“Ben-Official” Ideas: Teen Voices Pack Power

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Ben Zivsak, Bleu Print Staff

Teenage life is defined by adults. The words of adults are a code which we may never omit, neglect or contradict. Adult actions are always seen as correct, proper, and just. There are very few places where the thoughts, ideas and opinions of young adults are heard. Many teens wake up every single day to the instructions of an aggravated parent. Each day teenagers compliantly going to school, only to hear similar voices and instructions when they step inside the next classroom. In school, almost every aspect of independence and voice is taken or suppressed by those who are “fully developed.”  Sometimes, it can be a struggle just to be able to use the bathroom. Many regular school days entail seven hours of listening to various adults talk and give directions, with no time for the thoughts or ideas of teens to be heard. Like one Chelsea student says, “There have definitely been times in my classes when I wanted to give my opinion but couldn’t or felt uncomfortable.” When do students get the opportunity to share what they truly believe, feel and think? When do students get the chance to develop a personal passion for a subject? Would the world crumble to pieces if students had a voice in ways they like to learn material?

Home brings different types of limitations. When teenagers aren’t in school, life is conveniently shaped by parents. Moms can seem to know exactly what type of occupation is best for you. Dads can be the experts on how you will succeed in life. For many teens it’s not uncommon to get in the car and not speak for an entire ride as a parent shares their understanding of what you could do better, who should be your friend, or what you should realize about something. Family dinner can sometimes mean another opportunity to hear the superlative ideas of two more adults.  Additionally, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or other family gatherings are convenient times to really embrace the immense knowledge and foresight of your step uncle Ricky, your aunt Margaret or even your great-grandmother Beatrice. It can feel like there is no escape. At least there is usually free use of the toilet.

In public, younger voices can be just as oppressed. Many teenagers are professionals at nodding, making engaging eye contact and expressing looks of utter gratitude while they listen to a Meijer representative explain the correct path to happiness. Teenagers receive very few chances to express their voices and share what’s on their mind in today’s modern society. Brilliant thoughts and ideas of teens are often dampened or disregarded. Young adults are often stereotyped as “irresponsible” and thought of to be oblivious to the “real world.” These assumptions are misguided and inaccurate. Teens can contribute a unique perspective to common “adult” issues. According to a recent study by DoSomething.org, 93 percent of young people say that they are inclined to volunteer. Furthermore, many teenagers are creators of some of the most influential inventions in history and have come up with the most highly regarded and creative solutions to complex problems. Sam colt created the first Colt Revolver prototype at age 15. Betsy Ross designed the American flag at age 17. By age 15, Louis Braille had invented modern braille–which is an entire alphabet you can read by running your fingers across the letters–for blind people. Young adults from the past are not the only ones leaving a mark. In 2009, Mala Yousafazai started advocating for women’s rights at age 11 in northwest Pakistan; she later was shot by the Taliban survived and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, becoming part of group with Dr. Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa.

The power of youth can be monumental.”

In a world where adult voices are the loudest, space for teens is limited but exists. The Neutral Zone is Ann Arbor is an example of one of these places. Like their mission statement says,The Neutral Zone is a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas.” The Neutral Zone is a community that welcomes all youth and is an arena for all voices to be shared and heard. It offers a social and creative outlet with activities, fundraisers, and events all organized by teenagers. The Neutral Zone offers 20 different programs in areas of Education, Literary Arts, Community Leadership, Music and Visual arts along with drop in and free tutoring after school. All programs reflect the ideas and passions of teens. Those at the Neutral Zone have accomplished much for each other and the city of Ann Arbor. Overtime these teens have promoted large scale social awareness of modern controversial topics and raised tens of thousands of dollars for causes they believe in. How would our world change if young voices shared more of the stage? The power of youth can be monumental. The impact will be unimaginable.