to set up a social media presence. What was challenging was at the time, I had not heard of the program GIMP, which means that I did all of the graphic design for my chapter in MS Paint. This was challenging, and very time consuming, but I was okay with how it turned out:
My parents have been supportive of my political views, but they are very afraid of activism and protesting to this day, and as so I had to transport myself to the in-person meetings. My saving grace for transportation was my blue push scooter. The library was very close to my house, so it was very simple for me to just go places. Because of this, I don’t really see cars as a symbol of youth liberation the same way that some of my peers do. I see my legs and my blue scooter as the ultimate symbols of youth liberation, with the internet coming in close second. It’s very interesting how the youth rights movement has altered my perception of the world. Because of the youth rights movement, I really internalized that it is not time that creates wisdom, but time use. Because of that, I really used my time to the fullest. I think I am one of the few people who wouldn’t want to travel back in time to change my past, because I know I used my time as well as I could.

Where my youth rights career has really helped me though, is in social media marketing. My close friends and I are going to try starting a YouTube channel, and just recently, I set up the YouTube account, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an email address for fanmail, and turned a paper drawing of a logo by my friend into a beautiful web graphic. I even have been able to improve on the NYRA Twin Cities logo.

As young people in the youth rights movement, there’s often a pressure to prove that you are an adult, and this was especially true for me when I was able to become a NYRA board member. The drive to prove that you are an adult can be very stressful, especially due to all of the ageist social constructs that ultimately prevent you from doing a lot of things that adults don’t even think about. I even felt like I was battling my own schedule, I was brutally aware of the fact that there was nothing I could do to help NYRA while I was sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about the delightful powers and real world applications of the quadratic equation. I was also brutally aware of the fact that a quadratic equation in no way would help me fill out a non-profit corporate tax form, or raise funds, or even eloquently convey ideas in a board meeting. The truth is, I wasn’t an adult. But the adult itself is a mythos of society. To try to be an adult is to try to be god. The truth was, the other board members sitting next to me had jobs, and had the same amount of confusion that I did over taxes. The truth is that nobody is an adult. The adult is a mythos to justify the oppression of youth. Adults vote stupidly, drive stupidly, behave stupidly after dark, and do stupid things with alcohol. The media message of a capable adult is a lie. What I realized was that we are all humans and that we are all fallible. It’s not that young people are capable of becoming adults; rather it is that adults do not exist.

One thing I realized about youth rights, that isn’t recognized by a lot of other youth rights supporters, is that when other people are being ageist, they generally have ulterior motives, and usually those ulterior motives have something to do with biases against other groups. Intersectionality is as much important in the youth rights movement as it is in any of the modern movements like #BlackLivesMatter, or modern feminism, perhaps even more so. I can guarantee you that a gas station with a sign about only two teenagers at a time isn’t focusing on white teenagers.

The one big thing that NYRA Twin Cities has done, was it partnered with an organization called “The Hitting Stops Here” and protested for a bill to be passed that would make child abuse illegal. I was unable to participate in most of the protests that my chapter did due to my parental situation, but there are lots of important things that a youth rights supporter can do that isn’t out in the field with a piece of poster board taped to a fence post. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter, like discussing youth rights with friends and relatives.

My advice for anyone that is starting a new chapter is actually very practical: learn how to ride the bus. The bus system will give you both freedom, and a more important skill, the ability to have a more realistic fear of strangers. In activism, it is important to meet many people that share your views. It is also important to be safe. The bus will teach you both. That is the one thing I would go back in time to teach my middle school self, how to ride the bus. Ultimately though, I think the best advice I can give you, is to not be afraid to fail. Failure is an inevitable side effect of being human. You will fail, but it won’t be as bad as you think.

If you would like to join NYRA Twin Cities, you should message us on our Facebook page. We are currently working on lowering the voting age.


