Why More Adults Need to Value Teenage Voices

Most teenagers do not adhere to the image of the stereotypical teen. Stop saying that we don't care about world affairs; many of us concerned about the world's future, especially since we will be the next ones to inherit responsibility for it.
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It's no secret that many adults frequently snub and completely ignore my generation. We're cast off as ignorant, arrogant, full of ourselves and plain old stupid. We're told that we can't change anything. Children are to be seen, not heard. Adults call us oblivious to the "real world." We're belittled and told to grow up. Our thoughts and opinions are viewed as worthless. Adults expect us to care about what they have to say, but they do not reciprocate and listen to teens.

No words can express how much this widespread attitude frustrates me. I find myself wanting to ask adults, "Wasn't there ever a time in your lives when you were only teens wanting a voice, too? Wasn't there ever a time when you wanted to freely talk about some problem or idea?"

As bloggers for HuffPost Teen have found, adults will call teens ignorant and rude for thinking a different way or suggesting an idea, but, ironically, the narrow-minded and arrogant comments we see come from those adults, not teens.

These adults are missing out on perhaps the most important voices of today and of the future.

Of course, some of the adults reading this are thinking that not all adults are dismissive of teens. I am completely cognizant of the fact. However, the same goes for teens; not all teens are "useless" and "irresponsible," either, and it's time more people started realizing that. There's always a flip side, and just because it's easier to focus on the insane, uncontrollable teens doesn't mean that the rest of us don't exist.

Most teenagers do not adhere to the image of the stereotypical teen. Stop saying that we don't care about world affairs; many of us concerned about the world's future, especially since we will be the next ones to inherit responsibility for it. Stop labeling us after the minority of teens who are awful and unwelcoming -- many of us are open-minded and accepting of others, and we will support each other in times of trouble. We can and DO make change, and we're not lazy. How can we be when college admissions and the job market have never been so competitive? Many of us actually have to work harder than our parents did at our age to get into jobs or colleges, and many of us have accomplished so much more than most people did when they were high school students.

Oftentimes, I find that teenagers do care. They care about issues and about making a difference. In fact, statistics show that 93 percent of young people want to volunteer. The problem is many of these teens are never shown or taught how they can start making a difference; in fact, we're usually told we can't. We need to tailor more volunteer positions to appeal to teens and create programs to help connect teens to the right volunteer position for them. We need to make opportunities and change more accessible, rather than blocking teens out and later claiming that we're impossible to deal with and that we don't care.

Even so, teens have achieved pretty amazing things. Have you heard about the group of middle school students who conceptualized an app to help blind and visually-challenged students learn at school? They were inspired by their visually-impaired classmate! What about the 17-year-old girl who created her own algae biofuel lab under her bed to show that natural oils produced by algae can be converted into biofuels for diesel engines? She won the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search! Have you seen HuffPost Teen's list of the most fearless teens of 2013?

In terms of the quality of teenage voices and our opinions, this is where so many adults couldn't be further off the mark. Teenagers ask some of the most thought-provoking questions. We have unique perspectives that many adults miss when they overlook my generation. We can come up with creative solutions and answers to complex problems. We have something to say, and we have a right to be heard. I strongly believe that we could come closer to solving so many of the problems facing our world if we approached issues with the open-mindedness, curiosity and unique perspectives that teens have. Most importantly, we're largely optimistic about the future and have high ambitions to better the world.

The bloggers for HuffPost Teen are a stunning example of this. We have so many interesting and unique thoughts, as well as a plethora of new ideas to share with the world. We produce some of the most insightful pieces of advice for other teens. We aren't afraid to share stories from the hardships we have faced, and we talk about real problems in high school, in our lives and in the world.

Furthermore, we aren't afraid to tackle some of the most controversial topics around, like gun control or LGBT rights. We put the spotlight on things that really matter to us, like when Jackson wrote about sharing Christmas with everyone no matter who they are or what they believe in or when Celeste wrote about cultural stereotypes or when I wrote about childhood cancer. You can't talk about these kinds of issues without research and without knowing what you're talking about. We put in time and effort into our work because this is what we love doing and we're proud of the entries that we publish. We love writing and sharing our thoughts with the world, and we deserve more than to be cast off as pesky, self-important teens.

Have you seen some of our work? My mind is constantly blown by the way my fellow bloggers will approach subjects, talk about something I've never thought about, or challenge the way I think about the world. I'm constantly awed at how other teens will tackle recondite concepts and put their own unique perspective into it.

