“Young and dumb.” That’s a phrase we often hear when referring to a period in our lives when we are full of energy to do many activities yet often lack the resources, life experience, and wisdom that comes with the aging process. But is there any truth behind this stereotype? With that question in mind comes another: should we let teens get involved in politics and help decide the future of their countries or not?
On one side are critics who disavow the ability of teens to vote by arguing that not only are they more easily influenced than adults but they also lack emotional stability and full cognitive maturity. On the other hand, supporters of allowing teens to vote, believe that by letting the young vote, they are sparking an interest in our youth to get involved in the future of our nation.
States Pre-Registering Teens to Vote At School
Beginning in December, a few states such as Florida and California started working on letting students pre-register in their schools for voting. Known in California as High School Voter Education Weeks, schools all over the state are being encouraged to collaborate with election officials in an attempt to raise voting popularity among youth. Teens who pre-register to vote will be automatically registered to take part in the presidential election on their 18th birthday.
Two Sides Of The Same Coin
We can’t deny that encouraging youngsters to vote is a great way of getting them interested, not only in being involved in their communities but in playing a role in the future of their own country. Neither can we deny that a lack of maturity and life experience can be a bad mix, one that can make someone more prone to make wrong decisions and act impulsively.
Unfortunately, impulsive behavior and immaturity are part of growing up. We can’t forget we have all been there once. Young, fully spirited and rebellious in nature, wanting to make a difference in the world but not knowing how or lacking any direction. In other words, a rough diamond needing to be polished before it can truly shine in life. If we don’t give them a shot, how will they learn to love their country?
Yet the question remains: are teens mature enough to vote? To make up our minds, we must first remove our conceptual filters. Only then can we take a deeper look into this matter with an open mind.
How Voting Rights Worked In Ancient Civilizations
In Athens, the world’s first democracy, voting rights were exclusive to men who served two years in the military as an Ephebe (recruit). It was only after their military service was complete, at age 20, that they were allowed to vote. In Rome, free-born citizen men aged between 14 to 17, would automatically become citizens, which meant they could vote in assemblies and elections.
The Historical Argument
Voting rights have definitely come a long way in the US. There was a time when not every citizen could vote. While the very first Civil Rights Act (1866) granted citizenship to all native-born Americans, many citizens still weren’t allowed to vote. It was only after the repeal of the poll taxes by the Twenty-fourth Amendment and the Fifteenth Amendment, allowing Africans to vote, that things started taking a turn for the better.
Before laws such as The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the repeal of the poll taxes, many citizens weren’t allowed to vote. This was either because they weren’t white (Jim Crow Laws) or because they didn’t pay the poll tax in their state.
Youth Suffrage began taking shape in 1971 when Congress ratified the Twenty-sixty Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. For many decades before this, the voting age was 21. The driving force behind this sudden change was the ever-increasing need for more men to fight in the Vietnam War even if they weren’t old enough to vote. However, it was only in 2013, when Takoma Park, Maryland became the first city to lower its voting age to 16 for local elections, that teens younger than 18 were finally able to vote.
The Biological Argument
Studies and research show us that teens’ brains work differently from their adult counterparts. To some, it’s quite hard to understand why youngsters act and think so differently from adults. But biology proves to us that there are natural explanations for their behavior. To sum it up, the portion of the brain responsible for reason, the logical frontal cortex, is still in development. Instead, the amygdala region of the brain, responsible for more immediate actions, plays a major role in their decision-making abilities.
Unfortunately, largely because their brain and emotions have yet to reach complete maturity, teens are more prone to act before they think, misread social cues, not know how to control their emotions, make decisions they later regret, engage in fights or risky actions, and so on. While we can’t deny that some teens can and do control their emotions and behave better than some adults, the majority of youngsters lack the ability to do so.
While these biological differences alone don’t mean we shouldn’t let them vote, it does mean we can’t expect them to vote and have the same political opinions as that of an elder citizen. Awareness of these biological distinctions can help us better understand why political opinions can vary so greatly in the same family. And, why young folks can be more prone to peer pressure or might challenge the political opinions of their parents.
What Statistics Say About Teens Voting?
Unlike what many may think, there are some interesting studies conducted by the American National Election Studies (ANES) that show 16-years-old do have good enough political knowledge to make informed voting decisions. Some 16-year-old Americans even showed a better understanding of civic knowledge than citizens in their early twenties who lacked interest in politics.
Voting Age Around The World
While in the USA, states are free to decide if 16 and 17 years old can pre-register for presidential elections, other countries usually either make it optional for teens to vote or create extra requirements for letting minors vote.
Examples include the landlocked country of Hungary, where 16 and 17 years old are only allowed to vote if they are already married. Another interesting example is Brazil, where voting is optional for those between 16 and 17 years old and for senior citizens who are older than 70 years.
In both countries, all states must follow federal law regarding matters such as the minimum voting age in both local and federal elections. Unlike the US, where states have the freedom to decide the minimum voting age as long as it doesn’t forbid people who are 18 years old or older to vote, thanks to the Twenty-sixth Amendment.
Originally published at The Liberty Hawk