The National Youth Rights Association is dedicated to defending the civil and human rights of young people in the United States. We believe certain basic rights are intrinsic parts of American citizenship and transcend age or status limits. As the world's leading democracy, the United States should not lag behind other nations in granting first-class citizenship to its young people.
NYRA aims to achieve its goals through educating people about youth rights, empowering young people to work on their own behalf in defense of their rights, and taking positive steps to lessen the burden of ageism.
The issues upon which the organization acts are limited to those affecting people in their teens and 20s in the United States.
The organization deals only with civil rights -- freedom from oppression or discrimination by government, business or other powers -- rather than entitlement rights. We do not deal with issues like the quality of education or health care young people receive.
The organization acts on issues that affect young people alone. Laws that affect the entire population, even if oppressive, are outside of our domain.
The National Youth Rights Association urges the strict enforcement of laws against age discrimination in businesses, including fair hiring laws.
The National Youth Rights Association opposes juvenile curfew laws. We believe such laws violate young people's rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Behavior Modification Camps
Dozens of behavior modification schools have sprung up, in this country and abroad, pledging to cure teenagers of all behavior problems. These "gulag schools" use manipulative marketing to deceive parents in to sending their sons and daughters there at great financial cost. Gulag schools use extreme methods of physical and emotional abuse that have in some cases resulted in death.
Teens, often having committed no crime, are abducted in the middle of the night and imprisoned for months in these abusive institutions. The National Youth Rights Association believes these schools are an affront to human rights and dignity and strongly seeks the total elimination of all such institutions.
The National Youth Rights Association believes American youth alcohol policy should recognize the inevitability of alcohol consumption among youth and seek to reduce the harm of that alcohol use, rather than unrealistically try to keep young people from drinking at all. Congress and state legislatures could enact any of many different policies, some already in effect in other countries, to promote safer consumption. The country should not dogmatically attach itself to any one policy or set of policies to the
extent that it refuses to consider alternatives that might save lives.
The United States has the highest and most rigorously enforced drinking age in the
world. Communities nationwide have spent millions of dollars on police patrols, sophisticated driver's licenses and propaganda campaigns to prevent people under 21 from drinking alcoholic beverages. Yet 51 percent of high school seniors and 26 percent of
eighth-graders admitted drinking within the past 30 days in a 1996 government survey.1 Drinking rates among youth have remained remarkably consistent over the past 40 years.2 In a country where most of the population can legally buy alcohol, where alcohol
advertising is ubiquitous and where drinking is considered an important part of everything
from New Year's Eve to summer baseball, this is hardly surprising. As a group of Washington State University researchers put it, "In such an environment, any effort to teach youngsters abstinence from such substances is like trying to promote chastity in a brothel!"3
At the very least, American youth alcohol policy is ineffective. More disturbing,
the drinking age may be counterproductive. It is applied so rigidly in most of the country
that it precludes any attempt to teach young people how to handle alcohol responsibly. In
some jurisdictions, adults who supervise a party with alcohol to prevent drunk driving can
be charged for allowing other people's children to drink in their homes; young people who
try to serve as designated drivers can be charged merely for being at a party where alcohol
is served; and taxi services that give free rides to prevent drunk driving during the holidays ban young people from using their services. "In short, drinking age laws discourage rather than encourage a transition period between youthful abstinence and adult use of alcoholic beverages," writes journalist and sociologist Mike A. Males.4
Under such laws, many young people learn drinking in unsafe environments, like
basement keg parties. They use alcohol with the intention of getting drunk rather than as an accompaniment to food. Researchers say American young people engage in dangerous
"binge drinking" far too often and far more often than some of their European counterparts, who learn to drink in the open. The United States should take lessons from cultures like those of Jews, Italians and Greeks, who traditionally focus on misuse of
alcohol, rather than simple use of alcohol, as the source of problems. "Educational efforts
should encourage moderate use of alcohol among those who choose to drink," explains
sociologist David J Hanson.5
Unfortunately, the federal government maintains a "no-use" dogma in its alcohol
education efforts. Agencies tell educators to reject any responsible-use message aimed at
young people.6 As a result, schools often offer "abstinence-only" alcohol curriculums that
are far less effective in preventing alcohol abuse than programs that encourage
Much of the debate about the drinking age has centered around the success or
failure of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which forced states to raise
their drinking age to 21. Government agencies and anti-youth organizations claim that law has saved thousands of lives, a "fact" usually repeated without question in the media. But independent researchers have regularly challenged that assertion. "Minimum legal drinking
age is not a significant - or even a perceptible - factor in the fatality experience of all drivers or of young drivers," wrote Rutgers University economists Peter Asch and David T. Levy after rigorously examining traffic fatality statistics.8
One thing not in dispute is the segregatory effect of the drinking age,
encouraging entertainment establishments to shut out people under 21. It limits where and
with whom young people can spend their free time. Like other age restrictions, the drinking age makes clear that no matter how hard you work, no matter how successful
you are, you are still a second-class citizen unfit for association with adults until you reach
an arbitrary age. As Males says, "Alcohol policy in the United States is the classic example
of the genesis, entrenchment, and perpetuation of modern anti-youth doctrine. It is the
model of modern scapegoating of youth."9
- United States, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Monitoring the Future
Study, 1975 - 1996," 24 Oct. 1997, http://220.127.116.11/NIDACapsules/NCMTFuture1.html (25 Apr.
