We might be young, but we're not stupid

Monday, August 7, 2017

Originally published on Birdee Mag in July 2013.

Recently I had an article published in the Sun-Herald called ‘Parenting advice from a teenager’.

Now, hear me out: I don’t think teenagers are universally great or parents universally terrible – I think most people are just doing their best. And I don’t think that I am an expert of any kind.

I wrote my article on that topic because my new novel is largely based on a tricky mother/daughter relationship. I received many nice comments, but also a few rather incensed ones – largely based on the premise that it’s wildly presumptuous for me, as a teenager, to have an opinion.

The writings and opinions of young people are so often criticised – not based on their merit, but based on the age and perceived arrogance of the teenager expressing these opinions.

I don’t think that the opinions of young people lack validity by virtue of the fact that they are young. It’s actually incredibly important that they are able to express their ideas and work through concepts, even if their opinions may change with time, experience and age.

Are we supposed to emerge as adults with fully–formed beliefs without ever having the opportunity to critically examine and express our ideas? Are we supposed to just accept what we are told by older people to be the truth?

Putting your opinion out there is a fairly risky thing to do – people will eat you alive on the internet, and being told that your opinion is irrelevant can be pretty crushing. It can dissuade you from sharing your thoughts in the future, too. (Fortunately I’ve never faced anything especially bad myself.)

dont-judgeSo I’m not entirely sure why everyone feels the need to discourage critical thinking in young people.

There’s a tendency for people to assume my work as a novelist is invalid based on my age (I’m nineteen), and decide against reading my books as a result. Or, if they read my novel and don’t like it, they assume that it’s because of my youth. I don’t want to be treated any differently just because I was born in the 90s.

I’m not the kind of person who wants people to be kinder to me just because I’m young – and I didn’t want that when I was fifteen either – I would much prefer honesty. Preferably not ‘this is a good novel… for a teenager’ or ‘this novel is unreadable because the author is a teenager’. Really, I’d much rather just be seen as a ‘writer’ rather than a ‘teenage writer’, and avoid all the unfortunate assumptions.

I think it’s important that teenagers have access to safe forums and are surrounded by people who are supportive of their ideas. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have to accept criticism sometimes, but I do believe that the writings and opinions of teenagers should be judged based on their merit, not on the age of the writer.

It’s unfair to assume that what teenagers have to say is meaningless. Everyone deserves to be heard, and to be treated with respect. We’ve all behaved as if we know everything at some point, but we realise just how much we don’t know when we have the opportunity to hear someone else’s perspective. Really, we’re all just making it up as we go along, and nobody knows everything.

Though on the internet, we’re prone to acting like we do.
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