Pokemon Go Raises Awareness for Youth Rights

Posted by on August 22nd, 2016
Pokemon Go

Photo: Niantic/Nintendo

When you say discrimination, people know what you’re talking about. There’s racial discrimination, religious discrimination, sex discrimination, and many others. But when you say age discrimination, people respond with a “Huh?”. Being an adult means that you were once a child. As children, we shared similar experiences such as curfews and being grounded. Did you ever wonder what your childhood would have been like if you were treated the same as an adult? Adults don’t have curfews. Adults can’t get grounded. Adults aren’t banned from R-rated movies. Adult can spend their money how they want. It is a fact that youth are treated differently than adults and sometimes this differential treatment manifests itself as age discrimination. The latest example of this is how children playing Pokémon Go are treated versus adults playing the game.

The mobile app Pokémon Go has been catching headlines since its release in June, but feelings about the app are mixed. This addition to the Nintendo franchise allows users to play in real-time based on their location and is credited as one of the first augmented reality games. The goal is to catch all 151 Pokémon and become the ultimate Pokémon trainer.

Many argue that Pokémon Go is a danger to public safety and makes youth especially vulnerable to sex offenders. Several members of Congress have already started drafting Pokémon Go legislation. Felix Ortiz, Assistant Speaker of New York State Assembly, has recently made comments about Nintendo’s responsibility to “make sure that its customers don’t make terrible decisions”. New York State Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino are drafting a bill that would ban PokeStops and Pokémon Gyms within 100 feet of convicted sex offenders homes. Savino commented “We love new technology … but we believe that the makers of this game and others to come have a responsibility to help us protect children and all society from those who would prey upon us”. However, what isn’t mentioned is that children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse by people known to them. The National Sex Offender Public website cites that “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors”. This means the classic perception of stranger danger is much less likely than a child being sexually abused by someone he or she knows and being outside playing Pokémon Go is not as dangerous as parent might think.

Fear of pedophiles isn’t the only concern parents are voicing. They also question how the game affects their children’s mental health. Journalist Nicholas Kardaras expresses that “children have additional vulnerabilities when they interact with interactive and immersive screens; their brains and what psychologists call ‘reality testing’—the ability to discern what’s real and what isn’t—are not fully developed yet”. Kardaras also states “If you’re an adult, have at it! Pokémon Go to your heart’s content; wander the streets looking for the little augmented reality buggers”. So is playing Pokémon Go bad for youth but okay for adults? Many would disagree.

Pokémon Go has helped youth tremendously by improving mental health. The creators of the app had no way of imagining that the game would create such a profound effect on the mental health of youth, but it did. Depression and anxiety are common illnesses among youth and often leaves individuals without energy or motivation. Many youth players say Pokémon Go gives them “a reason to leave their beds and go outside”. This unintended consequence has pleasantly surprised many people and has given parents a reason to allow their children to wander freely.

In addition to incredible health benefits among its users, the app has also has helped paved the way for the Free Range Kids Movement. Allowing youth to engage in the Pokémon Go app means allowing youth to move outside of supervised areas such as a house or yard. Exploring the world is an important part of learning for youth and adults alike. Providing more freedom to youth allows more opportunities for them to learn and grow. Youth are just are capable as adults and deserve the chance to seek out things that interest them. If playing Pokémon Go is one of those interests, then tell them to “Catch ‘em all!”.

The First “Underage” US Presidential Candidate Does Well in Green Party Primaries

Posted by on August 6th, 2016

Elijah Manley speaks at Green Presidential Nominating Convention 2016
History was made yesterday when 17-year-old Elijah D. Manley gave a speech at the Green Party Presidential Nominating Convention on Saturday, August 6, 2016, in Houston, Texas. Elijah is the first “underaged” presidential nominee to make it to a state ballot – two states, in his case – of one of the two largest third parties in the USA. This took a huge amount of work on his part, along with considerable support from the many true progressives within the Green Party. This also happened despite strong ageist opposition and obstruction from the centrists who are part of the Greens (which, sadly, includes the Co-Chair of the national party). In a big leap forward for youth rights, Elijah got on the Green ballot in two states, Maryland and his home state of Florida, where he took 41% of the vote, with only Green powerhouse Dr. Jill Stein coming in ahead! Though all the delegates from Maryland gave their votes to Stein, three of the seven delegates from Florida gave their votes to Elijah, with Stein receiving the other four. Unexpectedly, the District of Columbia gave Elijah a quarter of its delegate votes, with another quarter going to William Kreml and the remaining one and a half going to Stein. This was an extraordinary primary turn-out from the first “underage” presidential candidate to run a serious campaign.

