This is part of the Youth Rights 101 series. Please check out Youth Rights 101: Introduction for the rest of the series and more information.

Does youth rights mean thinking children and adults are the same?

No. Obviously there are physical, developmental, and other differences between children and adults. There are also plenty of such differences among adults alone or among same-age children alone. Nor does one stop growing and developing in any meaningful way upon reaching adulthood. These differences do not mean one group is inherently “superior” to another.

The question is just how exactly these developmental differences should affect one’s rights and responsibilities, if at all in some cases. Can you really be “not developed enough” to enjoy free speech rights, for example?

For many, youth rights focuses primarily on teenagers, and teenagers are not children. They are far more similar to adults than to children, and in other times and places are/were considered adults already, yet here and now they are under almost all the same legal and other restrictions as children. What good does this reduced status and compulsory dependence do them, when other people (their adult guardians) have the final word on decisions about them that they are perfectly capable of making on their own?

When dealing with children (let’s say under 12, give or take), of course, issues of development are more likely to come into play, depending on the specific issue and person. Again, of course, this begs the question of whether development or maturity truly matters in some cases and just how much. Generally, the child’s wishes should be taken into account as much as possible, and any coercion should be avoided and any questions should be answered, all as respectfully as possible, since such basic respect is another thing you can’t be “too young” or “not developed enough” for. I can’t get into much more detail than this, since there’s a lot of debate among youth rights supporters and theorists on such rights when it comes to children, but those are the basics anyway.

So, no, we do not think adults, teens, and children are all “the same” per se, but we question how much these differences can justify all the restrictions placed upon the young, and recognize that there’s too much variety in the specific issues and specific people to draw such an age line across the board. And these differences are certainly no excuse to consider the young inferior to adults in any way!

What do you think? What ways, if any, do you believe developmental or other differences between adults and youth do or do not matter when it comes to rights and responsibilities? Tell us in the comments!