Here in New Zealand, we’re just over six weeks away from the general elections. Voters are being bombarded with promises from various parties competing for the new government term. Many of these promises will significantly impact me and my peers as we transition into adulthood. However, at 16, I can’t vote, despite a petition from Make It 16 with over 7,000 signatures and a Court of Appeal ruling calling the current voting age of 18 unjustified age discrimination.
Instead of viewing teenagers as incapable of responsible decisions, the adolescent years should be viewed as a rich and diverse opportunity for teens to practice growing their insight, curiosity, creativity and problem-solving possibilities. Many adolescents navigate the world with remarkable awareness, emotional intelligence, and maturity.
“The adolescent brain is literally reconstructing itself and the way it thinks. New deeper connections are made as the brain is reshaping and remodeling itself in response to your teen’s focus, experiences and activities.” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood.
Contrary to popular belief, teenagers’ brains undergo significant development, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, reasoning, and impulse control. While we may sometimes lack impulse control due to these changes, many of us demonstrate impressive cognitive abilities, thinking critically and planning for the future. The willingness to take risks allows us to generate innovative ideas unhampered by the restrictions adults often impose.
Teenagers often show a high degree of emotional intelligence, contrary to the stereotype of emotional volatility. Many of us are deeply attuned to our feelings and the emotions of those around us. We engage in meaningful conversations about complex topics and actively support our peers. Our emotional depth, evident in our dedication to global movements like the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter, and Me Too, demonstrates a maturity that goes unnoticed due to the misconception that teens are emotionally unstable.
Growing up in a fast-changing world, many teenagers have a heightened sense of social awareness. Greta Thunberg’s School Strike movement exemplifies this. The internet and social media allow us to connect with peers worldwide, engage in discussions about politics, climate change, and more, which broadens our perspectives on matters we might not have encountered otherwise.
“Most parents recognize how much the world has changed since they themselves were teenagers … Now, especially in a time of COVID, teens need this connection, rather a lifeline to the world around them”. ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood.
Responsibility and Accountability
Contrary to the stereotype of carelessness, many teenagers exhibit strong accountability. We often juggle schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs, demonstrating a dedication that refutes the notion of immaturity. Frustrated with adults not addressing global issues like climate change, teenagers are demanding accountability. In early 2023, teens and young adults launched a petition with over 5 million signatures urging President Biden to honor his climate commitments and cancel the Willow Project. Despite the massive support, he approved the project, further illustrating the disregard for younger voices.
The capacity to confront and solve problems is a hallmark of maturity, and many teenagers excel at it. Whether addressing conflicts, finding innovative solutions, or navigating personal issues, we often display impressive problem-solving skills. We learn to broaden our horizons and maturely discuss disagreements by analyzing situations and making informed decisions. Interacting with others while navigating challenges helps shape our worldview and develops our maturity.
Summing it Up
As New Zealand’s general election approaches, I am watching the political campaigning with interest, even though, at 16, I am denied the opportunity to vote due to the stereotype of teenagers being immature and irresponsible. Teenagers possess cognitive, emotional, and social abilities that defy the notion of immaturity. Let’s recognize and celebrate our multifaceted growth, allowing us to become responsible, compassionate, and well-rounded individuals. It’s time to move beyond these misguided beliefs and acknowledge the true complexity of teenagers’ development.