Moreover, from listening to recordings of that speech, you will see that Elijah made a strong endorsement of incorporating youth liberation into the national platform of the Greens, to which he received a loud round of applause. He received further applause upon mentioning the hard work he has done for the recent initiative to lower the voting age to 16 in many U.S. municipalities, including his home Florida county of Broward. Elijah has been working to establish a chapter of NYRA in Broward County, whose Facebook group you can find here.

Elijah’s platform on youth rights, both for his candidacy as a Green and for the youth liberation organization Continental Youth Assembly (which he co-founded), have included not only the end to age restrictions on voting, but also opposition to corporal punishment, a ban on infant circumcision, the democratization of the schooling system – including student membership on the local school board, the end to standardized testing and the demeaning grading system, and the availability of alternative opportunities for receiving one’s education – the end of enforced age segregation in public places, the end of curfew laws, opposition to the drinking laws, support for the right to bodily autonomy, allowing youths to enter the labor force and receive full remuneration for doing so, the end to gulag camps, freedom of speech and access to information, freedom of religious worship (including the right to dissent from religious worship altogether), and a legal declaration that children and younger adolescents are not the property of their parents.

As Elijah’s campaign manager, I understand that many youth liberationists do not support the Green economic policies, but that is not the issue here. I’m hoping this will simply spur our fellow youth liberationists to encourage their own political party of choice – e.g., the Libertarians (which has often been youth-friendly in the past), Democrats, Republicans, etc. – to likewise adopt youth lib into their national platform. We do not want youth liberation to ever become a partisan issue. Where all of us may differ with agreement on various economic issues (or even certain domestic and foreign policy issues), we can nevertheless unite on the basis of getting all political parties to support and incorporate youth liberation into its mission statement.

This accomplishment from Elijah should be applauded by all youth liberationists, regardless of which political affiliation you stand behind, as it has taken all of us one further step towards bringing youth liberation into mainstream politics in general. Even as we strive to get the Green Party to incorporate youth lib into its national platform, so can non-Green youth liberationists take this as encouragement to work equally hard to get your own political party to do the same!

Watch Elijah give his historic speech about the importance of youth rights (video starts at 1:25:13):

Ageism and a Bike Thief: When We Should and Shouldn’t Respect Our Elders

Posted by on July 13th, 2016

I recently got into an argument with a stranger who was trying to cut through my bike lock with a torch. This was in the middle of a crowd, and I knew he would be long gone if I waited for the police to show up. When I saw him at work, I figured that this is someone who slinks around looking only for unguarded valuables. He’s not scary, and he knows it.

Sure enough, as soon as he realized he’d been found out, he immediately started offering me money—first for my bike, and then as a bribe. But in a fit of adrenaline-fueled outrage, I simply said to him, “That’s really sad you don’t have anything better to do with your life than steal a cheap bike off the street.”

He stammered and then eventually said, “I do have something better.”

I gestured for him to leave. “Go and do it then.”

He started to go, and then turned back and said, “Hey, you can’t talk to me like that. You’re just a kid, you gotta show some respect. You can’t talk to me like that.”

I started trying to take his picture, but he ran off into the crowd, and that was it.

When I told the story to my family, they were of course surprised to hear that I was the “kid,” not the bike thief. It doesn’t even occur to most of us that a middle-aged adult could commit a petty crime against someone younger. Worse crimes (abuse, abduction, etc.) we can see, but it’s difficult for us even to picture an older adult vandalizing or stealing a young person’s possessions. Such a thing would be absurd, almost comical, like something out of a Seth Rogen film.

But this really happened to me. And the incident left me—for the thousandth time since I was a teenager—unsure about whether I really am a kid. Recently, I’ve found that I’ve unconsciously identified with adulthood, using “we” whenever I refer to this group. But the instant I feel sure the world has recognized that I’m not a kid anymore, someone will call me one, or treat me like one (e.g. liquor store clerks pointedly scrutinizing my ID far longer than they could possibly need to).

