“Why are you in such a hurry to grow up?” It or some variation of it is the end of many debates on Youth Rights. It’s a simple way for an ageist to wriggle out of the tight spot in which they have been placed on the issues. “Just enjoy your childhood.” Anybody who has been a teenager within the last few years is well aware that teenage years are no longer the carefree, innocent time they are often thought to be. Maybe they were like that thirty years ago, or maybe it only exists in the minds of those who don’t fully remember when they were 16. In either case, the stereotype exists and it’s no longer anything close to true.

If you look beneath the surface, however, this “innocence” myth is more than just a way to end debates. It also gives ageists all of the other reasons they need to debate youth rights. Just take a look at the responses often heard for, say, lowering the voting age. “Teens don’t know much about politics.” Maybe we would if it were considered an appropriate study for a child. Sure, there are no laws against showing a newspaper to a fifth grader, but when was the last time you noticed somebody sharing opinions on the Iraq War with a 10-year-old? As soon as a child enters the room, the conversation shifts to a more “pleasant” topic. Schools don’t help much either. When they should be discussing current events with students of any age, many schools are exposing them only to the “… For Kids!” media outlets with some watered down news but mostly interviews with some teen sensation whose name I’ve probably never even heard. Some younger kids manage to get around all of these blocks to their social awareness and develop an interest in politics. We here call them NYRA members. Is it any surprise that kids who become interested and knowledgeable about politics want to vote?

Protectionism is behind almost every aspect of the “inexperience” chalked up to youth. Teens don’t have enough experience behind the wheel to drive. Of course they don’t, because they can’t drive! Kids aren’t as adept at handling money matters. Why? Because there’s so much legal red tape barring them from earning significant amounts of it. It’s dangerous for teens to drink. Why? The only way to develop a tolerance to alcohol is to begin drinking small amounts of it. Teens are still living in their parents’ house and still dependent on their parents. Why? Need I say more?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all 7-year-olds should wake up tired in the morning, put on a suit, grab some coffee and trudge off to work. There’s certainly still some allure in the innocence of childhood, myth or truth. However, if the purpose of childhood is really just to gradually prepare one for life, maybe there should be a little more preparation rather than simply sheltering people completely until age 18 and then pushing them out of the nest and hoping they know how to fly. Keyword: gradually. Just like anything else, adulthood is dangerous when taken in large doses by someone who is not used to it. Start introducing some of the pressures, some of the responsibilities (and inherent rights) at an earlier age, and then gradually add more as the individual proves himself to be ready for them. Yes, it is unwise to put more responsibilities onto people not able to handle them, but it is also unwise to protect people who would benefit from being less protected. So there’s your answer the next time somebody tries to end a debate with “Why are you in such a hurry to grow up?” Won’t they be surprised when it doesn’t get them out of answering?