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.

Every teen I know is an idiot. I don’t see them possibly able to handle rights and responsibilities!

Assuming the relatively very few teens you know in your life are an accurate representation of the entire age group is itself a logical fallacy (Hasty Generalization). As for the ones you do know, one might ask how it is you are judging them to be “idiots”, that you’re not merely looking only at their seemingly less informed choices and ignoring the smarter ones. You may assume the less informed choices are the rule and the smarter ones the exception, but how do you know it isn’t the other way around?

Perhaps, because our society encourages a negative view of youth, you expect everything they do or say to be “stupid” or wrong, even when identical things would be unremarked upon regarding an adult. Some even believe the way a teenager dresses or what music she listens to indicates her social awareness or competence.

In the case of particular youth who actually might not be very aware or competent, whatever that may mean, it is suggested this is because they are not expected to be, that because of their young age and the age restrictions that come with it they have had little to no opportunity to build up social awareness or competence outside of their specific home and school lives.

In any case, it is very harmful to harbor and spread the assumption that youth are inherently incapable of understanding things or functioning in the real world outside of where there are adults to help them. Every individual is different, of course, even teenaged individuals. If instead we remember that young people are people like the rest of us, with each individual having her own strengths and weaknesses, with them not being inherently “bad” or incompetent, we can lift this negative expectation and encourage them to prove themselves more, in whatever way, rather than casting them off as all-around inadequate because they have lived too few years. When you stop looking at a group of people negatively and as inferiors, and start treating them with respect, as equals, as being capable of good, it is amazing how much better they will seem!

So what do you think? How can this widespread negativity toward youth be overcome? Tell us in the comments!