I’m in a period of life psychologists have recently started calling “emerging adulthood.” Evidently, adolescence isn’t enough of a buffer between childhood and adulthood, so another one had to be tacked on. No doubt within a decade or two, psychologists will have discovered yet another period of development after emerging adulthood, and called it “new adulthood,” or something similar. As depressing as this trend of inventing more and more age-based labels may sound for youth rights (two was more than enough), the good news is that if it goes on unchecked, we must inevitably reach a moment when there are so many stages preceding adulthood that hardly anyone ever reaches it. Once that happens, youth rights will have to become relevant to everyone.

The concept of emerging adulthood allows society to see me as a kid—when it’s convenient. If I were arrested for a crime (especially one that people are currently eager to see punished), this same society would reverse its opinion, and decide that I was an adult—though it would, of course, continue to call me a “kid” out of pure spite. Nothing can get me out of being called a kid—not good behavior, not bad behavior, and not anything in between.

My thief knew this. I suspect that the reason he chose to point out our relative ages was that there was no other way for him to win the moral high ground. He couldn’t even fault me for being more privileged than he was, since he clearly wasn’t starving or homeless. He could also apparently afford quality sneakers—not to mention a quality blowtorch (assuming, of course, that he didn’t steal these things). And not only did he offer me money, he also admitted to me, “I do have something better [to do with my life].” It seems pretty clear, all things considered, that stealing my bike was something he was doing by choice, not out of resignation or desperation.

It’s easy to laugh and say he was talking nonsense. After all, who has the gumption to criticize the manners of someone he’s just tried to rob? But then we have to remember that there are many people in this country, and in this world, who would hear my story and stand up for my thief, and tell me he was right: I had no right to talk to him the way I did, even in light of the circumstances. Respect for one’s elders, they would argue, is unconditional. Even if a young person has to call the police on someone older, he should never forget his place: he should show respect even while dialing the number.

As I understand it, this expectation is based on the principle that every adult is a representative of the institution of adulthood, just as the president is a representative of the government. To disrespect one adult is to disrespect them all. I wasn’t just showing contempt for my bike thief, but for every single one of my elders, all the way from my parents to my grandmother to the Pope.

But this justification is problematic. When one person represents a whole institution, that institution is also responsible for his actions. If my bike thief behaved disgracefully in his capacity as a representative of adulthood (which he did), then the entire institution of adulthood behaved disgracefully. When this happens, an institution has the responsibility to impeach its representative. Yet to my knowledge, no adult in the history of Western civilization has ever been “impeached”—that is, stripped of his status as an adult—because of his disgraceful conduct. Even if I’d succeeded in getting him arrested and sent off to jail, it would never happen. According to our view, no middle-aged adult could commit a crime so heinous that he deserved to be taunted by children, or even by older “kids” like me. If this isn’t clear, we should imagine what would happen if I visited my thief in his jail cell, in the company of other adults his age. They could scold him and disrespect him without any problems. But if I did the same, these adults would become extremely uncomfortable and likely object to my behavior, reminding me that even though he was in jail, he was still my elder. They would want me to show him special respect, no matter what he’d done.

But it is immoral for a person or institution to demand privileged respect—even from a child—without accountability. In fact, it is amoral, since without accountability, morality cannot exist. This idea goes back to Locke: to give anyone unconditional privilege is inconsistent with a civilized society.

This is something children understand intuitively. It’s only through “teaching” that that they come to forget it: a process that begins well before adolescence. If we’re lucky, in our teen years we still have enough good childish sense to distrust words like, “respect,” which are touted as “pillars of character”—yet are hardly ever honored by the adults we are supposed to be emulating. I was one of the only people I knew who managed to escape both the hypocrisy of my elders and the nihilism of my peers, repeating over and over again, “I believe in respect, but I won’t respect a teacher who doesn’t respect me.”

