The Power of Conversation: How Can Teenagers Make the Change They Want to See in the World?

Op-ed

Teenagers have a powerful voice in politics. But our passion for positive change has some negative side effects that hurt our goals. Teenagers express their political voices with confidence, due to their passion to make a positive societal change. However, this can have the accidental consequence of offending those around them. As a modern young woman with socially progressive beliefs, I too want to work for a better world. But I think we need to assess the way we go about this because I believe teens have incredible potential.

Teens in Politics: Then and Now

The development of the overly passionate teenager is partially due to the newfound position they have in politics. A generation ago, teens were less vocal about politics, and the topic was seen as something that was only to be talked about by adults. However, teenagers have recently been granted the opportunity to contribute to the political world through increased awareness and social media campaigns that allow them to speak their minds.

But this has put pressure on teenagers, and they feel the need to overachieve without fully thinking things through, because they want fast results and to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this has not had the positive impact they hoped for, and instead, this has caused teenagers to be stereotyped as emotional, impulsive, and at certain times unreasonable.

Facts vs Our Feelings

Our desire to make changes has led us to believe that we know enough information to act immediately. This is causing us to take action and protest out of emotion before understanding the scope of the situation and the best way to handle it, fueling the stereotype that teenagers are too impulsive. By acting quickly, we might not be helping the people we claim to help at all.

Protesting before researching and our desire to prove ourselves is damaging our friendships and our own best social justice efforts. While we draw attention to parts of history that have been unjustly ignored due to our desire to make a positive change, we also tend to skip over any part of history that may challenge our present actions or beliefs. We have the desire to change unfair social structures, which can positively impact society. However, by skimming over parts of history that may contradict their actions, they are often going to extremes that upset even those with opposing viewpoints.

Teens want the opportunity to discuss political issues and make real change, but it takes a great level of maturity in order to express one’s beliefs well. I believe teens do have the ability to act in a mature way, but they often make the choice not to. However, I believe that we are capable of making a positive change not only in society, but also in the way in which we interact with others.

The Measure of Maturity: Tolerance for Difference, Defying Hate

In order to make real changes, we need to be able to have open communication with people of varying views and work to find a common ground that unites differing opinions. Maturity is the ability to navigate difficult conversations in a respectful manner. But people, both teens and adults, have to be willing to listen to other people who are not like them. We must practice our own best belief, which is that all people deserve respect, even if their opinions do not align with our own.

We need to be able to make a clear distinction between people whose opinions are hateful and people whose opinions are simply different from our own. For example, I am not willing to participate in a conversation where antisemitism is being directed towards me. However, a conversation about differing political views, in which no harm is directed toward either person, is a conversation that can be done respectfully and with good intent. No one should engage with another person when they are being hateful, but we need to be able to get to a place where we can have conversations with mutual understanding and trust that most differences in opinions are working toward a common goal, and deserve respect. And I know we can do this and see the change we want.

Call to Action

We as a generation value tolerance and the acceptance of differences. It’s time we practiced the things we claim to support. Rather than getting in a fight with a friend at school or a parent over a difference of beliefs, be open to listening to other opinions, even if they are the opposite of your own. Our belief in tolerance and acceptance of others is what drives our generation’s motivation to make change, and if we are able to continue these practices in our conversations with others, we will not only be able to make positive societal change, but also end the divide between people with varying opinions, and unite them. Let’s prove ourselves to adults by demonstrating that we can be mature by living our own best values: inclusion, tolerance, listening, and the desire for everyone’s good.

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Sammy Kelner
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Sammy Kelner is a high school sophomore who is very passionate about politics and social justice issues. She is the founder and president of her school’s Key Club and has a podcast called Politically Blonde. She is also a contributing editor for the Marginalia Review of Books. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.