So many other teens like us exist everywhere in the world, too. Look at the students who participate in speech and debate competitions. Look at the students who compete in the Intel Science Talent Search. Look at the students who are in robotics teams, math clubs, national honor societies and more.

How can you look at Malala Yousafzai and then turn around and say that teens are a hindrance to our society? How can you disregard an entire generation of teens, many of whom are ready to start taking the reins and change society? Many of us are actually more informed and educated on global affairs than some adults, especially those who are close-minded and ignorant to everything outside of their own lives.

Teenagers are some of the most courageous people I've ever seen, and so many of us are willing to stand up for what we believe in and for justice. We're prideful, but we have a good dose of humility and can admit we're wrong when we are. Perhaps most importantly, we have hopes and dreams for the future, dreams that haven't yet become embittered. Isn't this something we should be cherishing and nurturing rather than ignoring and suppressing?

Every generation thinks differently, and by dismissing my generation, the world loses the opportunity to further develop and explore our ideas as well as find a new way of thinking. Our minds work differently, and instead of deriding this, we should foment this difference to strengthen our future.

Like adults, teens deserve to speak and to have the opportunity to be heard, and we deserve the respect that any other adult would expect. We shouldn't be counted out just for our age when many of us are mature beyond our years. We shouldn't be belittled or disregarded for having the audacity to believe we can make a difference.

As for claims of self-important, know-it-all teens, I guess there is an element of self-importance if we think our thoughts and opinions are worth sharing with the whole world. But does this really merit the pejorative comments about how we think we're "so great and all that"? Besides, how does that make us any different from the millions of adults who share their own opinions on the Internet every day? Isn't one of the best qualities of the Internet its ability to connect and share ideas and opinions? Aren't those gratuitous comments hypocritical in that the commenter is being self-important, too? After all, those comments to not further the discussion or have much to do with the topic of our blog posts; they're just another way for other people to assert their own supposed superiority. And when adults tell us to stop thinking we're the only ones with teen angst, they completely ignore the fact that we never asserted that. They also forget that the point of the post is to say our own ideas and maybe even start a societal conversation about dealing with that angst or widespread problem. Isn't it crucial to talk about our problems so they can be resolved?

Shouldn't all of our voices be important? Shouldn't the voices of our future be important and worth listening to? Shouldn't encourage this discussion of ideas rather than discouraging it from other happening? What kind of participation are we teaching our students and future?

I recently read a blog post on HuffPost Teen about how a fellow blogger, Alexa, hates being 16 because nobody that young is taken seriously. She pointed out the societal problem of how age is a deterrent no matter how responsible and mature you are. The reaction? Ironically, all the comments did not take her seriously because of the very problem she wrote about -- her age. They denounced her for not enjoying her age and being grateful for it. Condescendingly, they sneered and disgraced her for sounding like every 16-year-old.

But if "every 16-year-old" is really saying this, doesn't this say something about our society and how it doesn't allow teens to participate in public conversations and doesn't allow enough opportunities to make change? By not taking her seriously because of her age when she's pointing out that society already dismisses her for her age, this shows not only that these adults aren't paying attention to the real point of her blog post but also that they're completely willing to compound on this problem rather than starting a conversation about how to change this deterrent to teenage public participation.

How can adults expect us to one day be the leaders of the world and take us to greater heights when so many of them aren't willing to show us how or listen to the ideas we have? How can we push the world forward when we don't have enough opportunities to open doors and learn to take action? How are we supposed to solve the world's future problems when we've been blocked out of participating in today's society by imperious adults? How does this teach my generation and ones following to be great citizens?

Let this serve as a caveat to all adults: When adults forget to care about the future generation and forget not only to listen to them but to nurture their dreams and their amazing minds, they miss out on possible solutions to local and global issues. They miss out on questions that would otherwise change the way they view the world. They miss out on the opportunity to really learn what teens think and worry about, and they miss the chance to influence the future for the better. They miss out on an intriguing conversation. A learning experience is lost, for both the adult and the teen.

And the world loses another chance for change.

Special thanks to Jackson Barnett, Celeste Yim and Alexa Curtis for graciously letting me use their HuffPost Teen entries as points in my argument. Also, thank you to Allison Lantagne, Gillian Horn and Garrett deGraffenreid for taking the time to read and peer edit this entry.