There is only one way for adults to rightfully deserve special respect from young people (or from anyone): by being kind and honest, and generally doing good things for humanity. Needless to say, there are many adults who pass this test. But truly respectable people don’t feel the need to be constantly reassured about it. If we pay close attention, we’ll see that the adults who are most adamant about their juniors showing them respect tend to be those who least deserve it: those who are insecure, having little to be proud of, and few real accomplishments to their name. Truly respectable people have the humility—or the dignity, depending on how you look at it—not to strut around “teaching people their place,” and demanding that their critics retract disrespectful statements under threat of punishment. The only possible reason to behave this way is a deep-seated fear of being, in reality, unrespectable: a fear that proves itself true the more we use force to try to assuage it.

It’s sad that so many people reach middle age without either understanding or deserving respect. And it’s also sad that many have nothing better to do with their lives than to try and make young people as miserable as possible—or what is essentially the same thing, to disregard (or even brag about) the suffering we cause them in our quest to “benefit” them. This is a cycle: a virus of bitterness that gets passed from one generation to the next. This virus depends on the model of treating elders with unconditional respect, and young people with unconditional disrespect, reinforcing the notion that how we behave doesn’t matter, that fairness is nonsense, and that to improve our lot is beyond our control.

None of this would be possible if we started applying moral rather than amoral expectations to people of all ages: considering everyone to be capable of earning or losing respect according to their actions, not their age. If we could accomplish that, the chances of someone abandoning morality and reaching middle age without having done anything respectable would be far smaller. At the very least, thieves, bullies, sadists, and hypocrites would no longer feel entitled to special treatment from their juniors, when in fact they did not deserve it from anyone.

The Fight for Youth Suffrage

Posted by on June 28th, 2016

This is a transcript of a speech I gave to the Broward County Commission in support of lowering the voting age. The Commission is now supporting a resolution to lower the voting age to sixteen. Watch video here.

The Fight for Youth Suffrage
By Elijah Manley

Dear Broward County Board of County Commissioners,

Good Morning, My name is Elijah Manley. I’m going to read to you a letter, from the Youth of Broward County.

Dear Board, throughout the history of our great country, masses, groups, and demographics have fought for their civil rights – most notably suffrage.
From the dawn of slavery, to the Voting Rights Act of 1965;
From involuntary servitude, to the 19th amendment in the 1920s;
From oppression, to the passage of the 26th amendment.
Until today; the passage of a series of lowering the voting age restrictions locally.

And for so long, the fighters were told that they shouldn’t vote; that they don’t have the same equal rights and protections under the law; that they are not smart and intelligent enough to vote; Remember those words from the 1960s? Well today, we’re doing just that – by denying a group of people the right to suffrage and equal rights under the law, because of their age.

Oppression. Discrimination. Ageism. The cries of those who beg for the vote; the bellowing howls of those that stand on the street screaming for suffrage. It is us! America’s youth. Standing here, asking, begging, for suffrage, for the vote.

Mr. Chair, or Mayor, a group of Americans today, are asking for the vote as all others have historically. The dark shadows of the oppressors will dusk up against us. It will rise, and it will oppose the civil rights of young people – the youth rights. Just as Jim Crow did right here in the south. This is a movement. A cry from the voices of millions of oppressed youth; from the restrained, the unheard, the disenfranchised, the ignored.

For one second–place yourself in the shoes of a slave.
The cloudy skies, a lost nation, a nation on the verge of falling.
Then that day came; That the slave was free. Emancipation!
Their long cry was heard. I can only imagine how that feels.
Today, America’s youth cry for emancipation through suffrage, at sixteen.

I’m formally asking the county commission to, that if it is really about action, to entertain a motion through whatever procedure necessary; to lower the voting age to sixteen in Broward County only, for municipal and county elections. Because as President Lyndon B. Johnson said – “A man without a vote, is a man without protection.” Stand up, and if you’re really about action, violate the state law for the common good, and for the civil equal rights and equal protection under the law that the constitution guarantees to everyone regardless of their age.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

A Brief Overview of the Problems with Teen Brain Science

Posted by on April 21st, 2016

Until very recently, I thought neuroscience had put up barriers to youth rights that no argument could cross. If the teenage brain is physically incapable of handling freedoms, then that’s the end of the discussion. It doesn’t matter how much we argue about the Constitution and equality under the law—no amount of arguing can make teenagers something they’re not. As believer in youth rights, I was of course disappointed, but disliking the truth doesn’t make it any less true.

