On a Tuesday night in early November, halfway around the world, millions of Americans were shocked at the outcome of their presidential election. My political friends and I had pulled an all-nighter the night before just to talk about the possibility of Donald Trump as the next leader of the US. The next morning, I headed to school to find that all my classmates were buzzing about the election. Being the reclusive introvert that I was, it never occurred to me that my peers were interested in politics too. That had resulted in a heated debate prior to the start of first period. It got me thinking. Where and since when has this “teenagers are apolitical” myth been developed?
It is a widespread belief that teenagers are reckless and ignorant of things happening in this world. Despite admitting there are a lot of adolescents who have an aversion to politics, the majority of urban teenagers are genuinely fascinated and interested in matters of state. Said myth may have stemmed from adults frequently complaining that politicians and “the system” is corrupted and ineffective. Especially living in a one-party state, teenagers have been taught that freedom of speech is very limited, specifically by their parents, so they avoid getting involved or publicly discussing politics. Thus, there’s an irony (or Catch-22) in which teenagers are labeled as apolitical by adults, but it’s adults who inadvertently make teenagers apolitical.
As teenagers, we are expected to keep up our grades at school, engage in an ample amount of extracurriculars to make our CVs look exceptional, and have an interesting social life. With all these hectic works attached to being a teenager, one is bound to assume that teenagers simply don’t have enough time or interest in politics or knowledge about global issues. Largely due to the fact that teenagers have not lived long enough, they are often said to lack life experience; hence the dismissive responses from adults when they express their political opinions. That is quite discouraging to young people, considering that they can and would be more than willing to give their two cents on a variety of real world issues and insights to their current world.
Living in a technology-driven world, millennials have the upper advantage of easily gaining access to information that neither their parents nor their grandparents had. The Internet, to which teenagers are all so seemingly addicted, gives them the necessary tools to be informed and make right decisions about society. Social media is not only a fantastic means of communication, but it also exposes young people to diverse or contrasting points of views on many different issues. After accumulating much information, teenagers will naturally come to a sort of conclusion or have their own opinion on an issue. Adults simply cannot dismiss or invalidate these viewpoints.
The media’s portrayal of teenagers also contributes to the prolongation of this myth. Teenagers are often portrayed through stereotypes on screen, but due to the undiverse and limited number of teen stereotypes, politically active teens are a rare trope to be seen on TV. When racking my brain to find one, I could only think of Paris Geller from the hit series Gilmore Girls of The WB as the only politically active teen on TV. In order for this to stop, we can only hope for a huge global increase in youth activism soon.
Still, though, why are teenagers politically aware? Politics might be quite familiar to Vietnamese students through the form of lessons in Civics Education, a required subject at school. The lessons can inspire teenagers’ enthusiasm for an interest in politics. Adolescents have a tendency to try to impress other people. Even writing a school paper can raise a student’s interest. Since politics is a remarkably wide topic with a lot of different aspects, politically active teenagers are likely to read up more than average teenagers. Additionally, politics allow politically active teenagers to showcase their intellect and impress people.
Teenagers are on the verge of becoming mature grown-ups, so it should not come as a surprise to grown-ups that teenagers might actually want to get a head start by being more politically active and aware. It is crucial that young people care about the well-being of their own states and matter of affairs between their states and the rest of the world. The best evidence for teens’ interest in politics is seeing hundreds and hundreds of them gathering in a place to participate in a Model United Nations (MUN). Teenagers are often strong-headed and assertive, their opinions original and bold, which may be exactly why teenagers find politics interesting. I’ve heard a friend say that politics is really intriguing because it resembles a big soap opera of the world. There has just been so much drama with the candidates for the US elections, it’d be quite hard to lose interest in what’s going on. The very fact that the US dollar sank and stock markets plummeted in wild Asian trading after Trump’s election is enough reason to believe that politics is extremely paramount to the existent of one another’s states. Young people are not out of line to be enthralled by politics.
Since we live in a globalized world, any current event affects our daily lives. This is true regardless of whether you live in a small rural town or in a large urban city. It’s imperative that teenagers acquire as much knowledge as possible to help them develop a better perception of how the world works. Even the act of skimming through the headlines every day can help you get a basic idea of what’s going on in the world. As the future generations of change, young people need to know more about the current state of affairs. I’m so proud to say that teenagers are not apolitical.
Claire Daring is a 15-year-old with various hobbies from Hanoi, Vietnam. She’s a book, films, and photography enthusiast and a lover for all things beautiful. Occasionally you’ll find her making gifsets or sneakily taking photos of you. She’s extremely passionate about social issues and theatre, and she aspires to make the world a better place and destroy the patriarchy. She hopes to one day meet Jennifer Niven — an authoress who sparked her interest in writing.