As people age, I hear many recite the old adage, “Age is just a number.”
Is age just a number? Are you sure?
Our society is FILLED with age restrictions and functions that are centered on age. From the time we start kindergarten at 5, go to certain movies at age 13 (PG 13) or 17 (NC 17), obtain our driver’s license at 16, vote at 18, drink at 21, run for president at 35, retire at 65, and the list could go on and on, I would argue that culture does not treat age as just a number, rather a critically important demarcation of what we should be doing, or have permission to do, in life at any given time.
It is with this understanding that I approach the issue of the youth generated movement, “National School Walkout,” which was inspired by the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, as a protest of contemporary gun laws in the United States. Many high school students took to both the streets and microphones to communicate their support of more gun control laws in the country.
I must confess to being in tension.
On the one hand, it is so awesome to see student engagement and learning from an early age that a democracy has to have active voices and engagement to work optimally –this aspect of the movement is exciting and shows promise. However, on the other hand, since we are an “age-centric” culture, at what age is one mature, educated, and experienced enough to have earned a voice in the public square? There are reasons we have age restrictions and permissions on nearly everything, whether you agree with the precise age or not.
So when I hear gun guy and rocker Ted Nugent say the Florida students calling for gun control have “no soul” and are “mushy brained children,” I am not altogether dismissive of it in the sense, well, they are, by definition, children. And I have never known Mr. Nugent to be a fan of anything remotely politically correct.
Nugent, a longtime member of the NRA’s board of directors, said survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are wrong to blame the NRA and its members for mass shootings.
“These poor children, I’m afraid to say, it hurts me to say, but the evidence is irrefutable: They have no soul,” Nugent said. He added that the gun control measures the students support amount to “spiritual suicide” and “will cause more death and mayhem.”
It is not surprising the Parkland, Florida students demanded an apology from Nugent.
Good luck with that kiddos. You have a better chance of catching cat scratch fever (google it).
Now, please make no mistake: This blog is NOT about gun control or protest or school shootings or even the crazy motor city madman Ted Nugent. I have no opinions on any of these things at present. What I do find intriguing and opinion worthy is the issue of age appropriateness and its role in society.
I have taken notice that on social media that many are very critical of those, like crazy Ted, who are, in turn, critical of these kids. This criticism is often accompanied by a very positive evaluation of these teens speaking out for an important cause.
One of my social media friends and former student, Adam, now having earned his Phd from Michigan State and in whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote: “If you are one of these adults mocking children who are simply speaking their truth and experience you should be ashamed of yourselves. You may not agree with their opinions but you have not walked in their shoes and they deserve to have their voices heard. They don’t deserve petty attacks from adults. These are victims of a horrific crime not your enemies.”
I totally get that…and I do not believe any public discourse should include as part of its strategy, mocking. Yet the key word in this post is “children.” So I agree with Adam’s general sentiment, yet when children take it upon themselves to enter the very adult arena of the NRA, you are now playing in the adult big leagues –and it likely will not be pretty.
As I age, and I just turned 55 last month, I am confounded by the social admonition to “act your age.” What does that mean exactly? If one wants to posit that older folk such as myself should not engage in certain behaviors or activities because it would be inappropriate for a 55 year-old, should not the reverse be true as well? I mean, there is a reason we want our president to be at least 35 years old.
Neuroscientists now tell us our brains prefrontal cortex is not fully functioning until around the age of 25, and I prefer we enact social policy that reflects science. So is it too much to ask that our doctors, lawyers, educators, law enforcement and others, have, at the very least, a fully developed brain?
So, ironically and perhaps paradoxically, I want to develop the voice and passion of our young people while teaching the power of civic engagement, YET, I would prefer our children not have a say in creating social policy.
There will be a day when the children graduate from the kids table and earn a spot at the adult one.
Until then, let’s teach our children well.
Age is not just a number. Age matters.