Still, I couldn’t quite let the matter rest. I kept reading articles, and my brain kept me awake, picking through the arguments over and over again on its own—almost against my will. And like applying steady, low heat to a block of ice, logic began to melt away all of our culture’s neuroscience-based conclusions about adolescence, and didn’t stop until nothing was left.

The problems with our conclusions about the teen brain can be divided into two major categories: error and subjectivity in the science itself, and double standards resulting from the way we use it.

1) Error and Subjectivity in the Science Itself

Scientists have a choice

When we ask a neuroscientist, “Why are you interested in the teen brain?” this isn’t a scientific question. It can never be a scientific process that determines which things experts choose to study, because science is nothing more than a tool for pursuing our personal and cultural values. There can be no science without a corresponding agenda.

Consequently, the mere fact that we study the teen brain more than other kinds of brains—for example, those of abusive parents or people with age biases—will mean that we discover things about it, and not about the others. This doesn’t mean there actually is more to discover—just that we care more. There are surely just as complex and unique brains in the world (since brains are every bit as complex and unique as human beings who own them) whose study we simply haven’t prioritized because we’re more interested in the teen brain. And that interest can only be due to our collective values, and therefore our collective prejudices—not to science.

Misinterpretation of findings

But given that the teen brain is no worse a subject of study than any other, let’s take it seriously. Researchers have found peculiarities in teen brains and behaviors. We’ve all heard about these a thousand times before (myelination, driving accident statistics, prefrontal cortex, etc.), so I won’t bother repeating them here.

Based on these observations, mainstream psychologists have developed the theory that the turmoil of adolescence is caused by a normal developmental stage of the brain during which it is hardwired by nature to cause erratic behavior.

But the fact is that this theory isn’t supported by any actual science. We may find such a flat denial tough to swallow—especially considering that all this talk of myelin and the prefrontal cortex sounds like a scientific explanation. But to see how unscientific it is, we can start by looking at the very same NIMH article that the NYRA Facebook page used as a paradigm example of teen-disempowering science. In one short paragraph, this article itself collapses the entire theory it tries to support: “While much is being learned about the teen brain, it is not yet possible to know to what extent a particular behavior or ability is the result of a feature of brain structure—or a change in brain structure. Changes in the brain take place in the context of many other factors, among them, inborn traits, personal history, family, friends, community, and culture.”

Making Common Cause Against Ageism

Posted by on April 13th, 2016

I was pleased to come across this article in the Washington Post today about the struggle against ageism. The article profiled Ashton Applewhite, an author and advocate, who runs a site called This Chair Rocks. Applewhite focuses primarily on discrimination against the old, but she doesn’t do so myopically. Her website, and the Post article, both mention that “ageism cuts both ways”. This is very welcome and encouraging. Even though she says, “in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of” ageism (which we in the youth rights movement strongly disagree with), Applewhite could be a good ally.

Recognizing the harm that ageism causes to both the young and the old should be an important task of our movement. We are stronger when we make common cause with opponents of ageism against all people, young and old. This is why NYRA has always preferred using the term “ageism” to describe the oppression and discrimination youth face instead of terms like “adultism” or “childism” or “ephebephobia”. The opportunities to ally and partner with activists like Ashton Applewhite (and others) are essential to our movement’s growth. This isn’t to say that NYRA should start tackling instances of ageism directed at the old (any more than we should expect the AARP or Applewhite to refocus their efforts to the young), but that we all work together where possible and recognize that we are all together in the battle against age discrimination and age segregation.

This is what has always unsettled me about terms such as adultism & childism, they further segregate us. They sever the link we have to discrimination against the old. They are useful as a subset of ageism that can be deployed in situations that require more nuance and specificity, but outside of such specialized situations they shouldn’t be used. I have my reasons.

Fight Ageism

NYRA’s goal has always to make this a mass movement for youth rights. The support of sociologists or academics are helpful, but our arguments, our language and our action needs to be geared toward the common man (and woman, and boy, and girl). The way to introduce new ideas and new concepts to people is to link up with ideas they are already familiar with. If I were trying to explain to someone what a Coypu was, it would make the explanation much clearer if I started off by saying it was similar to a beaver. The same with discrimination against youth. Our starting place should be drawing comparisons to forms of discrimination that most people understand and oppose, like racism and sexism.

