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Some thoughts on Youth Rights.

Written by Kenneth Udut Jan 27, 2016

In the 80s at the age of 14 (I’m 43 now), I stumbled across Unschooling and Summerhill in the public library. Life-changing for me. It sent me on a quest because until then, I was unaware of having any rights at all.

I looked up what rights I had under the laws of the state of New Jersey and then of the Federal Govt (USA).

I found that, legally, I was an infant.

Same as a baby.

14 years old and a baby. No wonder it felt like I was being treated like one by society: I WAS one.

At 18, I started Y-RIGHTS online mailing list (1990) – “rights for kids/teens” from which NYRA sprung out of when two members wanted to be more politically active and I encouraged them to start their own group and taught them how to set it up by doing what I did.

That was 25 years ago. Today, what has changed?

Almost nothing.

Almost. Some things have.

Can you legally sign a binding contract under the age of 18? Not really. Sort of. The law is weird on that one. Is your voice valid? Your name? Do you own it? Any of it? Not really. Outside of a few exceptions, you are a ward of your parents or the state.

Yet: You can be convicted as an adult for certain crimes at 14 in the same areas you can’t even have a bank account.

I was lucky. In 3rd grade, I had a passbook savings account. But, somewhere along the line, it dramatically changed: you can’t have a bank account until you’re 18 years old.

18? 18 is when you’re allowed to have your own money? Isn’t that a little late to get started?

Need income? Good luck there. Right at the time when you MOST want to buy things, you can’t. Can’t have your own money. You have to beg for it. Do chores for it. No independence. Want independent money? You have to sneak around for it or if you’re lucky, maybe you’re allowed some limited working hours.

Granted, some laws are from the days when exploitation was a problem. It’s still a problem in some areas: Family restaurants can have their kids work for them with or without pay doing otherwise illegal things because, well, it’s family… whatever that means.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child? The USA does not follow it. Didn’t sign it YET as far as I know. Agreed to some of it on principle but violations still occur.

It’s a tough balance: There’s independence. There’s exploitation. Both sides need addressing.

Ageism is a real issue, barely addressed in society. Nearly all “children’s rights” are rights for parents or schools or society to exploit children as they see fit, and very little in the way of some semblance of autonomy.

Youth rights needs a balance. Where’s the voice? Where’s the choice?

Some things it seems will be with us forever. School always sucked, still sucks, that doesn’t seem to ever change. Some kids would rather kill themselves – and some do – rather than face another day of school. Public shaming by parents of their kids on YouTube is on the rise. Parents cheer, “We got those kids now!” Ageism and power. Bullying.

There’s been a war between kids and those who want to control their actions that’s been going on for a very long time. I can’t say for sure that some things aren’t perhaps necessary for a society. *Some* labor laws make sense. Physical/mental/sexual abuse laws make sense.

But many of these very strange “lines in the sand” that are drawn are ridiculous. I support #16tovote because at the VERY LEAST, young people should be allowed to vote on matters that are important in their communities and have their voices heard. Ok, they can appeal to media to get adult sympathies, but what about REAL VOTING? Independent? Close that curtain and decide. Nobody’s permission required to speak your mind and have your say.

The Internet has been a great help in this way. At least now there are places to congregate so young people can have a voice that’s worldwide in scope. Wasn’t always so. Been online since 1989 at the age of 17 – might as well be forever – and involved in youth rights in some form from the age of 14 in 1986 writing letters to the editor about unfair dress code policies in school that affected *me* all the way through to 2015 where I’m writing this note here now.

Anyway, no new news here. That’s what’s sad. No new news here. Not much changes. I’ve watched not much change for the better. But some things do. Some fantastic things. Some amazing things have happened and are happening now.

The Internet has been the best change of all. But there’s so much to be done to fix society. There’s laws to change and more importantly, there’s attitudes to change.

True fairness for humans goes beyond cases of justice and injustice and into areas of humans treating humans as human, no matter what point in their lives they happen to be in or any of their physical characteristics.

Basic human respect. How hard can that be?

Apparently, surprisingly so. This fight shouldn’t even be necessary in a proper society. But it is necessary and I’m grateful it’s happening and appreciate all the hard work and support that everybody has done to improve the world in whatever way they can.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

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