The state of our union at the start of 2006 is a state of fear. Politicians, the media, and special interests fan the flames of fear to justify calls for further restrictions on our civil rights and civil liberties. This directed campaign of fear affects the liberties of Americans from all corners of this country, and no doubt most of us have heard of illegal wiretaps, racial profiling, and other infringements on our civil liberties justified by the war on terror. However a sizable minority of Americans are victims of a different campaign of fear that we don’t hear about too often, this group is teenagers.
Americans are afraid of their children. Not that they have any need to be, but they are afraid because they are made afraid by those who profit from that fear. Special interests use trumped up statistics to make people afraid that any moment a teen driver will kill them on the road. Moral crusaders scream about how teen pregnancy and drug use and make people afraid that teens are destroying America. The media’s saturation coverage of any teen shooting makes everyone afraid that legions of dark skinned teens in saggy pants will kill them and their family. Afraid to go outside the people cry out: “Something must be done!”
Sadly there are many out there doing something. Usually nothing good. Politicians realize that with all these nervous voter scared of teenagers, what better way to get elected than to do something about our ‘teen problem’. So right now in every state in the country there are laws being introduced to further punish and restrict teen drivers, to use curfew laws to put all youth under house arrest, to ‘get tough’ on teen crime and underage drinking. Businesses ban youth from entering their doors. Pools, cafes, and mini-marts post signs saying “Adults only.” School and state officials decide what youth can and can’t wear, and how youth can and can’t look. The amount of restrictions, scapegoating and segregation that afflict teens today makes the America of 2006 look like the Alabama of 1956.
What something should we be doing? We should be learning the truth. Young drivers are not overwhelmingly dangerous drivers; indeed as a class, male drivers are far more dangerous than young drivers. Why no restrictions on men? Worse yet the restrictions placed on teens may in fact make our roads less safe. There isn’t a morality crisis among teens, they do less drugs, have less sex, and generally are more moral than their parent’s generation. Why no speeches about immoral middleagers? Teen crime isn’t spiraling out of control, its been dropping for decades. Why no news reports on the millions of youth who volunteer in their communities, take care of their families, and make good decisions about their future? The truth is, youth are good people, good citizens, and good Americans, yet our country is afraid of them and punishes them because of those fears.
So the question then becomes, as our President once so eloquently stated, “is our children learning?” Have they figured out that no matter how much they help out their communities, no matter how well behaved they are, no matter how responsible, rational and involved they are they will still be labeled as reckless criminals and a threat to society. Perhaps soon they will learn that the only way to stop it is to join together and confront the campaign of fear head-on as a united voice and demand respect, rights, and equality. Perhaps they will have courage to lead freedom’s true advance.