Using the term ‘ageism’ helps us do that. Race discrimination = racism, sex discrimination = sexism, age discrimination = ageism. Very simple, very clear. Whenever I talk to individuals, of any age, who are just discovering or thinking about youth rights for the first time the word their thoughts coalesce around is always ageism. It just makes sense. When I was 16 and thinking for the first time in an organized way about the discrimination I faced I labeled it ageism. Many others do too.

Arizona may consider lowering voting age to 16

Posted by on March 14th, 2016

Arizona’s Cronkite News Service reports that a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution “would let 16-year-olds vote in state elections, a move supporters hope would boost interest in elections and lead to greater turnout of young voters.”

The state legislature is considering placing a ballot question on the November ballot asking voters if they support the change.

Maryvale High School government teacher Barrett Nitschke “said not giving 16-year-olds the right to vote is a double standard because 16-year-olds are allowed to work and pay taxes. In Arizona, they also can get a driver’s license, get married with parental consent and be tried as an adult if they commit a violent crime.” He said, “Sixteen- and 17-year-olds pay about $9 billion in taxes every year, but they don’t have a vote. The whole country was based on ‘no taxation without representation,’ so why not them too?”

The Incentive to Be Sick: Why many young people play along with diagnosis culture

Posted by on March 14th, 2016


In his book, Teen 2.0, psychologist Robert Epstein gives an account of the medical profession’s complicity in the movement to marginalize young people: “In short, my own colleagues have long played and continue to play a leading role in the maintenance of the artificial extension of childhood. They have pathologized socially induced behavior and have, in recent years, even medicalized its treatment, relying heavily on drugs to get young people under control.” (p. 363)

Of all ageism’s manifestations, I find this one especially disturbing. Although I’m lucky enough never to have been truly harmed by Epstein’s “colleagues” (though I’ve met a few young people who have), I’ve experienced the insidious way they can distort reality, and make their young patients powerless.

To give one small example: when I was 18, I went to speak to the dean of students at my university because I was incompatible with my professors and classmates, and was considering withdrawing. In the five minutes it took to tell her this, she concluded that I needed to see a “healthcare professional” because I might have a “medical condition.” Although I asked her with obvious skepticism whether wanting to leave school could really be considered a medical condition, I ultimately did as she said. And of course this “healthcare professional” diagnosed me with depression.

We have to acknowledge that there is (to put it mildly) a conflict of interest when the people in charge can simply call it a medical condition to be unhappy with their institution. Before any professional had so much as heard my name, I was already the one whose mental health was in question, putting me on the defensive when it should have been the other way around. Yet what are the odds that the dean of a university would be sent to see a “healthcare professional” for being unhappy about her students (or for making them unhappy)?

Epstein cites a study claiming that “49.6 percent of Americans ages thirteen to eighteen are diagnosable with at least one emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse disorder.” (p. 140) He seems to think that this trend is due partly to the desire (like that of my dean of students) “to get young people under control,” and partly to the fact that these pathologies are “socially induced.”

I like Dr. Epstein’s argument. But because the truth is never so simple, I want to take it a step further. I’m now going to leave the beaten path of Epstein’s book, and social trends you can easily read about online, and enter the wilderness of my personal experience.

Now, when it comes to disorders and conditions, our tendency is to focus on the stigma that goes with them: the shame that causes secondary problems on top of the original illness. I’m not saying this stigma doesn’t exist (in fact, I know it does)—however, in the last few years I’ve actually noticed the opposite trend. Part of this may be due to the middle-class, politically liberal community I live in, but the tendency now seems to be for my classmates to wear their disorders and disabilities like badges of honor. Strangers will mention theirs to me out of the blue, and then this will end up being one of the two or three things I know about them. I might identify a one-time acquaintance as “the guy from Nevada who has dyslexia.” Sometimes, being around so many sufferers makes me feel ashamed just because I haven’t been diagnosed with anything lately.

