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Alfred H. Kurland’s The Soul of Adolescence is a thoughtful book on perspectives on adolescents, reframing them not as problematic outsiders but as integral parts of a democratic society.

Since generational gaps have existed (which is forever), the older generation will always have issues with the young. Contempt and scorn towards the young from the old has been evident as far back as two millennia—and it’s safe to assume that it has always been that way. Although this seems like the natural course of things, it has resulted in decisions that lead to worsening conditions for the younger generations. The older generations refuse to see them beyond a hostile bloc instead of regard them as equals with considerations and perspectives.

In The Soul of Adolescence, Alfred H. Kurland, along with personal anecdotes and intimate, powerful reflections, outlines a compelling argument that the youth are an invaluable part of the democratic process and should be treated as such, with all that entails. 

The Youth Will Always Be Scorned

Throughout the centuries, there have always been claims from the older generation about issues the younger generation has and needs to fix. Perhaps there is a biological or evolutionary explanation for this tendency, but a study has yet to be conducted looking into it. Sociology can explain the generation gap because of shifting opinions; as dynamic entities, societies will inevitably change: what is the new landscape now will sooner or later be the old landscape, and from there, tensions will arise.

But what is surprising and mildly amusing is that the critiques from the older generation seem never to change. There has been no difference in how the old view the young. The young will always be lazy, vain, weak, etc. It seems, collectively, the human template for teenagers will always be the same—even if the evidence is to the contrary.

How the Youth Are Changing the World

Adolescents are consistently stereotyped as lazy or regressive. But the youth have always been at the forefront of significant paradigm shifts throughout history—from the 1229 University of Paris strike led by French students, which led to educational reforms, the Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Kids, groups of German youths who resisted Nazi Germany. The Anti-War Protests of the 1960s-70s, led mainly by students opposing the US involvement in the Vietnam War; the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989 defying authoritarian rule; and the Diliman Commune, who attempted to hinder a dictator. 

This tradition of youth participation is still happening today: global climate strikes from students worldwide to spread awareness about climate change and pressure governments to enact green policies; survivors of school shootings organizing the March for Our Lives for gun reforms; and most recently, the Mahsa Amini protests in Iran, where schoolgirls are taking on a theocratic, totalitarian government.

Examples of Youths Who Changed the World

Augustus Caesar, or famously Octavian, became a senator of Ancient Rome at twenty.

Mary Shelley singlehandedly began the science-fiction genre with her writing of Frankenstein at eighteen.

Louis Braille invented the writing system named after him for the blind at fifteen.

Joan of Arc led France against the English at thirteen during the Hundred Year’s War.

Alexander the Great conquered kingdoms when he was eighteen. 

Several American founding fathers, like Alexander Hamilton and Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, joined the Revolutionary War in their teens.

Oddly, youth participation is only welcome against obvious authoritarian and totalitarian rule. The adolescent population has significant reserves of creativity, passion, conviction, and initiative, which have toppled autocracies. There is a large body of untapped potential among the youth, and their limited engagement with civic processes is a massive waste of potential.

Adolescent Souls Resonate with Change

Despite a general reluctance to political action, youth participation in voting has been increasing every cycle—and it will only rise. Therefore, it is of profound significance that there is a broader promotion of political engagement among adolescents and more accessibility to the democratic process.

Youth-led movements currently and in recent years are upending the long-time-held prejudice that young people are necessarily indifferent to politics. Youth participation is crucial for a better democratic process since their unique perspectives and youthful passions are integral to social change and creating a better, more equitable future. A healthy democracy needs the participation of young people for a better social, economic and political landscape.

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