The Case For a Political Teenager

Because teenagers should be political.

Being fifteen years old, I could be busy with a series of different things. I could be playing a sport (which — trust me — I’m not particularly good at), I could learn how to play a musical instrument, or I could simply spend my youth partying, attending music festivals or doing a variety of other things which seem to constitute the general makeup of a stereotypical teenager.

Many would argue that being a stereotypical teenager is the right, and indeed normal thing to do. Many would argue that being too politically active is inappropriate for young people my age.

Nevertheless, I chose to write about politics, despite the fact that it doesn’t meet society’s criteria for being a ‘normal’ teenager.

Of course, being a young believer in modern democracy and freedom of speech, opinion and expression, I believe that anyone who criticises my political stances has the fullest right to do so. With respect to those opinions, I have found the political arena to be a place where I can express myself — despite this arena being a cold, ruthless and typically dangerous place.

After writing an open letter to South Africa’s President, in which I asked him to resign, I officially understood that the political arena is a cold, ruthless and indeed dangerous place.

When the letter was published, the country’s reaction made me think about who I am in a political sense. I pondered over a variety of names, titles and words that I could use to define myself. I thought that ‘citizen journalist’ seemed over-ambitious, and that ‘political commentator’ seemed arrogant for a teenager.

I most of all thought about the fact that ‘labels’ are really nasty, challenging things. They confine you, they restrict you, and worst of all — they stereotype you. And stereotypes are something I’m not particularly fond of.

After reading some reactions to my letter, I knew that I had to ‘label myself’ in some way — after all, this is what I’m passionate about, and if I want to play the game of politics, I have to face my critics — many of which seemed to question who I was, why I suddenly fell into the spotlight, and if the letter was even legitimately written by me. I realised that if I, a fifteen-year-old, wanted to be taken seriously by real politicians and the public, I had to find a label which could at least be used to justify my opinions. Perhaps, I thought, a label would at least answer these questions and explain why I hold the opinions I do.

From this, “political blogger” was born. One thing that this label is, is true. I am a blogger, and I blog about politics. That seemed to fit.

Although my political identity issue had been solved, I still had to face other criticisms. Although I had found a label to suit my place in the political arena, I still had many people questioning me, and why I wrote what I did in the letter to President Zuma.

I wrote the letter because it was and indeed still is, in my opinion, one thing: the truth.

As I said above, we all are entitled to our own opinions. That cannot be seen from a one-sided perspective: just as anyone critical of a teenaged blogger is entitled, legally and morally, to their own opinion — teenagers are entitled to their own opinions as well. Just as my critics have their opinions concerning my letter, I had an opinion to share — this is why I wrote the letter.

But, whether or not you believe me to be wrong or right to have written and published the letter, isn’t what I want to address in this blog post.

What I do want to address, is the fact that having an opinion shouldn’t be a restricted entitlement or limited right: we should all have the right to self-expression — and I believe, that as long as we go about sharing opinions without violating the rights of others, or without using violence, we should all be able to exercise this inalienable right — whether it be in a political sense or otherwise. Let me reiterate: I believe that as long we express opinions, without the use of violence, or without impeding others from exercising their rights, then we all should be entitled to share our thoughts — teenagers included.

I can, to an extent, understand why people criticized my opinions. To do so was and still is their right, which they have the full entitlement to exercise. I would argue that my opinions expressed in the open letter were rooted in fact and based on happenings that were undeniably suspicious — but if someone disagrees with me, I still believe that they may have a different perspective, which should be acknowledged. If nothing else, we all owe each other the opportunity for self-expression.

Based on that, I cannot emphasise enough that my interest in politics shouldn’t be criticised simply because of my age.

Teenagers do belong in politics. I believe that young children shouldn’t be brainwashed or fed with propaganda and that from this, they should be shielded. While young children should be shielded from propaganda, teenagers, who are heading towards voting age, cannot be alienated or isolated from the political process.

I believe that there are strong arguments to be made about teenagers and their political opinions, but I believe that the strongest argument I could make, is that it is inherently dangerous for a teenager to have no political opinion at all.

For instance, in just over two years, I am eligible to vote in elections. I think that far too many eighteen-year-olds are thrown in the figurative ‘deep end’ when they vote in their first election. I think that there is a consensus that many first-time voters vote the same way that their parents do — and while this is often because they do have a shared set of political and moral values, it might also be because they have been shielded from other perspectives for their whole ‘teenagehood’.

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” — John Milton

It is, in my opinion, imperative for teenagers to develop their own opinions on political issues, because when they vote, they should be able to exercise this right as independently as possible — irrespective of the party they vote for, or the ideology they identify with, if they identify with one at all (I for one am not particularly ideologically driven).

Not only should teenagers develop political stances and opinions, but they should be able to engage in politics as well-informed individuals. The idea that citizens should only become politically-engaged when they are eighteen, is therefore incomprehensible in my mind. I wonder how much time those newly-enfranchised citizens would have to learn about politics before the first time they have to vote, as many vote for the first time when they are eighteen years old. Would this mean that an eighteen-year-old should quickly teach themselves about the country’s political situation, and be fully politically educated within the months after their eighteenth birthday?

The reason why people under eighteen years of age need to learn about and discuss politics is so that when they are old enough to vote, they can understand the issues that they are voting on, and have well-rounded facts to back up their opinions on these issues.

I personally recognise any opinion as valid, as long as it is expressed responsibly, and I believe that the youth should be afforded that courtesy as well. I believe that we all are entitled to question a democratically-elected leader because all elected officials should answer to their citizens — even if they are younger than eighteen.