For a long while, I couldn’t understand why I was observing this trend, even in this one community. Not that I think it’s shameful to suffer from a condition or disability, or to discuss it openly—just that it’s nothing to be so exuberantly proud of that it’s one of the main things you want people to know about you.

But after reading Epstein’s book, and thinking about youth rights in general, this behavior started to make sense to me. Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re young. Adults have a set of expectations for us, and we have no say in what those are, or how strictly we have to adhere to them. Consequently, if we don’t like them, there’s very little we can do. For example, let’s say we don’t want to go to school today. We say, “I’m mature and responsible, and will use the time productively.” Most adults will refuse us on principle, without a second thought. On the other hand, if we say, “A doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, I can’t go to school today,” then adults are usually obligated to listen to us. Suddenly, young people have a real weapon that can be used use on a day-to-day basis to fight for the accommodation that’s otherwise been completely denied. And the best part is, we can’t even be blamed for speaking above our station, or for asking for special treatment: we’re victims of our conditions. We didn’t ask for any of this. If anything, we deserve pity and sympathy, rather than scolding.

Now, I should make it clear: I’m not saying young people who’ve been diagnosed with conditions are faking, or that the doctors aren’t making legitimate diagnoses. I’m merely pointing out that we’ve created an incentive (and a rather powerful incentive) for young people to be seen as victims of a condition, and to advertise that victimhood at every opportunity. It’s simple economics: if there’s an incentive to exaggerate, people will (even if they’re not aware of doing it).

Even people with real disorders have an incentive to see how far these can get them. For example, let’s say we suffer from anxiety, and know from experience that we can take the day off from school if we think we need to. Today, we’re feeling a notch or two more anxious than we’d like to, but could most likely function if we tried. But we’re also tired and not in the mood for school. Should we stay home sick? Why not? Who’s to say that this tiredness and apathy isn’t just an extension of the anxiety?

There’s no real way to solve this accountability problem. But ageism has made it worse than it has to be. By refusing to accommodate young people for any reason other than sickness, we’ve left them few alternatives but to fall into the role of someone who is chronically sick. In effect, we validate and reward young people for being sick or neurotic, but we treat them just as inflexibly (which in their case amounts to a punishment) for being healthy and mature.

Epstein’s argument should be expanded: the incentive to diagnose isn’t just there for psychologists (money and credibility) and parents (passing the blame); it can also be there for children themselves. And this is a deeper problem than even Epstein acknowledges in his book. If all parties have a vested interest in young people being diagnosed, who on earth has enough at stake to oppose it?

There is no obvious answer. The best defense we seem to have is from 1) the handful of psychologists who have clear principles that haven’t been bent by the allure of money or fame, and 2) the scattered objections of a few concerned citizens.

Bizarrely, this latter group includes both youth rights advocates and the more old-fashioned breed of puritanical ageist bigots—though they make the same objection for different reasons. Youth rights advocates say, “Nearly all young people don’t need to be treated, except with respect,” while puritanical bigots say, “Anxiety and depression are just fancy words for laziness. Kids are lazy, and it’s because we let them be. Get a job or get out, that’s the way it should be. That’ll put an end to all this ‘anxiety’ baloney.” Whenever these two seemingly opposite viewpoints happen to agree on an issue like this, it’s easy to see that puritanical ageism (i.e. the “grab a shovel and get to work” variety) almost looks like youth rights compared to neo-ageism (i.e. the “sit still and take your Ritalin” variety), which is arguably worse. Neo-ageism wears a mask of compassion, despite actually having more contempt for young people than puritanical ageism, and disempowering them to an even greater degree.

At its essence, being accommodated because of a condition is a crutch. That’s not so say it isn’t necessary—sometimes we need crutches. But we need to be skeptical if we don’t want to all end up dependent on crutches we wouldn’t have needed if we’d been allowed to walk properly from the beginning. We need more people pressing basic questions like, “Is it really a medical condition to want to leave school?” And more importantly, we need to accommodate young people when they’re mature and responsible—just as much as we do when they’re sick. Otherwise, where is the incentive to ever be completely healthy?

NYRA’s mission centers on challenging age discrimination against young people, both in law and in attitudes and supporting the basic freedoms afforded to young Americans in the Bill of Rights.