- Mike A. Males, The Scapegoat Generation (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1996) 204.
- Armand L. Mauss, et al., "The Problematic Prospects for Prevention in the Classroom: Should Alcohol
Education Programs be Expected to Reduce Drinking by Youth?" Journal of Studies on Alcohol 49.1
- Males, "The Minimum Purchase Age for Alcohol and Young-Driver Fatal Crashes: A Long-Term
View," The Journal of Legal Studies 15 (January 1987) 207.
- David J. Hanson, Alcohol Education: What We Must Do (Westport, Connecticut: Prager, 1996) 45.
- Hanson 106-7.
- Hanson 90.
- Peter Asch and David T. Levy, "Does the Minimum Drinking Age Affect Traffic Fatalities?" Journal of
Policy Analysis and Management 6.2 (1987): 189.
- Males, The Scapegoat Generation 186.
To cut down on accidents by young drivers, many states have instituted "graduated license" programs in which driving privileges are limited before drivers turn 18 years of age.
While the National Youth Rights Association sympathizes with the push for auto safety, we also urge that in an increasingly auto-dependent world, policy should recognize the mobility needs of young people, and programs to acclimate new drivers to the road should not impair that mobility to a greater extent than it has in the past.
Also, NYRA supports initiatives to allow employers to hire young people to positions that require driving.
Contract law and other economic policy must recognize the need for young people to function. Therefore, National Youth Rights Association urges discussion of the liberalization of laws that govern young people's ability to work with the banking system and contracts.
The National Youth Rights Association believes the constitution does not stop at the school house gate.This means that students should have the same rights and constitutional protections granted elsewhere in society. School uniforms, unreasonable searches, and the lack of due process (such as zero tolerance) are among many school policies that clearly violate this principle. We also believe that students should be the primary decision makers regarding their education, and support policies allowing greater academic freedom for students at all levels. Schools should be the exemplar of a free society, not the antithesis.
All citizens, including youth, have a fundamental right to physical autonomy and to be free from physical violence and abuse, and this is especially true in an educational environment in which they are compelled to participate. The use of paddling, hitting, striking or any other form of corporal punishment in our schools is unacceptable, unjustified, demeaning to youth and a violation of their inherent, fundamental right to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment. Therefore, the National Youth Rights Association opposes any form of corporal punishment in our nation's schools.
The National Youth Rights Association recognizes that no individual should be forced to live in fear, especially in the institution most basic in our society, the family. Child abuse is a pervasive problem in our society, the current foster care approach to solving child abuse in many cases causes more problems than it solves; thus we propose a third way. Young people should never be denied the right to leave a truly detrimental situation and seek a safe, independent existence through the process of emancipation.
We note with dismay the spread of age-based ratings systems in the American entertainment industry. While we understand the need to warn viewers about the content of a show, movie or game, we feel that age-based ratings systems not only fail to do so properly, but deprive young people of the ability to choose their own entertainment with their own money based on the whims of secret ratings boards, accountable to no one.
The National Youth Rights Association supports efforts by young people to use our economic strength to bring about an end to age-based ratings systems. We call for strict enforcement of antitrust and fair business practice laws to prohibit any group from strong-arming any business into following an age-based ratings system.
The First Amendment's protections apply to all Americans. Therefore, The National Youth Rights Association believes that governments must have the burden of proof in showing that any law that restricts the access of young people to any type of text, video or audio literally protects them from a tangible harm.
The National Youth Rights Association opposes on principle any law that punishes young people for something that would not be a crime if committed by the legislators who enacted the law or other legal adults.
The National Youth Rights Association supports any policy change that has the net effect of empowering young people to participate in the democratic process and self-determination. We applaud the legislators who bravely have promoted lowering the voting age in their jurisdictions.